Wednesday, 12 November 2008

A very large creepy crawly in Kensington

No, this isn't another story about how climate change is helping cockroaches to flourish in West London, but a spectacular new addition to the insect collection of the Natural History Museum.

Officially the world's longest insect, the new species of stick insect Phobaeticus chani (or Chan's Megastick if you prefer the common name) measures in at an astonishing 56.7cm, or just over 22 inches. That's including the legs, but at 35.7cm, it also wins the insect world record for the longest body.

Amazingly, despite being nearly two feet long, the species is new to science, with just three specimens in the world, brought to light courtesy of Mr Datuk Chan. The fact that it is thought to live high in the rain forest tree canopy of its native Borneo helps to explain why it has not been found before - as well as underlining the importance of the rain forest for natural diversity. And it's not just its length which is impressive: its eggs are unique too, produced with wing-like extensions that allow them to drift in the wind, helping to spread the species further.

All this underlines the desperate importance of preserving these important habitats from destruction: 'It is a sad thought that many other spectacular insect species are disappearing as their habitats are destroyed, before we have even had the chance to find and name them,' said Dr George Beccaloni, the stick-insect expert at the Natural History Museum. Even sadder in my view is that they are being lost at all.

One other little fact I didn't know is that the UK now has three species of stick insect (there are 3,000 world-wide), naturalised in the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall from their native New Zealand. Thankfully, they are not quite so large...

No comments: