Oct 28

On the 16th February 2003, the Invertebrate team at Melbourne Zoo received a pair of one of the rarest invertebrate species on the planet, the Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis).  The pair was affectionally known as Adam and Eve.  We knew from the moment they arrived that we had just one chance to secure the long term survival of this Critically Endangered species. To add to the enormity of the task, virtually nothing was known about the species, so around the clock observations were initiated for the first few weeks.

LHISI hatching - Photograph credit Rohan Cleave Melbourne Zoo

© Rohan Cleave, Melbourne Zoo, Australia

The Lord Howe Island stick insect was abundant on Lord Howe Island until the accidental grounding of a supply ship in 1918.  Black rats (Rattus rattus) escaped the grounded vessel, and by the 1930s the Lord Howe Island stick insect was presumed extinct.  In 2001, a five-member scientific team landed on Balls Pyramid, a rocky outcrop 23kms off the coast of Lord Howe Island, and miraculously rediscovered a very small and vulnerable population of this “lost” species.  This began the significant challenge of securing a population to save them from extinction.

Juvenile LHISI - Photograph credit Rohan Cleave Melbourne Zoo

© Rohan Cleave, Melbourne Zoo, Australia

There have been many challenges since this species arrived under the care of the Invertebrate team at Melbourne Zoo, Australia.  Since 2003 we have hatched over 10,000 individuals and have now developed world class facilities and knowledge of how to care for this species. This is a momentous achievement, as they can be extremely difficult to keep alive, let alone successfully breed.

At any one time we house between 400 and 500 stick insects in different purpose-built glasshouses and incubate thousands of eggs.  A sample of eggs is measured and weighed in weekly batches and will then be incubated for between 6 to 9 months before hatching.  Each nymph that hatches at Melbourne Zoo has a length measurement taken for our records.  In 2013 Melbourne Zoo is breeding our 10th generation.

A number of scientific studies have been undertaken over the past 10 years, including investigating mate selection and parthenogenesis. Diet is an important aspect of animal husbandry and continual research and adjustments have taken place. 2013 sees the invertebrate department expand this work with investigations of plant species from Lord Howe Island both within Zoo grounds and on Lord Howe Island.  All of this adds to the data base of important information on the species.

Rohan Cleave with a LHISI - Photograph credit Jane Satchell Zoos Victoria

© Jane Satchell, Zoos Victoria, Australia

The Lord Howe Island stick insect is an integral species in Zoos Victoria’s “Fighting Extinction” campaign.  In 2012 the Australian Federal Government and New South Wales State Government announced funding of AUS $9.2 million dollars to eradicate black rats from Lord Howe Island.  It is hoped that this will restore the natural ecosystem of one of the world’s most beautiful heritage sites.  One day we hope to see this species back in its natural environment on Lord Howe Island.  The future of the Lord Howe Island stick insect now looks very bright indeed.

Wildscreen patron, Sir David Attenborough visited the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect at Melbourne Zoo in August, 2012.

Sir David Attenborough with a LHISI - Photograph credit Dani Knox, Melbourne Zoo photographer

© Dani Knox, Melbourne Zoo photographer

Find out more about the Lord Howe Island stick insect and the work of Melbourne Zoo:

http://www.zoo.org.au/melbourne/animals/lord-howe-island-stick-insect

http://www.actwild.org.au/actwild.org.au/animals/stick-insect/

http://vimeo.com/14413689

http://vimeo.com/59621703

Rohan Cleave, Melbourne Zoo, Australia

The Lord Howe Island stick insect is one of the animals featured in ARKive’s new Conservation in Action campaign, which highlights a selection of species that are on the road to recovery thanks to the hard work and dedication of conservationists around the world.

Aug 10
Photo of fabulous green sphinx moth, dorsal view

Fabulous green sphinx moth (Tinostoma smaragditis)

Species: Fabulous green sphinx moth (Tinostoma smaragditis)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: This beautiful Hawaiian moth was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1998.

More information: Aptly named for its vibrant green colouration, the fabulous green sphinx moth is a rare species found only on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. Although its forewings and body are green, its hind wings are pale brown and its antennae are orange. The caterpillars of the fabulous green sphinx moth have a large, spine-like ‘horn’ on the rear end of the body, which can measure around half of their body length. The host plant on which the caterpillars of this species feed is not yet known.

The fabulous green sphinx moth has an extremely restricted range, being found only in a few areas of forest on Kaua’i. In 110 years of searching, this rare moth was recorded just 15 times. The island of Kaua’i has a high diversity of threatened plants, but these native species are under threat from destruction by feral goats and pigs, as well as by invasive, non-native plants, which have increased as a result of damage to the native forests by hurricanes. Although the food plant of the fabulous green sphinx moth is unknown, it is likely that it, too, is under threat. Unfortunately, its rarity means that the fabulous green sphinx moth is potentially valuable to unscrupulous collectors. No conservation measures are currently in place to protect this rare moth, and attempts to list it on the U.S. Endangered Species Act have so far failed due to a lack of information.

