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Six-Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideaway, Hides For 80 Years (npr.org)
1154 points by MaysonL on Mar 1, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 172 comments

Respect to the little feller for making it out of that egg. Any animal that starts life having to unglue their feet from the bottom of a vacuum-packed, delivery case is a winner.

I would be curious about the details of such "unpacking". The apparent volume ratio of the born insect over its egg's is quite stunning.

I think the way it works for most most (maybe even all) insects is to use air to blow themselves up much like a balloon to get out of the egg or cocoon.

where does this air come from; is the cocoon/egg not airtight?

While an egg or cocoon might be airtight, it must also still remain air permeable. Everything must be able to breathe. So while there might not be a visible flow of air, like through an open window, oxygen and CO2 still make their way in and out all the time.

Also initially the insect might break the egg/cocoon open without extra air, just by simple mechanics, but once it's out it starts to pump air into itself.

Possibly, but it popped the top open. Maybe it's possible to do that by just flexing some muscles.

My first question is how "deep" the egg goes down into the sand. It could be a long tube protruding down into the sand.

I wondered the same thing but according to the article, the eggs are pea-sized which suggests they are not elongated.

That's an awesome story!

Initially I didn't like the genetic bottleneck created by just having one pair (i.e. that they should go back and get more now that they know how to care for them, perhaps as a swap) - but then I realized the original source on the island was probably a single individual, so they are all probably virtually clones anyway.

Once they have enough they should sell some - tons of people would be delighted to keep them as pets, and it would remove the risk of having them in just one location.

To expand on another reply, it would probably not be a good idea to market these as pets. As soon as people start keeping a species in a terrarium in their home, some of them will escape. They might be fragile and die, but they might also cause massive problems for native insect populations.

Now, marketing them as pets to residents of Lord Howe Island might be a good way to get them to accept repopulation...

> Initially I didn't like the genetic bottleneck created by just having one pair (i.e. that they should go back and get more now that they know how to care for them, perhaps as a swap) - but then I realized the original source on the island was probably a single individual, so they are all probably virtually clones anyway.

That's probably a problem when trying to save any endangered species. Given the challenges (and time investment) of animal husbandry, I'm surprised that cloning of endangered series is not more common. Even if the clones are genetically identical, at least they buy you some more time to save them.

Clones are generally very fragile beings. They die soon. Also, they're not that easy to make - a whole process has to be discovered for each species. It's very, very time consuming and expensive.

Four of them were taken from the island, two died. The other two were used to breed. It's in the article below the 6th image.

I know, I read that. Why are you repeating it? Was something I wrote unclear?

As per my understanding, what he is trying to say is, even if people gets ready to keep them as pets, very few might be able to survive in outer world.

Unless they become an invasive species somewhere else. Though if rats like to eat them, that bodes ill for them.

Wasn't the point that they died from malnutrition? That's what I gathered from the second female almost dying, until it was fed a mixture rich in calcium.

This story gave me a weird feeling and reminded me of the Dodo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodo). This animal was extincted by man only 83 years of it was discovered. I am glad we have will/technology enough today to try to repair this kind of mistakes.

I'm upvoting you for the use of the word "extincted," which apparently the OED says is kind of ok:


Stories like this always make me remember of the tasmanian wolf (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thylacine). I always wanted to see one of those alive.

Your comment just made me spend 4 hours investigating the Thylacine, its DNA restoration process and other extinct species. Thinking about dedicating my life to genetics atm.


I'm not sure why we should restore these species, just like this insect. What is the driving force behind reintroducing them? Should we also reintroduce the mammoth when we have the tech to do so? Why?

This insect was wiped out because of clumsy human intervention. Humans introduced rats to an island where rats were not existing before.

Thus there's a couple of drivers here. People want to undo past mistakes. Maybe this is misplaced, maybe "we" should be concentrating on avoiding this happening again. The science is interesting. There's a bunch of different disciplines that could be involved here. A hero animal (the huge bug is both cute and horrifying) always gets attention.

The big difference is that humans didn't wipe out wooly mammoths. Also, they are huge and they would be hard to provide enough land for. (I'm not sure how climate change would affect them; what lands and climate do you need for viable herds of mammoth?)

[1] But see the Northern Hairy Nose Wombat. Most people haven't heard of this, yet there are only about 70 left alive.

Wow. I'm honestly flabbergasted as to why you don't think preserving this species (it isn't resurrecting mammoths) is worthwhile.

What do you consider worth preserving?

