BallHow did it get THERE Tree lobster thought to be extinct for 80 years found alive clinging 500ft up on remote Pacific rock taller than Empire State Building

A narrow and forbidding rock that stands higher than the Empire State Building, it does not look like the most welcoming place to set up home.

But that did not stop an insect which was thought to be extinct for 80 years from building its last known colony on the 1,844ft high Ball’s Pyramid.

Scientists have discovered 24 of the creatures living 500ft above the South Pacific Ocean around the single plant that had survived on the rock.

Nick Carlile with some of the huge flightless stick insects found on Ball

The ‘tree lobster’ insect, which is as large as a human hand, had somehow made its camp despite the lack of food and the harsh conditions.

Nobody could say how they got there in the first place – but four have now been taken off and have bred thousands more to ensure their species survives.

The astonishing discovery was made on Ball’s Pyramid which emerged from the sea seven million years ago off the coast of Australia near Lord Howe Island.

It is the equivalent of 11 Nelson’s Columns stuck one on top of the other. The Empire State building is only two thirds as tall at 1,250ft.

On all sides the rock face drops off vertically making it almost impossible for anything to survive – but the insects somehow did.

The six legged ‘tree lobster’ or, Dryococelus australis, was actually presumed extinct since none had been seen on Lord Howe Island since 1920.

They are 12cm long and are the heaviest flightless stick insect in the world.

In 2001 Australian scientists David Priddel and Nicholas Carlile decided to investigate claims by climbers who tackled Ball’s Pyramid that they had seen fresh droppings there.


The flightless stick insects had been thought to be extinct for 80 years - but after rumours of new droppings on Ball

Nick Carlile, seen here with the Lord Howe Island stick insect, discovered the thought-to-be extinct phasmid on Ball

They too saw the droppings and upon returning after dark with flashlights were stunned to discover the insect colony around the only plant on the rock.

Mr Carlile said: ‘It felt like stepping back into the Jurassic age, when insects ruled the world.’

Itwas unclear how they got there but the scientists realised they had to get them into a breeding programme as they were the last of the species alive.

The Australian government refused but later allowed four to be taken off, although the drama did not end there.

Whenthe researchers went back to get them there had been a rock slide on Ball’s Pyramid and it was feared the insects had been wiped out.

Checksrevealed that they had survived however and the four were taken away. Two later died but two have gone on to be the foundation of a breeding programme at Melbourne Zoo.

They have been nicknamed ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ and through them 11,376 babies are now in incubation.

Some 700 adults are also in the captive population making it one of the most unlikely and astonishing such success stories.

Unusuallyfor insects they pair off with each other and when they sleep at night the male has ‘three of his legs protectively over the female beside him’, the researchers said.