 

Find out more about conservation in Hawaii at the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund.

Find out more about Moth Night, an annual celebration of moths and moth recording in Britain and Ireland, which will be taking place on the 8th-10th August.

See more images of the fabulous green sphinx moth on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 18

They may not be cute or fluffy, but insects are definitely some of the most fascinating animals on the planet. These tiny creatures make up nearly half of all known species and are vital to the world’s ecosystems.

All insects have a hard, chitinous ‘exoskeleton’, six pairs of legs and a body divided into three sections. However, they are extremely diverse and show an incredible range of adaptations.

Join us as we delve into a miniature world and explore ten of ARKive’s most fascinating insects and their adaptations!

Brilliant beetles

Photo of male elephant beetle, anterior view

A giant of the insect world, the male elephant beetle has a long, rhinoceros-like horn on its head which it uses to fight other males. The larvae of this species grow to an even more impressive size than the adults, measuring up to 22 centimetres in length! Beetles are characterised by their tough pair of modified forewings, or ‘elytra’, and are the most successful group of animals on the planet, making up around 40% of insect species and 1 in 5 of all animals.

Flying beauty

Photo of monarch butterfly in flight

The monarch butterfly is best known for its spectacular long-distance migrations, with some populations travelling as far as 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometres) south to their wintering grounds in Mexico. Millions of individuals congregate in small areas of forest over winter, blanketing the trees on which they roost. Insects are the only invertebrates to have evolved the ability to fly, and this has played a key role in their success.

Powerful predator

Photo of dragonhunter

The dragonhunter is an aptly named species, as it specialises in hunting other dragonflies as well as other large insects. It is a large and distinctive species with long, powerful legs and wings, and like other dragonflies it is a voracious predator. Adult dragonflies have acute eyesight and superb flying abilities, and are able to catch prey in the air. Dragonfly larvae live in water and are also formidable predators, shooting out their modified mouthparts to catch prey.

Dramatic transformation

Photo of large white caterpillar hatching from egg

A common and widespread butterfly, the large white lays batches of eggs on its food plant, and the eggs hatch into caterpillars a week or two later. The caterpillars feed, grow and moult, and eventually turn into pupae. Some pupae hatch into adults in just two weeks, but later ones remain as pupae over winter, hatching into adults the following spring. This process of metamorphosis occurs in many insects, and means the adult stage has the primary purpose of dispersing and reproducing, while the main function of the larva is to feed and grow.

Super senses

Photo of house fly

Although unpopular, the house fly plays a vital role in decomposition and the recycling of nutrients. To feed, this species spits onto food before sucking it up with its sponge-like mouthparts. As in other flies, its second pair of wings is modified into small appendages which help with balance, and claws and pads on its feet help the house fly to grip any surface. This species has surprisingly keen senses, with acute vision and an amazing ability to taste with its feet!

Now you see it…

Photo of Lompoc grasshopper side profile showing legs

Like many insects, the Lompoc grasshopper uses camouflage to avoid predators. Other species go to the opposite extreme, displaying bright colours that advertise to predators that they are toxic or taste bad. Grasshoppers differ from crickets in their shorter antennae and they produce sound by rubbing their hind legs against their wings, rather than by rubbing their wings together. Intriguingly, grasshoppers have ears on their abdomen, and crickets have them on their front legs.

Sociable species

Photo of leaf-cutter ants carrying leaves back to the nest

Like other ant species, the leaf-cutter ant has a fascinating and complex social system. Its colonies contain millions of individuals, divided into different types or ‘castes’, each of which does a different job. Only the queen reproduces, laying thousands of eggs each day, while large soldiers protect the colony and other workers cut leaves to bring back to the huge underground nest. Leaf-cutter ants don’t actually eat leaves, instead using them to cultivate a fungus on which they feed.

Bouncing bugs

Photo of common froghopper

The common froghopper is capable of leaping 70 centimetres into the air – the equivalent of a human jumping over a tower block – and its jump is so powerful that it creates G-forces of over 400 gravities, compared to the 5 gravities experienced by astronauts blasting into space! Although many insects are referred to as bugs, the ‘true’ bugs are species in the order Hemiptera, which include the common froghopper. All bugs have specialised piercing and sucking mouthparts, which in the froghopper are used for feeding on plant sap.