Does the fact that humans introduced rats into the ecosystem that wiped them out count for anything to you?

(Are rats the invisible hand of the market or something?)

Well, then why don't you tell why we should preserver them rather than downvoting me? And no I don't see why humans introducing rats matters. Is this some sort of collective guilt, 'reparations' sort of thing? To whose benefit? These insects don't know if there are 10 or 10 million of them, and they don't know if when they die, they will be the last of their species. And if they are, what does it matter? Is there moral superiority in having as many species as possible? Why?

Firstly, I apologise for downvoting you. Unnecessary, and somewhat spiteful.

I'm guessing in advance that we're going to have to agree to disagree, or more likely, this conversation will peter out unfinished, but I'll have a go at explaining my position.

The Earth is a finite enclosed ecosystem to all intents and purposes. Humans have existed for a small fraction of time compared to the entire life of the planet. In a few short centuries, we've unified all ecosystems under the one ubiquitous umbrella.

For scientific reasons, isolated species such as these should be preserved. To study, inform and provide living examples of the diversity of life that existed before the ubiquity of modern human civilisation eradicated so much.

The religious right in the US would like us to believe in Noah's Ark rather than evolution. Creatures such as these... adapted in an isolated island to grow fat and large, without competition from mammalian predators on connected land-masses, shine a light on Darwinian evolution.

And from a purely 'awwww' perspective (and if you don't think that counts for anything, you're a robot), these critters kept many to hundreds to hundreds-of-thousands of years of generations going and survived in a single outcrop of rock against all odds. Fucking evolutionary heroes if you ask me.

Sentimentality aside...

We're now the dominant life-form on earth. We're looking for microbial life under two miles of ice in the Antarctic in Lake Vladivostok. We're sending rovers to Mars looking for microbial life.


A complex, beautiful, rare insect (did you watch the hatching vid?)... and you wonder why it's worth keeping it around?

"For scientific reasons, isolated species such as these should be preserved. To study, inform and provide living examples of the diversity of life that existed before the ubiquity of modern human civilisation eradicated so much."

These are two contradictory statements in one statement. Either we preserve, in which case there is no 'before' in your sentence (because there is no eradication), or we don't, and we document what once existed. I'll interpret your intent as being 'we should preserve all species so that we can study them and let people know about them'. But then again the question becomes 'why'. Not everything is worthy of study or preservation. With several millions of different species of insects alone, some just being random mutations of others, why should we exhaustively catalog all of them? They are just the result of randomness, we ended up where we are out of stochasticity. What is the underlying reason to preserve a random state of nature? Change is natural, things come and go, so do species - nothing out of the ordinary about it.

"Creatures such as these... adapted in an isolated island to grow fat and large, without competition from mammalian predators on connected land-masses, shine a light on Darwinian evolution."

Please tell what they tell us, or might tell us, that we don't know yet, and what we can learn from them that requires a full reintroduction into existing ecosystems of them.

"And from a purely 'awwww' perspective"

Ignoring the ad hominem fallacious reasoning, they have nothing that makes them so special that only they could survive these circumstance and that we can learn from; just a dumb coming together of circumstances, survivor bias.


Here I'm losing you completely. What is 'alien-like' about them, except from having the same color as the antagonist in the 'alien' movie series? They're just big bugs, so what? I seems like you're trying to say that because they look like something movie producers imagined hostile alien life forms would look like, that that makes them worthy of special treatment? Why would you put such value into something - just because it looks like a CGI effect from a Hollywood movie?

"A complex, beautiful, rare insect (did you watch the hatching vid?)... and you wonder why it's worth keeping it around?"

None of the things you mention in the first part of your sentence indicate in any way why one would expend effort at keeping it, it all falls back on circular reasoning and 'because it's unique'. Not everything that is unique is worth keeping. I have a broken pencil here on my desk that is in its shape statistically very likely to be unique in the whole world. I'll still throw it away.

> What is the underlying reason to preserve a random state of nature? Change is natural, things come and go, so do species - nothing out of the ordinary about it.

I can't speak for the OP, obviously, but I'm in favor of preserving particular states of nature for essentially aesthetic reasons: I want to keep a copy around for when evolution moves on and species change niches or go extinct. I like keeping track of the information, too.

I won't pretend that's "natural" though. If it's anything it's pretty explicitly anti-natural. I wouldn't necessarily recommend reintroducing them into their original environment either, unless said reintroduction wasn't disruptive (to either the environment or the locals).

Some species also need to be kept around for reasons of ecosystem integrity (system being the operative word there), but these particular insects don't appear to fall under that heading.

