Australia’s biggest stick insect found

By Signe Cane 10 March 2014
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A huge specimen of a rare giant stick insect has been found, and may be the largest in Australia.

A RARE SPECIMEN of the longest stick insect in Australia – and possibly the world – was found recently in North Queensland.

During their annual bug-hunting trip to North Queensland, collectors from Museum Victoria in Melbourne stumbled across a gargantuan stick insect (Ctenomorpha gargantua). The specimen was 50cm long, including outstretched legs, placing it amongst the largest in the world, and the longest in Australia.

When the museum’s live exhibits keeper Maik Fiedel shone his flashlight on the insect in a tree several metres above the ground, he immediately recognised the species. “As soon as I saw what it was, I went pale and couldn’t even talk for a while.”

Gargantuan stick insect a record-breaker

Nicknamed ‘Lady Gaga-ntuan’, this specimen is the latest so far of only a handful of sightings. First described in 2006, this stick insect, or phasmid, is thought to dwell high up in the canopy of the rainforest, so it was a surprise to find it lower down, within human reach.

“I actually think this is the largest species in the world,” Maik told Australian Geographic. “However, there is yet no officially recorded specimen to back that up. Unfortunately, the one I found is [relatively] small.”

The current record-holder for longest insect in the world is a 56.7cm-long specimen of Phobaeticus chani from Borneo, held in the Natural History Museum in London.

Entomologist Jack Hasenpusch, author of The Complete Field Guide to Stick and Leaf Insects of Australia, also believes the only reason the native Australian insect is not yet recognised as the longest species in the world is the lack of an official record. “It’s great that a female has finally been collected. It’s a great discovery,” he says.

Museum Victoria live exhibits keeper Maik Fiedel with the Lady Gaga-ntuan stick insect.

Gargantuan insects a rare breed

There have been unconfirmed sightings of large specimens of Ctenomorpha gargantua by members of the public. One person measured and photographed a 61.5cm insect, but released it back into the bush, meaning that the official scientific record could not be claimed.

Unfortunately since she was collected Lady Gaga-ntuan has died – Maik believes she was at the end of her 9- to 12-month lifespan. But the story is not yet over, since she laid 12 eggs, which the museum specialists are incubating in hopes that they will hatch in coming months.

Breeding these insects in captivity may lead not only to a better understanding of this elusive species, but perhaps to a new world record as well.