The Lord Howe Island stick insect, which you see hatching above, looking like an alien struggling out of a human torso, will grow to the size of your hand. It’s also called a “tree lobster” — that’s how big it is.
The most incredible thing about these insects, though, is not how big they are or how Geigeresque they look, but how close they came to not existing. In the early 20th century, a British trade ship crashed on the South Pacific island that these stick insects inhabited, and black rats from its hold took over the island and ate all the bugs. One very small population survived, hanging out around one tiny little bush on another island (really more of a bare outcropping of rock), until a couple of Australian scientists found them there.
I really recommend NPR’s Robert Krulwich’s telling of this story. Here’s a taste:
On their way down, on a precarious, unstable rock surface, they saw a single melaleuca bush peeping out of a crack and, underneath, what looked like fresh droppings of some large insect …
The only thing to do was to go back up after dark, with flashlights and cameras, to see if the pooper would be out taking a nighttime walk. Nick Carlile and a local ranger, Dean Hiscox, agreed to make the climb. And with flashlights, they scaled the wall till they reached the plant, and there, spread out on the bushy surface, were two enormous, shiny, black-looking bodies. And below those two, slithering into the muck, were more, and more … 24 in all. All gathered near this one plant.
To sum up, a giant, awesome bug that looks like an alien almost didn’t survive because people are idiots (and rats are jerks). But it did, because sometimes people aren’t total idiots and are a little bit brave. And now you can watch how awesome this bug is on the internet.