Australia’s big and arguably ugly Lord Howe Island stick bug isn’t extinct after all, researchers have revealed. The insect, which was found on the Australian island, was thought extinct following a shipwreck that happened in the early 1900s. A recent study, though, used DNA to confirm that bugs found on a volcanic outcrop are indeed this long-lost insect.
While the scientists started a conservation and breeding effort with the bugs they brought back in an effort to eventually return the insect to the island it was named for, they couldn’t be sure then that what they had were actually Lord Howe Island stick insects. The DNA of museum specimens had decayed over time, and the technology they had simply wasn’t up to the task of comparing the two genomes.
Fast forward to today, however, and the technology has advanced enough that those decayed DNA samples can be compared with the DNA samples of the descendants captured at the turn of the century. And, lo and behold, the Lord Howe Island stick bug is indeed back in town.
“We found what everyone hoped to find — that despite some significant morphological differences, these are indeed the same species,” Alexander Mikheyev at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan said in a statement released through Cell Press.
Questions remain about how and why those physical differences — including bigger legs — came about and how the bugs even got from Lord Howe Island to Ball’s Pyramid. However, scientists are optimistic that since the species are the same, that they can soon reintroduce the insects to Lord Howe Island.