Important insect

Photo of honey bee worker feeding

Honey bees live in hives consisting of wax ‘honeycombs’, which are made up of cells used to store food and rear the young. Only the queen honey bee reproduces, while the sterile workers collect nectar and pollen and store the nectar as honey. The honey bee plays a vital role in pollinating flowering plants, including crops, and has been domesticated by humans for at least 5,000 years. However, this important species is under threat from habitat loss, the use of insecticides and the spread of a parasitic mite.

Under threat

Photo of Lord Howe Island stick-insect

The large, heavy-bodied Lord Howe Island stick-insect was thought to have become extinct around 1920 after rats were introduced to Lord Howe Island, the only place it was known to exist. Fortunately, the species was rediscovered on a small rocky outcrop 23 kilometres away in 2001. This unusual insect, sometimes known as the ‘tree lobster’, is now being bred in captivity with the hope of reintroducing it into the wild.

 

Insects are not always the most popular or well-loved of animals, and are often overlooked in favour of furrier, cuddlier and cuter species. However, they are vitally important to the planet and are captivating creatures in their own right.

The insect world is currently being celebrated in the new ‘Alien Nation Season’ showing on BBC Four in the UK, and you can also find out more these fascinating creatures at BBC Nature – Insects.

You can also view more photos and videos of insects on ARKive.

With over a million species of insect described so far it’s tricky to pick a favourite, but if there’s one you think we should be celebrating we would love to hear about it!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Aug 30

Have you ever wondered what the smallest creatures roaming our planet are? Let’s meet some very cute, extrordinary miniature creatures with ARKive’s favourite smallest species.

What is this on my finger? 

Photo of minute leaf chameleon

This charming minute leaf chameleon is one of the smallest reptiles in the world. As expected for its tiny size, it consumes minute prey, including small fruit flies, white flies and springtails. If threatened by a predator, this clever little creature will drop to the ground like a piece of dead wood and feign death until the danger has passed. How does a predator even spot such a tiny thing!

This is the perfect little hideout for me!

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur

Awww now this one is a real cutie! Described as a new species in 2000, the tiny Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is believed to be the world’s smallest living primate! This nocturnal forager has extremely large, forward-facing eyes dramatically improving its night-vision. Weirdly, during the dry winter months, it undergoes a daily period of torpor, lowering its metabolic rate for a few hours. This causes its body temperature to drop, thereby conserving water and energy. Not just a pretty face that mouse lemur!

Where are you little mites, I’m coming to get you…!

Edmond’s ground beetle photo

Edmond’s ground beetle is just 2mm in length – can you imagine? I challenge anyone to find this beetle, which lives within wet moss on the edge of bogs! It is one of the smallest ground beetles in the UK and believe it or not, it is actually a predator, feeding on mites and springtails. You certainly won’t feel the need to run away from this mini-beast.

I’m not sure if this whole hiding thing is working out for me.

 Denise’s pygmy seahorse photo

This delicate little critter known as Denise’s pygmy seahorse is one of the smallest of all seahorse species, typically measuring less than 2cm in height! It is a master of camouflage, with its yellow colouration exactly matching the stems of its gorgonian sea fan ‘home’. What a dinky sea creature!

Oh no, I’m too high up…my legs are starting to feel like jelly.

Savi’s pygmy shrew photo

The adorable Savi’s pygmy shrew is the smallest land mammal in the world, growing to a maximum size of just 8cm! It has an exceptional metabolism, with a heartbeat of over a thousand beats per minute which means it cannot survive for more than a few hours without food. To satisfy its high energy requirements, this velvety, miniature shrew can consume as much as 1.3 times its body weight in a single day. If only we could eat that much and stay that small!

Put me down…

Hooked thread snake photo

One of the smallest snakes in the world, the hooked thread snake is rarely seen due to the fact that it lives underground and grows to a maximum of 24cm. Owing to its miniature size, extremely slender body, and pink skin; it is often mistaken for an earthworm. I’d rather come across this tiny snake than a king cobra, that’s for sure!

Up a bit, down a bit, left a bit….

Bee humingbird photo

The diminutive bee hummingbird has the incredible accolade of being the smallest living bird in the world, measuring just 6cm in height. Despite its tiny size, it is capable of beating its wings around 80 times a second in a figure-of-eight pattern, giving it the ability to hover and move with amazing agility. Even more astonishingly, the female lays a clutch of 2 tiny eggs, no bigger than 6mm in length. It’s a miracle they don’t get squished beneath her!

Ok this wing stretch exercise is really starting to ache now…

Kitti's hog-nosed bat photo

Kitti’s hog-nosed bat is not only the smallest bat in the world, but also the smallest mammal in existence! Its extinction would not only be the loss of an incredibly unique species, but an entire branch of the evolutionary tree would vanish from our planet. The body of this miniscule bat reaches just 33mm in length. How this researcher managed to catch this little thing is a mystery!

I’m definitely worth more than a pound, even if it doesn’t look like it!

