Bristol Zoo is celebrating after an endangered insect has laid eggs, raising hopes for the future of the species.
Two Lord Howe stick insects – which were once thought to have gone extinct – have produced eggs.
The pair were themselves the product of a breeding programme, despite the species being “incredibly difficult” to look after.
The zoo says its is first time a second generation of eggs has ever been laid outside of the creatures’ native Australia.
Bristol Zoo were sent the first batch of eggs of the insect, nicknamed ‘tree lobsters’, in 2015, when 300 arrived from Melbourne Zoo.
The eggs were flown in carefully packaged batches of 50, placed in sterilised sand, and transported in a climate-controlled part of a cargo hold.
In three years, zoo keepers have worked with San Diego Zoo and Toronto Zoo to save the species.
The larvae of six of the 300 eggs managed to reach adulthood. Those six then produced larvae of their own.
Five of these subsequent babies also reached adulthood, and two of those have now produced eggs of their own.
Fully grown adults are wingless and nocturnal and can only eat one species of a plant which has to be specially grown by horticulturists at the zoo.
Since 2002, the insect has been categorised as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) whose red list tracks species numbers in the world.
It originates on Lord Howe Island, a remote island about 300 miles off the coast of eastern Australia.
They were thought to have been driven to extinction after black rats invaded their habitat from a British supply ship stranded in 1918.
A small colony was found in 2001 on Ball’s Pyramid, a volcanic outcrop 12 miles offshore from Lord Howe Island.
There are now an estimated 20-30 of the insects left.
Mark Bushell, Curator of Invertebrates at Bristol Zoo, called the new eggs “one of our biggest achievements”.
He said: “We had our suspicions that the females might soon lay eggs, but to find eggs on New Year’s Eve is a great end to an already successful year, and a fantastic start to 2018.
“We have been tirelessly working with this critically endangered species for two years now, and to have achieved this success after such a lot of hard work and dedication is truly fantastic.”