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.