Partula faba photo

This little critter is joint smallest of our top ten smallest species with Edmond’s ground beetle! The 2mm long Partula faba is one of the most endangered of all the tree snails and is currently on the edge of survival. It is Extinct in the Wild due to the introduction of invasive snails in the French Polynesian islands in the 1970s. The last remaining population of these snails can only be found at Bristol Zoo Gardens. Let’s hope they manage to reintroduce these adorable tiny snails into the wild!

Any minute now, I am going to jump right outta here!

Gardiner's tree frog photo

Check out this tiny frog, it’s smaller than a fingernail! The Gardiner’s tree frog is one of the smallest frogs in the world, growing to only 11mm in length! Unlike most frogs, the young do not hatch as tadpoles, but as fully formed small adult frogs. So the babies are even smaller versions of this little guy – how is that even possible?

Can you find any other tiny species on ARKive? Let us know.

Rebecca Sennett, ARKive Researcher

Jul 16

For the next three weeks, members of the public across the UK have the chance to get involved in the big butterfly count, a nationwide survey which will help to indicate not only the status of the UK’s butterfly populations, but also the health of our environment in general. As butterflies are particularly sensitive to environmental changes, butterfly declines can provide an important early warning system for other potential impacts on our wildlife.

With the UK having been subjected to unseasonably heavy rain over the last few months, conservationists are concerned that butterfly species may be struggling this year and therefore the count is more important than ever. Around 34,000 people took part in the big butterfly count 2011, and this year the organisers hope to make it even bigger.

If you would like to take part simply head over to the big butterfly count website, download an ID chart and spend 15 minutes recording the species you see in your garden, local park, woodland or field. Then all you need to do is submit your sightings online. Who knows, you might be lucky enough to spot some of these beauties…

Green hairstreak

Green hairstreak photo

Named after the white ‘streak’ across the fore- and hindwings, the wings of the green hairstreak are actually are dull brown on the uppersides, but bright green on the underside. The pupae of this species produce audible squeaks to attract ants, which are then thought to bury the pupae where they will hibernate until the following spring.

Six-spot burnet moth

Six-spot burnet moth photo

The six-spot burnet moth feeds on the nectar of a large range of flowers, with wild thyme being a particular favourite. A brightly coloured day-flying moth, the name is somewhat of a misnomer as the number of spots can vary between individuals, and spots may be fused in some cases.

Large white

Large white photo

A widespread and common species, the large white is the biggest of the white butterflies found in the UK, with a wingspan of up to 7cm. Females can be distinguished from males by the two black spots and a black streak on the fore-wings. The colourful caterpillars of this species consume mustard oils in their diet, making them very distasteful to birds.

Red admiral

Red admiral photo

A migratory species, red admiral adults emerge after hibernation in the UK between January and March, and are joined by butterflies that have travelled from North Africa and southern Europe between May and August. Adults are often seen in gardens feeding on nectar or rotten fruit.

Common blue

Common blue photo

The common blue is the most widespread of the blue butterflies in Britain. While the males are a striking bluish-violet, the females are more brown in colour, with orange spots near the margins of the wings. Favouring sunny, sheltered areas, the common blue is typically seen in woodland clearings, coastal dunes, road verges and cemeteries.

Speckled wood

Speckled wood photo

A common woodland butterfly, the speckled wood has numerous eye-spots on its wings. The male tends to perch in patches of sunlight, intercepting intruding butterflies. Males may also patrol an area in search of females, who lay single eggs on blades of grass after mating.

Brimstone

Brimstone photo

While the female brimstone is a greenish-white colour, the male is bright yellow and it is widely believed that this species was the inspiration for the name ‘butterfly’. This species has a very long proboscis, and can exploit flowers with very deep nectarines, including runner bean flowers and teasels.

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell photo

A beautifully patterned butterfly, the small tortoiseshell has wings comprising black patches, areas of bright yellowish-orange and a fringe of blue spots, making this species instantly recognisable. The caterpillars feed on nettles and are common in areas of human activity.

Meadow brown

Meadow brown photo

A dark brown species with an eye-spot on each wing, the female meadow brown can be distinguished from the male by the presence of an orange patch on the forewings. Although found in a range of habitats, this species has suffered as a result of the decline in the extent of hay meadows in Britain.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly photo

One of the most beautiful butterflies in the UK, the peacock butterfly earns its name from the stunning eyespots on the wings which frighten predators, or divert birds from attacking the body. Males and females are similar in appearance but the males are slightly smaller and will defend territories in sunny locations, chasing any females that pass by.

If you do to take part over the coming weeks we would love to hear how you get on, why not leave a comment below and let us know what species you have seen, or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter?

And for those of you outside of the UK, what species can you find in your local area? Do you have any favourites? Let us know!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

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