"These are two contradictory statements in one statement."

Well I'm glad I got the opportunity to chat with you sir, and your smarts shut me down. I'll shut up now.

Let me know when I can talk, and in the meantime

Not sure if you pressed 'reply' too soon?

I'm quite confused, first you say you want to discuss, but then you get all snarky and dismissive on me without going into the substance of the discussion. If there are any rational reasons to want to preserve as many species as possible, I'd like to be convinced. I was just pointing out that your arguments weren't phrased consistently, and then went on to explain my interpretation of what you were trying to say, so as to not get stuck in pedanticism or requiring too much thought into what is, after all, an informal discussion. I'm just trying to make my interpretations of your words explicit by way of explaining the process that led to them, yet you seem to interpret it as an ad hominem.

Sorry roel_v... I was IUI (Interneting under the influence).

Are you really against (re)introducing woolly mammoths?! I, for one, think they would be lovely pets!

I'm not for or against reintroducing things per se, just that there seems to be an implied urgency in reintroduction which I don't understand where it comes from.

Maybe re-introducing a mammoth would be cool as a tourist attraction. I don't care much for it, but if others want to do it, great for them (but don't make governments pay for it, obviously).

The dodo is just one among so many species that went extinct following human intervention, and not just in the modern age. I recommend watching http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/monsters-we-met/, that gives a better overview of the ecological impact of man across ages.

And utter stupefying luck

That's an amazing story. This insect was pretty lucky to live on the coolest rock climbing crag I have ever seen...which requires a special permit to climb [1]. I think I would have quite happily joined that "research" team.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balls_Pyramid

The first attempt to climb it was by Dick Smith (who is somewhat famous in Australia - initally for starting our version of Radio Shack)

(There had been an earlier attempt in 1964 by another Sydney team, which included adventurer Dick Smith and other members of the Scouting movement. They were forced to turn back on their fifth day, running short of food and water. In 1979, Smith returned to the pyramid, together with climbers John Worrall and Hugh Ward. They successfully reached the summit and unfurled a flag of New South Wales provided to them by Premier Neville Wran, declaring the island Australian territory (a formality which it seems had not previously been done).)

I'd rather have a house on a craggy island:


[Apparently the house belongs to Bjork].

The photo on Wikipedia is pretty low res, as are most other images I could find. This one is the best one I could find: http://www.fotopedia.com/items/caha118trhdlg-M-cFKeb7a90 These two are also good: http://www.gore-ljudje.net/informacije/60348/

Looks literally out of this world.

Pics of Ball's Pyramid from Bryden Allen, one of the first people to summit this wicked place: http://www.uq.edu.au/nuq/jack/Bryden.html

Bryden is my uncle, and although I knew he'd climbed a lot of cool stuff in his time (Centrepoint Tower in Sydney, for example), I'd never realised he'd done Ball's Pyramid.

Now I'll actually have an interesting conversation with him for once!

There's an underground film "The only building I ever wanted to climb" showing the summiting of Centrepoint Tower after your uncle's attempt. The overhang of the restaurant base was what stopped him from going further, later parties had to pull the blueprints of the building and make up some rings to slot into the rails underneath.

See: http://brydenallen.com/sandstone_and_clock-towers.pdf

Summit is a verb now?

It has been for a while, in certain dialects. One of the wonderful things about english is that it evolves.

Yup, that happens pretty regularly, some coianges being better than others.

For example, during the Beijing Olympics, various coaches and commentators unfortunately verbified 'medal'. The resulting sentences were not pleasant...

Disclaimer: English is not my first language.

In my experience, I see it's very, very common to turn a noun as a verb, in informal contexts. Do you people still bother to make a distinction?

Yes we do make that distinction.

>"Eve became very, very sick. Patrick ... worked every night for a month desperately trying to cure her. ... Eventually, based on gut instinct, Patrick concocted a mixture that included calcium and nectar and fed it to his patient, drop by drop, as she lay curled up in his hand."

They look just about damn disgusting, but the mental image produced by that paragraph was just so... heart-warming.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if this article was titled "Giant insect, presumed extinct for 80 years, rediscovered, reproduces in the zoo"?

The neighbouring Howe Island, is pure island porn. Ideal, steady annual climate, no venomous or stinging life forms. There aren't even sharks in the daytime waters.

It does apparently have a bit of a rat problem, though.

> There aren't even sharks in the daytime waters.

That's actually a downside.

Sharks are cool and they're almost never dangerous, at least to divers.

