A student accidentally rediscovers an extinct cockroach after being seen 80 years ago

This cockroach is only found in Australia.
Nergis Firtina
The Lord Howe Island wood-feeding cockroach (Panesthia lata).
The Lord Howe Island wood-feeding cockroach (Panesthia lata).

Justin Gilligan/The University of Sydney 

A rare cockroach returns to the wild after more than 80 years in Australia.

At the base of a single Banyan tree, the Lord Howe Island Wood-feeding Cockroach with 22 - 40 mm ( 0.866142 - 1.5748 inches) long, formerly believed to be extinct on the main island, has been rediscovered.

As the University of Sydney suggested, a biology student has rediscovered a gigantic, wingless, wood-eating cockroach that was thought to be extinct since the 1930s and is only found on Australia's Lord Howe Island.

“For the first 10 seconds or so, I thought, ‘No, it can’t be,” said Maxim Adams, an Honors student under Professor Nathan Lo at the University of Sydney’s School of Biological Sciences. “I mean, I lifted the first rock under this huge banyan tree, and there it was.”

“We found families of them, all under this one banyan,” said Senior Scientist Nicholas Carlile of the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), who was with Adams exploring North Bay, a secluded white, sandy beach only accessible by foot or water.

“Maxim and Nathan were there for the rest of the week, looked under every other banyan in North Bay, but didn’t find anything.”

A student accidentally rediscovers an extinct cockroach after being seen 80 years ago
Honours student Maxim Adams under the banyan tree.

It was seen more than 80 years ago

The rare Lord Howe Island wood-feeding cockroach (Panesthia lata), which was once common throughout the archipelago, was believed to have vanished after rats arrived on the island in 1918.

Over the following few decades, searches turned up sporadic groups of close relatives on two small offshore islands. The newly identified group, however, is genetically distinct from those.

“The survival is great news, as it has been more than 80 years since it was last seen,” said Lord Howe Island Board Chair Atticus Fleming about the find, first made in July 2022.

“Lord Howe Island 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 added.

They are vital for the environment

The cockroaches are crucial to preserving a healthy environment on the island because they serve as vital nutrient recyclers, hasten the decomposition of logs, and provide food for other species.

“There is still so much to learn,” said Professor Lo, head of the Molecular Ecology, Evolution, and Phylogenetics (MEEP) Lab in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

“We are hoping to study their habitat, behaviors, and genetics and learn more about how they managed to survive, through further experiments on the island.”

The Australian Research Council and the Australia and Pacific Science Foundation are funding the study, which is being directed by the University of Sydney in collaboration with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment and the Lord Howe Island Museum.

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