San Diego Zoo hatches near-extinct 'tree lobster' insects

One of the newly-hatched tree lobster stick insects (Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo).

One of the newly-hatched tree lobster stick insects (Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo).

Experts at San Diego Zoo have successfully hatched near-extinct tree lobster insects.

The zoo’s entomology department recently received 300 eggs of the critically endangered tree lobster, which is also known as the Lord Howe Island stick insect, from Australia’s Melbourne Zoo.

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The eggs arrived in San Diego as part of an ongoing conservation effort to bring the tree lobster back from the brink of extinction. The huge insect, which can grow to a length of around 7 inches, was previously thought to be extinct, until its rediscovery in 2001.

San Diego Zoo Spokeswoman Jenny Mehlow told that the baby tree lobsters, or nymphs, began hatching on Feb. 6. As of Friday afternoon, 19 nymphs have hatched, she added.

"The nymphs seem to emerge from the egg overnight or in the very early morning hours," Paige Howorth, the zoo’s curator of entomology, told NPR. "Most mornings since Saturday have included one or two little green surprises. We couldn't be happier!"

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Howorth added that the new arrivals appear to be munching on the same plants that the insects eat at the Melbourne Zoo, grown from clippings sent from Australia.

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"The nymph that comes out of the egg is about three times the size of the egg itself," Howorth told NPR. "It's just folded up in there like an origami piece or something — it's amazing."

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said that the tree lobster insects were bred at San Diego Zoo. Breeding actually took place in Australia.