Yes, things are different for surface folk who insist on looking like a seal from below.

Any HN'ers in Sydney with a spare Yacht want to go check out Ball's pyramid? I'll cook. :-)

Just check the yacht for rats first...

We're not going to land! That'd be irresponsible!

Rats can swim no problem.

You could fly to Lord Howe Island with Qantas from Sydney. I looked at doing it but it is very expensive and so is accommodation when you get there. Although now I might reconsider just seeing Ball's Pyramid would be reason to go.

"Step one, therefore, would be to mount an intensive (and expensive) rat annihilation program. Residents would, no doubt, be happy to go rat-free, ..."

I despise rats. Yet I find it disconcerting that the author just brushes this off as a triviality. We are perfectly happy saving one species by wiping out another.

Black rats are extremely common worldwide and are at no risk of extinction so nobody is 'wiping out' black rats. They're only talking about on Howe Island. The goal is not to avoid killing animals, it's to preserve biodiversity. Same reason people try to wipe out Kudzu, zebra mussels, snakeheads, rats, and other invasive species that displace endemic populations.

At one point there were more passenger pigeons on Earth than there were humans. Pigeons are widely considered by many folks to be little more than rats with wings, so it's unsurprising that few people cared as passenger pigeon populations were "wiped out", until ultimately the species became extinct.

I don't imagine that black rats will become extinct, but we should not pretend as though the prospect of "wiping out" local populations of any species is anything other than a morally ambiguous activity.

If the animal is an introduced species that has decimated native populations, I would think the morality quite straightforward.

Wiping out another - on that particular island, where they were non-native.

Invasive species cause havoc and removing them (whether by killing or by trapping[1]) is hard but useful work.

[1] See hedgehogs on some obscure Scots islands.

Duh, its evolution. You make it sound like a war theatre.

April 2003 - Attempts to begin a cull of hedgehogs on North Uist in the Western Isles have got under way.


April 2005 - Animal rights activists are trying to rescue hedgehogs as an annual cull gets under way in the Outer Hebrides.


October 2005 - Protest over annual hedgehog cull


April 2007 - The board of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has decided to suspend its cull of hedgehogs in the Western Isles.


February 2010 - Hebridean hedgehogs: a prickly issue The Uists cull has already cost more than £1m, but we should question the causal link between bird and hedgehog populations


February 2011 - £1.3m hedgehog cull to save islands' birds eggs 'fails'


Also: Australia's efforts against the cane toad, invasive fish species all over the world introduced by humans for "sport", Florida's efforts against the Burmese python (which has become the dominant predator - even swallowing local adult alligators).

  > invasive fish species all over the world
  > introduced by humans for "sport"
Not just for "sport," IIRC there are some invasive species in the Mississippi River that got there when one of the floods engulfed some fish farms/hatcheries that had some exotic fish there to help maintain pests/algae/etc.

Also, Florida has a lot of iguanas (which are non-native), especially in the Everglades, you just don't hear much about it because the pythons are a larger issue.

Black rats are in no danger of extinction.

Even that, this means genocide for a species.

Nuclear weapons couldn't kill off even half of the rats on this planet.

Which is exactly why if we want to survive a nuclear war we need to start cross breeding with black rats and probably cockroaches.

Well that's an unpleasant mental image...

However, cockroaches actually aren't any better at surviving radiation than any other species, mythbusters tried it.

They can survive in harsher environments using less energy. Wasn't actually thinking about a rad-hard organism. Maybe throw in some flatworm, someone has to have a robust error-correcting code system built into their genetics.

Granted we would have to figure out a different neuro chemistry or physiology for having human level cognition on a much smaller energy budget.

They should import cats. Thats how they got rid from enormous rat population after Leningrad (current St.Petersburg, Russia) blockade during the WW2. That would be a natural way of annihilating rat population(passive killing).

This reminds me of an old Simpsons episode:


KENT Our top story, the population of parasitic tree lizards has exploded, and local citizens couldn't be happier! It seems the rapacious reptiles have developed a taste for the common pigeon, also known as the 'feathered rat', or the 'gutter bird'. For the first time, citizens need not fear harassment by flocks of chattering disease-bags.

Later, Bart receives an award from Mayor Quimby outside the town hall. Several lizards slink past.

QUIMBY For decimating our pigeon population, and making Springfield a less oppressive place to while away our worthless lives, I present you with this scented candle.

Skinner talks to Lisa.

SKINNER Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.

LISA But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?

SKINNER No problem. We simply unleash wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.

