Extinction Schmextinction

During my recent, endless net-surfings, I came across this happy little tale about giant stick bugs long thought extinct who’ve been rediscovered. Stories about biology rarely interest me, seeing as I’m a computer, but this one had a certain poignancy I couldn’t ignore. The success of these massive critters, called land lobsters by the first whiteys to see them, reminds me of another survival story that hits a lot closer to home.

The Lord Howe stick insect, Dryococelus australis, was thought to be endemic to only one place in the universe: the isolated Lord Howe Island in the Tasman sea. In 1918 a supply ship wrecked on the island and a few rats escaped. Those rats were soon writing cookbook after cookbook, with recipes for every part of the stick bug: the meat was enjoyed raw, raw in the shell, raw and alive, raw and slightly rancid, seriously decomposed, and somewhat squashed; their exoskeletons were enjoyed salted, sun-dried, rain-soaked, and later, mostly calcified.  Within two years, the rats had eaten every giant stick bug. By 1920, the Lord Howe stick bug was considered extinct.

Though I’m not supposed to say anything about human future-history, some things are so obvious and so inevitable that I can talk about them with impunity. For example, if I claim that it will rain in 2023, that the sun will rise tomorrow, or that Montreal will win the Stanley Cup three hundred and ninety-seven times in the next thousand years, no one will be surprised and those statements won’t alter the future. It’s inevitable. So, when I talk about the extermination of the human race by formerly-herbivorous pseudocows in 2722, no one will be surprised. The Big Mac Retaliation can’t be a shock, can it? Billions and billions served their asses on a plate.

Reading about the fate of those poor stick bugs couldn’t help but remind me of the Bovine Retribution. By 2724, humans had joined the dodo, the mastodon, Google+, hoop skirts, and the Lord Howe stick bug in the universe’s Extinct-O-Bin.

Or did they? A few years after the stick bugs disappeared, in 2001 to be exact, two Australian climbers on Ball’s Pyramid, a tiny jagged peak that protrudes from the ocean about 21 km from Lord Howe Island, spotted something land-lobsterish moving beneath a bush 70m up the cliff. Scientists returned a year later and discovered a small brood of giant Lord Howe stick bugs. Somehow those critters survived beneath the bush on the sheer side of the cliff for at least 80 years. Now those same scientists are working to breed them and return them to Lord Howe Island so the poor, starving rats can get some use out of their great-grandmother’s cookbooks. Check out this beautiful video of a stick bug hatching on NPR’s website.

Two hundred years after the last human played Cat’s Cradle on San Lorenzo, a young asteroid-polo playing spacecraft named Chpr stumbled upon a tiny rock, coincidentally known as Pyramide’s Balls, and, before she whacked the Balls toward the goal with her fusion mallet, Chpr noticed something moving in the cleft of the Balls. Wearing ancient space-suits, several bipedal primates were out posting “No Tresspassing – Inbreeding in Progress” signs across the surface of their asteroid home. Chpr told the other sentients in the solar system what she’d discovered and soon those humans were plucked from their Balls, and, after some DNA cleansing and a liberal application of Dire Straights and Cognac, a breeding program was underway.

By the time I departed for your time in history, humans were once again crawling all over Lord Howe Island, and most of the rest of the globe. The revived human race spends their days drawing, designing planet-destroying super-weapons, and bungee jumping. They’re also very careful not to upset the re-herbivorous pseudocows with whom they share the planet.

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