There’s a massive monolithic natural pyramid that’s probably the lost remnants of a sunken continent — and the tallest ocean stack in the world. But there seem to be hope for one insect species that merely survived mass extinction on that island. Dear friends, welcome to Ball Island — the sunken continent, and home of what’s probably the rarest insects on Earth.
Related media: Ball’s Pyramid | 100 Wonders | Atlas Obscura
Once Upon An Island
Ball Island is located roughly 563 kilometers (350 miles) east off the coast of Australia. The pyramid rises at a staggering height of 562 meters (1,844 feet) above the Pacific — that’s even taller than the Eiffel Tower. It probably formed as the result of years of erosion from an ancient shield volcano about 7 million years ago.
The island itself is just only 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the coast of Lord Howe Island — an old whaling island that was discovered by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball of the Royal Navy in 1788. He made the discovery while he was on his way from Sydney Cove to the penal colony of Norfolk Island, and eventually named the island after British admiral Howe, and named the towering island after himself.
Ball Island actually sits atop what geologists term as the lost continent. The mostly-sunken land mass discovered as Zealandia in 2017, after decades of rock sampling and geological survey. However, most people wouldn’t considered a sunken landmass as a continent, but some say Zealandia meets all the prerequisites of being a continent. Ball Island is one of several other landmasses above sea level that fits the bill of being a continent, with the most notable of them all being New Zealand.
(Fun fact: Greenland too does, but it’s not considered a continent. Strange, isn’t it?)
The island is also unique for it’s intriguing history and wildlife. After it’s discovery, Lieutenant Ball was unable to go ashore amid the island’s lack thereof of a shoreline and steep elevation. As a matter of fact, no one was ever able to go ashore, until almost a century later. Its alleged that the geologist Henry Wilkinson of the New South Wales Department of Mines, led an expedition ashore the island in 1882. But ever since, its believed that the island is a barren wasteland, devoid of life.
The Big Bug That Could
In 1964, a team of hikers from Sydney, Australia tried reaching the peak of the pyramid but failed in their quest. However, the team stumbled into discovering a species on the island that scientist thought had been extinct. Their discovery: bugs!
This discovery was the enormous Lord Howe Island Stick insect (Dryococelus australis), also known as the “tree lobster.” These bugs were once upon a time abundant on neighboring Lord Howe Island. Their extinction was triggered by an infestation of rats from a 1918 shipwreck that decimated their population. And ever since 1920, no more specimens were found on Lord Howe Island, and considered extinct. The 1964 team discovered dead specimens which gave biologists a hope that these bugs could be found again, and word, they were.
The Bugging Discovery
At long last, in 2001, a team of entomologists discovered a group of 24 living insects around a single Melaleuca shrub. This was considered to be the only surviving population of Lord Howe stick insects on Earth as at the time. And in 2003, another team returned and collected two breeding pairs which were able to reproduce offspring at a Melbourne Zoo. By 2012, scientists had been able to breed more than 12,000 individuals of the insect, bringing and saving the species to existence again; with plans to even reintroduce them back into the wild.
The survival of this rare insect is mainly due to the fact that Ball’s Pyramid remained an untouched wilderness in most recent time. Nowadays, you require a permit from the New South Wales government before you hike on Ball Pyramid. But anyone interested to visit the pyramid too can make reservation with the local Lord Howe Island tour company for a boat trip.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Tue, Aug 27, 2019.