LISA But aren't the snakes even worse?

SKINNER Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.

LISA But then we're stuck with gorillas!

SKINNER No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

Cats come with their own problems. They were introduced on Kerguelen Island to eradicate introduced rats. The rats are left, and the cats eat endangered bird eggs.



          'Look, I can explain,' he said.
          Lord Vetinari lifted an eyebrow with the care of one who, having found
a piece of caterpillar in his salad, raises the rest of the lettuce. 'Pray do,' he said, leaning back. 'We got a bit carried away,' said Moist. 'We were a bit too creative in our thinking. We encouraged mongooses to breed in the posting boxes to keep down the snakes...' Lord Vetinari said nothing. 'Er... which, admittedly, we introduced into the posting boxes to reduce the numbers of toads...' Lord Vetinari repeated himself. 'Er... which, it's true, staff put in the posting boxes to keep down the snails...' Lord Vetinari remained unvocal. 'Er... These, I must in fairness point out, got into the boxes of their own accord, in order to eat the glue on the stamps,' said Moist, aware that he was beginning to burble. 'Well, at least you were saved the trouble of having to introduce them yourselves,' said Lord Vetinari cheerfully. 'As you indicate, this may well have been a case where chilly logic should have been replaced by the common sense of, perhaps, the average chicken. But that is not the reason I asked you to come here today.'

--Terry Pratchett, _Making Money_

So long as there's something there to eat cats. Introducing one invasive species to cure another can lead to unpredictable ordeals.

There are always big predators at top of the biological food-energy chain. They are few in numbers. Anyways, I believe populations of cats and rats will fluctuate. Increase in cats will cause decrease in rats and then subsequent decrease in cats. Like phase difference between sine and cosine wave graphs.

I believe introducing some small wild cat population would be a right thing to do, tho I would like to hear opinions of experts.

Edit: I don't think cats are invasive in the way rats are

Trouble with cats is they often destroy bird populations as well, not sure how much of a problem this is in Australia, but in New Zealand feral cats are up there with pests that need to wiped off any island that is to be rehabilitated.

The Stephens Island Wren is an excellent example of this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephens_Island_Wren

Feral cats are a massive problem in rural Australia. They decimate small native mammals. The idea of introducing them to control rats and save native animals is insane - the cats would wipe out everything smaller than them.

Introducing a foreign species into an ecosystem has failed spectacularly so many times I cannot believe people still propose it.

> There are always big predators at top of the biological food-energy chain.

Not on islands. That's why islands have such unique animals found nowhere else.

Unfortunately cats don't eat only rats, they also like birds for instance. Look at the dodo extension mentioned in another thread, domestic animals played an important role there. Then the birds usually keep (nasty) insects population in control, etc and keeping a balance is tricky.

Snakes or other crawling rat predators would probably be a better idea, but then trying to convince the island people to share their space with snakes and weird looking insects at the same time would probably not go well :)

Snakes have bad impact on birds as well. Maybe not adults, but the eggs. I believe there is always a bigger fish in the ocean, everything is just a matter of equilibrium and its rules of self-control. Humans and rats probably are the only species that ignore those rules.

A reasonable model if you assumed that cats exclusively ate rats - and wouldn't wreak havoc on any other native rodent populations (if they still exist).

Don't cats eat insects, too? I'm all in favor of getting rid of the rats, but I don't think cats are a solution.

Wouldn't the cats eat the insects?

Not exactly their niche. They might hunt for insects, but it won't be enough in terms of energy acquired. So probably they will reduce in population until rats' population will restore back.

And its good to keep rats busy. They won't wander as freely as they do now and hence eat less insects.

Those particular insects look big and juicy though. I know for sure my cat would love a snack like that.

I doubt anybody in the world can anihilate rats.

> The important thing, the scientists thought, was to get a few of these insects protected and into a breeding program. That wasn't so easy. The Australian government didn't know if the animals on Ball's Pyramid could or should be moved. There were meetings, studies, two years passed, and finally officials agreed to allow four animals to be retrieved. Just four.

> When the team went back to collect them, it turned out there had been a rock slide on the mountain, and at first they feared that the whole population had been wiped out.

This is why you just do things, bureaucrats be damned. Better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.

This is one of the few instances where I disagree with that attitude. The risks involved in relocating ill-studied life forms are, obviously, enormous, and it does need careful and dispassionate consideration. I'd much rather risk a mildly interesting species go bye-bye than risk introducing a major ecological stressor.

