Stick-insect makes BBC top 10 new species of decade

14 December 2010

A spectacular stick-insect, a rare specimen of which is looked after at the Natural History Museum, is in a top 10 new species of the decade list.

Close-up of head of stick-insect Chan's Megastick

Close-up of head of stick-insect Chan's Megastick

The species list was put together by scientists at the BBC and Conservation International and they feature in the BBC2 TV programme Decade of Discovery, shown tonight.

The stick-insect’s common name is Chan's megastick and, at about the length of your arm, it is the longest insect in the world.

Chan's megastick is found in Borneo and was only given its scientific name, Phobaeticus chani, in 2008. 

Scientists think it probably lives high up in the rainforest canopy, something that would have helped it stay hidden from view for so long.

Only 6 specimens
Datuk Chan Chew Lun donates this spectacular specimen to the Museum.

Datuk Chan Chew Lun donates this spectacular specimen to the Museum.

There are only 6 specimens of Chan's megastick known worldwide. 

The largest is looked after at the Museum in the research collection behind the scenes. It is the female from which the species was named, known as the holotype. Its overall length is 56.7cm and it was donated by Datuk Chan Chew Lun.

Males and females

The males and females are quite different in appearance. 

The female is much larger, wingless, dark green with whitish blotches, and has large spines on its middle and hind legs. 

The males are small with wings, mostly brown in colour, and they lack large spines on the legs.

Unique eggs

As in closely related species, females of Chan's megastick probably lay one egg at a time. 

Egg of Phobaeticus chani stick-insect has wing-like extensions that allow it to drift in the wind.

Egg of the Phobaeticus chani stick-insect. It has wing-like extensions that allow it to drift in the wind.

The egg shape is probably unique in the insect world as it has curved wing-like structures. These may help them disperse as they fall from the forest canopy.

World contender

Chan's megastick’s reign as the world’s longest insect could soon come to an end, however. 

In north Queensland, Australia, there is a recently named stick-insect species Ctenomorpha gargantua, which might be even longer. 

The female is known from photographs of 2 living individuals, and one of these has been calculated to measure an astonishing 61.5cm.

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