Big Bait: The Rarest Insect in the World Once Used to Catch Massive Fish

   01.19.16

What kind of fish are you going to catch with that? A megalodon? This rare and unique-looking insect is known as the Lord Howe Island stick insect, or perhaps more commonly as the tree lobster. Growing up to six inches long and just over an ounce, they are the heaviest flightless insect in the world. Once thought to be extinct, the tree lobster is perhaps also the rarest insect in the world, with only a few dozen individuals known to exist in the wild. Fortunately, over 1,000 adults are now kept in captivity as insurance against them ever going “extinct” again.

So what’s so important about this bug? Well, besides their unique morphology, the Lord Howe stick insect is perhaps best known as live bait for massive fish. Unfortunately, you won’t find any book discussing strategies for using these stick insects anytime soon. The tree lobster disappeared entirely from their native Lord Howe Island in the 1920s after the place was infested with insect-eating black rats. Subsequent expeditions to find the insect were unsuccessful.

Then, in 1964, a group of climbers visiting Ball’s Pyramid, a tiny mountain of rocks and dirt about 14 miles southeast of the island, discovered a dead tree lobster. Later visitors found additional dead insects, and it was not until 2001 that scientists were able to track down the insects and discover that a incredibly small population had kept the species alive for decades.

So how did a species native only to Lord Howe Island manage to find their way to Ball’s Pyramid? It may very well be thanks to fishermen that this species got a second chance. Experts believe that the surviving stick insects arrived at Ball’s Pyramid after being lost by anglers who used them as bait. Even just a few individuals could allow the tree lobsters to repopulate, due to the rare ability of females being able to lay eggs without the presence of a male. In 2003, scientists began capturing specimens to breed a captive population. Today there are over 13,000 eggs at kept at several zoos across the world.

Image from granitethighs on Wikimedia.
Image from granitethighs on Wikimedia.

So the question remains, exactly what fish were these giant bugs used to catch? Few surviving records exist to document how anglers utilized the tree lobster. It is likely that the bugs attracted all kinds of fish, such as giant trevally, kingfish, yellow fin tuna, and wahoo. According to what little information remains, Lord Howe Island was apparently overrun with these behemoth-sized insects and they were easily harvested for bait.

Could you imagine putting one of these on the end of your line? Perhaps if the tree lobster had not nearly gone extinct, maybe it would have eventually been shipped overseas for freshwater fishing. Who knows, maybe in an alternate universe you’d find these things in fridges at the shop instead of worms.

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