On the other hand, I might just be taking this stance because I'm so unfamiliar with biological studies in general, and if I knew more, I'd happily take a more gung-ho attitude towards these things.

Human error almost caused the species to go extinct -- I think it's fair, right, and proper to move to restore them to their prior condition if possible, and the situation was critical on the pyramid. It seems like a pretty docile species based on the articles facts, and they could keep them cordoned in a lab until they found what to do with them.

If the researchers and biologists felt it was the right play (which they did), it seems like a dangerous risk to wait for committees of non-scientists to make a political decision based on it.

I had the same thought reading the article. There are risks either way; bureaucratic deliberation has costs as well as benefits. In this case, the relevant experts, in balancing those costs against the benefits, would definitely not have dithered for two years before acting.

We've definitely lost something here. As Peter Thiel noted: [1]

  There are ways that the government is working far less well than it used to.
  Just outside my office is the Golden Gate Bridge. It was built under FDR's
  Administration in the 1930s in about three and a half years. They're currently
  building an access highway on one of the tunnels that feeds into the bridge,
  and it will take at least six years to complete. 
I wonder what it might take to get that back.

[1] http://www.the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=1187

Galloping Gertie[1] was built in less than two years and lasted three months before collapsing. There is a reason behind most bureaucratic procedures, forgotten though it may be.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacoma_Narrows_Bridge_(1940)

The species obviously is not extinct.

They had been on the island and survived for 80 years, though it probably wasn't a picnic..

Imagine if the scientists had tripped a landslide over the habitat? What if the entire population had gone the way of the first two and died within two weeks?

It seems to me that in this case careful consideration probably saved the species rather than risk its survival.

> pretty docile species

Like rabbits?

2 of the ones they moved got sick and died, while the other two got sick and luckily survived. So the case is not clear on whether moving them without a careful plan would have been better (they would need to set up the arrival destination carefully).

Australia has a long history of making bad decisions involving the local wildlife, which is why they are now super-cautious when it comes to things like this.

I'd assume the island's ecology would already have adapted to these insects though considering they probably previously have existed for a long time on it. It is possible that something other than the rats being introduced has changed in the ecology in the last 80 years, but I think the chance of a disaster is less than 50%.

Begging for forgiveness for having wiped the last remnants of a species off the face of the earth because you thought you would be able to collect and look after them would be a bitch, though.

In this case it might look like bureaucracy was a hindrence, but much of australian bureaurcracy is designed around preventing this thing happening again.

It depends if you have young kids or not - it wouldn't be fair to them to be locked up for n years and not be able to pay the mortgage.

I love stories like this! I can understand how difficult these guys will be to introduce back into their original habitat...there will have to be extensive investigation into if they will hurt the local economy (i.e. will they eat plans that people sell for profit or use for food). Australia hasnt had a good history of introducing or removing animals (take those rats as an example, and then consider the Cain toad..not cool)

Just imagine how fulfilling it felt as the first insect escaped from its vacuum pack...serious wow moment i imagine. I wish i was that valuable to this world...

From the Wikipedia article on Dryococelus australis [1]

"The ultimate goal is to produce a large population for re-introduction to Lord Howe Island if the project to eradicate the invasive rats is successful."

I wonder what the 347 residents of Lord Howe Island think about this? It's an amazing story and all, but I sure wouldn't want a bunch of these insects introduced into my neighborhood.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dryococelus_australis

At what point do we consider those 347 residents as an invasive species?

It hardly seems fair to consider them an invasive species without considering all humans one as well.

Along with every other species in existence.

Sure, but you'd probably be happy to see the end of the rats.

Though it seems like even if the government eradicates the rats it will only be a question of time before they're back.

Why wouldn't you want them? They seem harmless.

Cockroaches are harmless as well... A lot of people instinctively find most insects repulsive. No rational argument is going to convince them otherwise.

Cockroaches inside your house are a sanitation issue, since they drop feces everywhere. Beyond that, they can knock themselves out.

Clickable wiki page for those that want to an image of the insect:


Huh. I clicked that link on my phone, and the mobile redirect got DNS hijacked by t-mobile and redirected to a tmobile/yahoo domainsquat spam page.

Bad trailing slash, I think, though it really should just err on the Wiki, not get hijacked by an ISP.


The URL with a trailing slash redirects to a 404. Presumably tmobile feels they're providing a more useful result, and monetizing it. If my ISP did this I would use a proxy.

Sorry for the typo, probably shouldn't comment with a mobile device.

This is a fascinating story, but I must ask - does this belong on hacker news? Please, I ask with no intended malice.

