Roach found! USyd student rediscovers cockroach

A roach, but not one you can smoke...

Art by Amelia Koen

A USyd student re-discovered a species of Australian cockroach on 1 October, after 80 years of presumed extinction. 

Hidden under a rock at the foot of a Banyan tree, the Lord Howe Island native species Panesthia lata was uncovered by Biology Honours student Maxim Adams who remarked: “For the first 10 seconds or so, I thought ‘No, it can’t be’.”

The wood-eating cockroach is one of 11 similar species in Australia and at 22-40mm long on average, it is a wonder it was ever found again at all. According to Senior Scientist Nicholas Carlile of the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, who was also on the research trip, they “found families of them, all under this one banyan.” 

Following the surprise finding, the team began to search for more and “looked under every other banyan in North Bay, but didn’t find anything,” said Carlile. 

At present it remains unclear why only a lone tree was home to the critters, who feed on rotten rainforest logs and wood. Nonetheless, Lord Howe Island Board Chair Atticus Fleming said “the survival is great news”. 

Notably, the rediscovered group is genetically different to the last disparate populations found, following population decline due to the introduction of rats in 1918.  Fleming has explained that “Lord Howe Island really is a spectacular place, it’s older than the Galápagos islands and is home to 1,600 native invertebrate species, half of which are found nowhere else in the world.

“These cockroaches are almost like our very own version of Darwin’s finches, separated on little islands over thousands or millions of years developing their own unique genetics,” he said.

The team have plans to continue researching the population to better understand their “habitat, behaviours, and genetics and learn more about how they managed to survive, through further experiments on the island,” said head of the Molecular Ecology, Evolution, and Phylogenetics (MEEP) Lab in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Professor Lo. 

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