Most people can name off many of the more famous extinct animals — the Dodo and the Stellar Sea Cow for example.
The loss of these animals forever is sad. But every now and then, when it seems like a sure thing that an animal is extinct, it turns up again against all odds.
One such example of a surprise survivor is the Lord Howe Island stick insect, which I learned about recently from NPR.
The stick insect once lived on Lord Howe Island off the coast of Australia. It was one of the largest non-flying insects in the world — so big in fact that locals called them "tree lobsters." The Lord Howe Island was believed to be the only place on earth where the stick insects lived.
In 1918, a ship wrecked on the island, allowing black rats living on the ship to move into the area.
Prior to the rats showing up, the stick insect was doing just fine. But when the rats made landfall, they discovered that "tree lobsters" made for delicious meals. Just a few years later, the stick insect population had dwindled to zero.
The last stick insect sighting on Lord Howe Island was in 1920 and by 1960, the stick insect had been declared extinct.
While some animals are extinct in the wild but still exist in small numbers in captivity or at zoos, in this case, it was believed the Lord Howe Island stick insect had been completely eliminated from the face of the earth.
However, rumors of stick insect sightings persisted, especially around Ball's Pyramid, a leftover chunk of volcano in the middle of the ocean, 13 miles from Lord Howe Island.
It wasn't until 2001 — 81 years after the last stick insect sighting — that two Australian scientists decided to scale the cliffs of Ball's Pyramid and see if they could locate any still-living stick insects.
The scientists found insect excrement underneath a single little bush on a tiny patch of green halfway up Ball's Pyramid. Because Lord Howe Island stick insects are nocturnal, they returned to Ball's Pyramid at night and climbed back up to the bush, hoping to catch the stick insects in action.
Amazingly, they discovered dozens of stick insects, living on this single little bush on a cliff of an uninhabited spiky rock in the middle of the ocean.
We have no idea how the Lord Howe Island stick insects made it to Ball's Pyramid, nor how they lasted for so long, existing essentially on a single bush. However it happened, it's amazing that the stick insects have gotten a second chance.
Two of the stick insects living on the bush were taken to the Melbourne Zoo, where they were bred successfully. The zoo now has thousands and thousands of the stick insects.
Such a happy ending is rare, because usually when an animal is classified as extinct, it really is gone for good. The Lord Howe Island stick insect is an exceptional case where an animal was granted a second chance after human actions virtually eliminated it.
That's why it's really important to protect our environment and all of the creatures found in it. It would be a shame to lose any of them.
Human actions like deforestation create habitat loss and cause extinctions every day — of animals we already know about and animals we haven't even discovered yet.
Even if you think you can't affect animal habitats, you can — and there are ways you can make sure your impact is a positive one.
Reducing your energy and water use, buying sustainably and responsibly made products, shrinking your trash output and increasing recycling all help to lessen the negative environmental impacts you have on the earth.
Visit http://n.pr/y28y7Z to read NPR's full story about the Lord Howe Island stick insects.
Amanda's Animal Fact of the Week
Lord Howe Island stick insects display a unique sleeping habit, where males and females pair off. While sleeping, the male protects the female by placing three of his legs across her body.