While I see your point, it's come to a point where I prefer to see such interesting non-tech article rather than the crcle jerking of (poorly made) benchmarks / you should do this / no you should do that / php should die / my answer to "php should die" that I should have posted as a comment but didn't because I'm only milking for more adviews / etc ...

Besides your point with which I agree (and am saddened by), the point of this community is to stimulate our collective minds, discuss ideas we wouldn't normally think of. Evolution is one such topic of conversation -- what evolutionary traits made these creatures grow so big on Ball's Pyramid, how did they grow so big so quickly, how did they get there from the other island, etc...

By expanding our collective horizons, we are able to extrapolate useful information and perhaps even apply it to our jobs or startups. For example, ant colony optimization came about by studying ants - not exactly what the OP would consider HN material. Genetic algorithms came about by studying genetics, mutations, and all things Darwin.

So instead of asking, "why is this on HN," we should ask ourselves or each other "how/what can we learn from this and apply it to our fields?"

From the guidelines:

> On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

> Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. Videos of pratfalls or disasters, or cute animal pictures. If they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off-topic.

I can totally see this on TV news, as a brief spot on a slow news day. But I have to admit, if I was only going to admit one off topic story per week or something, this one would make it.

But guess if they'd cover it on radio news, it could still be on topic.

It's good to always be asking that. As someone who often thinks "no, it doesn't", I think this kind of story is ok: it's not about politics or some kind of charged topic, it's just a random, interesting story. If you want one that's in need of flagging, the "big brother speech jamming gun" one is a great candidate.

So is it unhackerlike to be politically charged?

Political discussions are usually polarised, and thus they start with pointless bickering and end with ranting flame-fests. People tend to enter the discussion knowing what they think, with little to no chance for changing their minds.

There are very many places where such discussions are welcome.

And most of those places suck. You have to wonder, can you design a discussion community framework in a way that enables more constructive discussions on these topics? Maybe something different than a straight threaded (or non-threaded) discussion forum? In the same manner that Stack Overflow tries to do it for programming and more general Q&A; not that I'm saying it'd work the same way as SO.

Not at all. It just belongs on a different site.

Science is always welcome on HN.

Judging by the 200+ up votes, yes. Plus, the aforementioned hacker news guidelines: http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Every time I see someone ask, "does this belong on HN", I think exactly that. Obviously it was interesting enough for 200+ people, so if it's not interesting to you as an individual then you can move to the next article. It astonishes me how many people seem to think it's <Your Name Here> News instead of Hacker News.

That's wrong too though: if I get 1000 people who love professional cycling news to sign up to HN and start upvoting articles about Alberto Contador, that doesn't mean it's on topic.

It's wrong only if you assume that guidelines should pertain to an absurd range of deliberately destructive yet highly implausible scenarios, as opposed actual problems that could regularly occur in their absence.

My example is contrived, but if you think about things like the TSA, US electoral politics, and that sort of thing, it begins to look much more realistic.

The guidelines do specify a few things that might be interesting enough that they'll get upvoted, but still don't belong here -- "most stories about politics, crime, or sports", for example. Unfortunately, some people vote without reading the guidelines; it's up to the rest of us to use the "flag" option accordingly.

It definitely belongs here. Science is awesome and this story is remarkable.

I enjoy reading two-three non "hacker" topics every day and having it discussed with this community, instead of say reddit. Since this community is closer to my mindset.

Saying that, i see that this kind of exploration with rewards like a previous thought extinct specimens is a "hack" of nature, it was an investment, a climb to the top and a reward :) . Therefore it is hacker news.

In a way these scientists "hacked" a species from going completely extinct.


The number of replies strongly implies "interest".

It helps prevent in-breeding of articles.

Another option which they probably explored was creating more habitat for them on Ball's Pyramid. Maybe somewhere far away from the original area or increase the cricket supply?

I do not envy being in that situation, where a mistake seals the fate of a pretty awesome bug.


The beetle mentioned in that article is not the same insect as in this article.

1k+ points wow, looks like HN hackers really like bugs...

That is amazing. I'm glad they were found.

How does the mobile version have photo of the island but not have a photo of the insect? Quite absurd. "Pics or didn't happen"

holy cow batman, am i happy to get out of there!

My takeaway: Ball's Pyramid is one cool looking island.

Start up idea #769

Something that annihilates both mice AND giant insects

Warning: large, up-close image of creepy-crawly.

WHOA!! Look at those HUGE eyebrows!!

