The Company Strikes Again

Kage Baker was not afraid of bugs. This was amazing, as the list of things she was afraid was long and complex. But mere arthropods? Nah. Mind you, she didn’t go so far as to handle them with any pleasure -though she did once cautiously stroke a pink-legged tarantula. (I merely had a stroke.) Chance encounters, though, did not faze her.

This was especially handy because I come unstuck when faced with most insects. Too many joints, too many optic cells. Spiders also make me nuts. It’s not the multiple legs so much as the multiple eyes. Also, nothing should have a mouth that works sideways. Not fur, pink stripes or the Predator’s fly dreadlocks could improve a spider’s face.

Catching and defenestrating bugs was therefore one of Kage’s jobs.

In Pismo Beach, there are the usual varieties of bugs. Our gardens were always richly endowed with them, and Kage always saved me from intruders who decided to try indoor living. Especially the stick insects – they liked to eat new rose leaves (itself a heinous crime) but they also liked to hitch a ride as one passed the roses, and come into the house. I’d inevitably glance sideways and see beady compound eyes on my shoulder, have hysterics, and Kage would have to rescue me and the stick insect from mutual destruction.

Those things can get big! Horribly, science fiction-radiation-end of the world big … at least it looks that way when you bring your hand down from scratching your neck, and one is sitting on your hand looking at you. But then – there are these.

A Company Job

I must acknowledge my debt to the inestimable Mr. Tom Barclay (thank you, Tom!)  for bringing these to my attention. Not only are they unbelievably huge, their continued existence is such a miracle that it can only be a Dr. Zeus project.

These are Lord Howe Island stick insects, and they’ve been considered extinct for 80 years. They lived here …

… a modest tropical paradise in the Tasmanian Sea, until the entire population was devoured by immigrant black rats. Goodbye to the largest stick insect in the world, affectionately known to entomologists as the “tree lobster” because of its armour and freakish size.

However, 13 miles away is Ball’s Pyramid …

Ball's Pyramid

… which looks like a Sandals Resort for Mordor. And that is where, recently, the last surviving breeding population of Lord Howe Island’s Stick Insects were found. By accident. By some mountain climbers, in the dark (the bugs are nocturnal). Under one, single melaleuca bush. Turned out the entire global population was 24 insects: which is an improvement over none, but not really encouraging.

Eventually a breeding pair was moved to Melbourne Zoo. There are now 700 of the things, and an upcoming 11,000 eggs incubating. Australia, meantime, is trying to figure out where to put them – Lord Howe Island is still lousy with rats, and Ball’s Pyramid cannot really sustain 11,000 foot long tree lobsters. But in the meantime, they have been saved from oblivion, so people are pretty happy so far.

This has got to be a Company job. These bugs cannot fly and do not swim. Somewhere, under some portion of the Outback in the secret Company base that has been there for a thousand years, some entomologist is laughing his ass off as the mortals try to deal with the humongous bugs he saved for posterity. Doubtless while stoned on theobromos. You’d have to be stoned to do this. I mean, look at those things! But politely, man, because they’re sure as hell looking back at you.

Kage would be so pleased.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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17 Responses to The Company Strikes Again

  1. catharine says:

    Tree Lobsters?! *SHUDDER*!


  2. Margaret says:

    Definitely an EEUW! moment. I’d think it would take a couple of rats to overpower one of those beasts. It would be good to drop all of them in the vicinity of the Dr Zeus base, if only we could locate it..

    And the What’s Wrong With You People?! Award to those climbing that perpendicular thing in the dark.


  3. Kate says:

    I think it’s sort of the spirit of the thing, Margaret. We already have lots of rats – a plenitude of them. But we had only 24 of these critters when they were found and taken to the Melbourne Zoo. However, I agree that the climbers were insane. But what a grand madness all around, eh?


  4. Medrith says:

    Where were those when I was applique’ing the big gross bugs on my 6-year-old grandson’s big gross bug quilt?


  5. Kate says:

    Under a bush on Ball’s Triangle, I assume. Finding out about that – which is a delightfully weird-looking place – is almost as much fun as the survival of the bugs.


  6. Tom says:

    Oh. You don’t like insects. Oh.
    Okay, when the box from Australia turns up, DON’T OPEN IT. Just call me. I’ll deal with it. Sorry.


  7. Neassa says:

    Okay – nothing to say about that bug {shudder.} But Ball’s Pyramid looks like something from a video game or fantasy painting. An alien landscape. Nothing on earth really looks like that. And people climb that thing at night?


  8. Kate says:

    I loved Ball’s Pyramid – such an unlikely place to exist at all!

    But, Tom – I’m taking that box straight to the L.A. Zoo. I’ll get credit till forever! In the meantime, I think some knitted Lord Howe Island Stick Insect harnesses are in order … ’cause you could take those buggers for a walk.


  9. Chris says:

    Well, since no one has asked, can humans eat them (lobster on the barbie)?


  10. Tom says:

    Taking Bugger for a walk would be a nice thing to do. Bugger thanks you.


  11. Kate says:

    Chris – I bet Yes, since in a pinch nearly anything is edible. But in the short run, apparently they are not very good, because before they vanished from Lord Howe’s Island, local fishermen used them for bait. So even if they are edible, they’re not as good as fish. I can speak from dreadful experience to the fact the ordinary stick insects, under their armour, have the consistency of rotten lettuce …


    • Catharine says:

      Kathleen, words cannot express how absolutely horrified I am for you that you know what a stick bug tastes like. I would be traumatized for life!


      • Kate says:

        Strange things happen when you’re driving and trying not to take your eyes off the road. While eating cold pizza that you carried to your car through the garden. All one can do is store it all up for local colour and good stories.



  12. Kate says:

    Tom – is one of your dogs named Bugger?


  13. Tom says:

    Nope; Blue is our sole canine. But, ahhh, our package from Australia arrived yesterday morning.
    Luckily I finished the pizza Wednesday night.


  14. Kate says:

    You laugh, Tom, because you do not know … Kage herself once accidentally ate a yellow jacket she surprised in her mug of cider. We all ate a lot of bugs at Faire. In Kage’s case, she took a swallow – looked surprised, then crunched ferociously and washed it down with cider. Then she announced: “Sheena of Shire eat stupid bug that try to steal drink. Ha!”

    Life was odd, back then.


  15. Tom says:

    Yes, I’m sure Faire was odd much of the time. We nearly became Faire Folke ourselves; we were headed for Ashland during our wanderjahr.
    Bugger, it seems, has pretty decent manners on leash. I am much relieved. Crows, however, are too interested. I carry an umbrella, and hope for the best.
    Here, with our stubborn efforts at vegetable gardening, we have flies. In our cooled coffee. Sometimes even in the pot. So I examine the surface of the brew most carefully. If any of the bubbles have a suspiciously blue-green tint, out it goes.
    And when I miss the clue, there’s an odd raisin-thing gone down my throat.


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