As we march into May (also Year Two of IGTA) we get snow…in the UK…in March, seriously so much for getting an early start on field work. At least last week’s creature, the Common Mudpuppy doesn’t worry too much about the snow unlike this week’s tropical insect destined to leave a taste of something other than pineapple in your mouth. Hope you guys enjoy.
Issue #111 – Koppie Foam Grasshopper
Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Arthropoda
Class – Insecta
Order – Orthoptera
Family – Pyrgomorphidae
Genus – Dictyophorus
Species – spumans
Related Species – The Koppie Foam Grasshopper is one of the many species in the genus Dictyophorus known colloquially as Milkweed Locusts (1)
Range – The Koppie Foam Grasshopper is found throughout grassland and light scrub in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique
Hopping Mad and Foaming at the Neck (?)
The Koppie Foam Grasshopper is a large brightly coloured grasshopper which can grow up to 8cm long. Colouration differs by region due to a genetic process known as polymorphism, but most possess some form of red banding across their black bodies with a blue streak along the bottom of the abdomen, leading to one of the species alternate names, the Gaudy Grasshopper. Adult Grasshoppers possess wings, and are capable of short flights, but generally the species walks from food source to food source, or hops to cover large distances quickly.
Both the immature nymphs and sexually mature adult Koppie Foam Grasshoppers are herbivorous, and feed predominantly on Milkweed (Asclepias sp), although other species of plant are included in the diet (2). As they feed on the plants, the toxins the grasshoppers ingest and bio-accumulated in the insects body tissues. When attacked by a predator, the Koppie Foam Grasshopper releases bubbles of foam from the jagged thoratic shield on its neck which contain the bio-accumulated toxins from its food plants. This toxic foam is foul tasting, and combined with the grasshopper’s bright colours indicate that it is a foul tasting, even potentially lethal meal.
Like the majority of other grasshopper species, the male Koppie Foam Grasshopper sings a nuptial song to attract the female using striations on the enlarged back legs. After mating the female lays her eggs on a milkweed plant, and dies at the end of the season, with the eggs developing during the driest part of the year. Upon hatching the nymphs lack the toxic defence of the adults and older hoppers, only acquiring the poison after the first moult, and instead rely on their leaping ability to evade predation.
Five Sinister Defensive Animal Secretions
Alongside Skunks (Family: Mephitidae) and the Spitting Cobra (Naja sp), the Bombardier Beetles (Brachinus sp) are one of the most well-known of the group of animals that use chemical weapons in defence. When attacked the beetle creates a series of chemical reactions to create a potent spray, one that is so hot that it pops the beetles internal organs. In addition the beetle regulates the spray by pulsing a specialised valve on the abdomen, allowing it direct its chemical weapon with surprising accuracy.
The Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) gets its name from the Norse for Foul Gull (3), and the chicks live up to this name. When threatened the Fulmar chick vomits a thick orange liquid over any nest raiders. While initially just disgusting, the vomit is usually fatal to any bird whose feathers are covered, since the chemicals destroy the water proofing, often causing any potential predator to die of cold or starvation.
Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) employ an equally disgusting defence. When disturbed from their nests whole flocks of these birds will divebomb on their harasser, excreting on the predator until they are forced to flee. Just like the Fulmar’s vomit, the sheer volume of Fieldfare faeces can cause death in any bird covered by the waste, due to the damage it does to the feather's water proofing.
The Harvester Ant Camponotus saundersi has two large venom glands running down its flanks. When in combat the ant the ant can contract its abdominal muscles causing its body to rapture and explode showering its attacker with a concentrated toxin (4).
The Boxfish (Ostracion lentiginosus) takes the behaviour of the Harvester Ant one step further. When stressed the fish releases a chemical known as Ostracitoxin that is a fast acting poison on contact with sea water. Until the toxin disperses the majority of fish species who come within a few meters of the Boxfish are killed quickly. Ironically enough the Boxfish isn’t completely immune to its own toxin, and often perishes due to exposure to its own poison.
2 - Mike Picker, Charles Griffiths & Alan Weaving (2004). Field guide to insects of South Africa. Struik
3 – Robinson, R. A. (2005)."Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis". British Trust for Ornithology. Retrieved13 June2014
4 – Piper, Ross (2007-08-30). Extraordinary Animals. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 25–27
1 - https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5028/5556732616_4d854e000d_b.jpg
2 - http://www.natgeocreative.com/comp/MI/001/1163107.jpg
3 - http://pbs.twimg.com/media/CHPdB2TW8AEw34E.jpg
4 - http://www.wetwebmedia.com/TetraodontiformPIX/PufferPIX/Boxfishes/O.%20meleagris%20M%20KONA%20CU.JPG
All this toxic exposure is making everything a little poisonous up here on the off topic blog. Next week we trade venoms and toxins in for the pure natural force of lightning as we look at a well-known animal, albeit one that very few people know anything about. Until then critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.