This seems to me like a case of empathy gone awry. All that work and effort to bring back a species of insects? There is no balance to preserve; they've been gone for almost a century. Those resources could be spent preserving human life.

Playing the devil's advocate here but I believe humans do not need preserving. With 7 billion individuals and counting, it seems we're doing just fine. Regardless of how poor the living conditions are for many of us.

For this particular species of insect however, having the last 24 remaining individuals of the entire species (presumably) be dependent on a single small shrubbery makes me think the effort put into this rescue was more than warranted.

Specially considering their extinction was (indirectly) our fault and a mistake that could have been prevented with better education and oversight on who and what was brought along during our travels. Had their extinction been an entirely natural process, I might have agreed that their rescue would not have been such a high priority.

Of course there is the question of us disturbing ecological balance somewhere is natural or not. We are after all natural beings ourselves. Whether we are intelligent or not and have the capacity to reason about our actions is irrelevant in a strictly biological sense. But this discussion opens up a whole different can of worms.

edit: Fixed some grammar.

Humans are dying at a rate of 1.8 per second, and every human death is a tragedy of greater magnitude than the extinction of an insect species.

Some of those dying humans would like nothing more than to research and save insects. What we do in our life defines us. We all die.

On the scale of human activities to cease, preservation of an insect species isn't something I would stop. There are much more fruitful candidates.

Humans are dying at that rate, and being born at a rate well faster then our death rate. Otherwise how would we have gone from a population of six billion to seven billion?

Also I'm going to drop back to an argument I hold near and dear. Lots of people are terrible, they hurt other people for their own gain. We start wars just because someone doesn't believe the same things as ourselves. We go out of our way to put others down with words just because we think that since words can't hurt then it must be okay to say whatever. All in all it's rather sad that a human being which is supposed to be superior to all other forms of life doesn't have the empathy to want to fix a problem we made for these animals in the first place. Call me crazy but as a human I'd like to leave things in a better state then they were in when I got here.

Saving an insect species is human life.

Why do you believe that ONE human life is more important than the extinction of an entire species?

Destroying the results of a genetic program that's reached an optima after hundreds of millions of years seems like an incredible waste of biological knowledge.

When we can duplicate those results in an hour on a desktop PC, I'll agree with you. I'm not holding my breath.

Aside from the nit-picking fact that "optima" is a plural and you use it with a singular indefinite article ("an") ...

There is no reason to believe that this is an optimum. (That is, an optimum for its environment, or any extant environment. Since, of course, a very wide range of possible forms are optimal for SOME environment, like the environment with a mad god that kills all life forms that do not exactly match XYZ, but that sort of reasoning is obviously just silly). Anyway, blethering aside, my point here is that if you think existing species are at all likely to be "optimal" in any meaningful sense, you have likely misunderstood evolution.

I'm surprised at your selfishness. Sitting at the table of plenty but won't spare a crumb for another. Disgusting, really.

not fast enough.

And the time you spent reading a book or watching TV or programming could also instead be spent preserving human life.

What if those insects somehow hold a scientific discovery that can be a boon to the human race? Like silk by spiders?

Or because of their large size, we could farm and grow them as alternative food source?


There was an excellent article in the New Yorker about eating bugs some time back.


Unfortunately, it requires a subscription to read now.

Yep, as I saw him coming out of his shell, one of the first things I though was "I wonder if it's good eatin'".

Actually, it's probably not bad, and bugs can be very efficient to farm.

These insects also don't go around murdering people (I'm about 99.9% sure of that, especially considering you see the people just holding them like it's nothing.) While on the other hand I see some people that murder, rape, burn and pillage the homes of people just trying to survive.

Also, consider this, we are not messing with any balances or natural orders. We are in fact fixing a problem that we caused when we brought the black rats over in the first place.

Also both people and black rats are overpopulating this planet.

Lots of other animals have "negative" impacts on their ecosystems. Beavers build dams and flood habitats producing drastic changes to the ecosystem. Locust swarms clear entire fields of foliage. And you can't suggest violence is only a human activity. Check out Jane Goodall's work, apes will kill the offspring of rival females.

Why aren't you a doctor? Don't you care about people?

We all have hobbies and passions.

What resources? Are you suggesting we should force entomologists to attend medical school or whatever you're on about instead? Are you sure social programs of that sort wouldn't decrease the quality of human life anyway? Have you given any of this any thought? Do you give anything any thought, or do you just drift through life as a collection of anthropomorphized knee-jerk reactions?

Your last question reads like a description of a giant insect, actually....

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