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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: grasshoppers (2)

The bountiful Mallee

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
17 December 2014
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Comments (0)

In Bugs Alive! you can see almost 50 displays of live invertebrates. Most of them from either tropical or arid parts of Australia, illustrating the adaptations needed for living in extreme environments.

Blue butterfly and bee fly resting on grass stems Sleeping beauties, clothed in condensation in the early hours of the morning. | Left: Common Grass Blue (Zizina labradus) Right: A bee fly (Family Bombyliidae)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So each year, when the weather conditions are right, we head out to the Mallee to boost our stocks of insects and spiders. The best time to visit is on a hot, humid night—which happened last week—just before or just after a thunderstorm. Like most desert species, Mallee insects wait months for the rain and then emerge from the spinifex in their thousands.

Two people in arid landscape Chloe Miller and Maik Fiedel searching through typical Mallee habitat.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

At night the desert resonates with the songs of katydids, the loudest of which come from Robust Fan-winged Katydids (Psacadonotus robustus). Unfortunately the fat abdomen of this dun-coloured species is often host to the larvae of tachinid flies (family Tachinidae). These parasites feed on the internal organs before emerging from the katydid which dies soon afterwards.

Brown katydid grasshopper A male Robust Fan-winged Katydid (Psacadonotus robustus).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Most katydid species are surprisingly colourful, sporting bright greens, blues and reds.

Three katydid grasshoppers Left: Female Striped Polichne (Polichne argentata); Centre: The undescribed ‘Mystery Hump-backed Katydid’ (Elephantodea species); Right: The unfortunately-named Victorian Sluggish Katydid (Hemisaga lanceolata).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One of our prime targets is Mitchell’s Cockroach (Polyzosteria mitchelli) which we breed at Melbourne Museum off-display, perhaps the most beautiful cockroach in Australia. With its golden markings and eggshell-blue legs, this species is one of more than 500 native cockroaches that are rarely seen by the average Australian but which are extremely important in native ecosystems. They shouldn’t be confused with the five or so introduced cockroach species that infest our houses–native cockroaches are happy in the bush and almost never come inside.

colourful cockroach A female Mitchell’s Cockroach (Polyzosteria mitchelli)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The desert seems to wake up after a rainstorm, with unexpected species such as snails and damselflies making an appearance.

Damselfly and group of snails Left: A female Metallic Ringtail damselfly (Austrolestes cingulatus). Right: Tiny desert snails (Microxeromagma lowei) living under bark.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

Wolf spiders are the dominant ground species, their emerald eyes shining in the torchlight. This male wolf spider (below) was seen halfway down a burrow and was difficult to distract until we discovered the source of his interest—a large female wolf spider at the bottom of the burrow.

Wolf spider and burrow Left: A male wolf spider (LycosaRight: Close-up of the male.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Little Desert, Big Desert, Sunset Country and Hattah-Kulkyne each have their own distinct habitats and faunas, just a few hours’ drive from Melbourne.

Landscape with blue sky The endless sky and flat horizon of the Mallee region.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Bug of the month

Author
by David P
Publish date
1 September 2011
Comments
Comments (1)

Prior to becoming a keeper with the Live Exhibits team at Melbourne Museum, my knowledge of grasshoppers was quite limited. Locusts were probably the type of grasshopper of which I was most aware, due to their high numbers during the warmer months. They are also responsible for the must-have car fashion accessory adorning the front of vehicles, in the form of flywire to stop cars from overheating. In truth, locusts are just one of an estimated 700 species of grasshopper in Australia.

Common Toad Hopper The Common Toad Hopper (Buforania crassa) is an inquisitive creature.
Image: David Paddock
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Live Exhibits keeps many different types of grasshoppers and I am quite intrigued by them all, but the species which first caught my attention was the Common Toadhopper (Buforania crassa) from Central Australia. They are not particularly big - females are approximately 60mm long and males 40 mm long - and contrary to their name they rarely hop or jump, preferring to walk around. They have been described as an inquisitive grasshopper and that is what drew me to them. As with pets at home, if you are looking after an animal and you buy it a new toy or feed it a new food then you hope that they will enjoy it or get a reaction from it. I found that not too long after I added food they would be on it or in it. This included pollen, orthopteran mix (made up of muesli, fish flakes and other ingredients), and various forms of foliage, such as abelia, emu bush, acacia, and callistemon. You soon find out that they have their favourites - I would say that callistemon is in the top two.

Common Toad Hopper eating callistemon Common Toad Hopper (Buforania crassa) eating callistemon, one of its favourite foods.
Image: David Paddock
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Like most grasshoppers, Common Toadhoppers use camouflage to hide from predators. As you can see from the picture, once they are perched on a rock or stick during the daylight hours they can be very difficult to see. If they are brought up on a light sand substrate then their colours will reflect that.

Common Toadhopper camouflage Common Toadhoppers are masters of camouflage. Their colours can vary depending on what colour substrate they are brought up on.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Camouflaged Toadhopper Toadhopper perfectly disguised to match the branch it's sitting on.
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Their reproductive cycle is very interesting. Grasshoppers generally breed in the summer months with the male perching on the female's back, either mating or guarding her from other males. The female then deposits her eggs in the soft sand and plugs them with a foamy substance. Our toadhopper populations here at Melbourne Museum vary seasonally and in some enclosures we currently have none at all, but we can see where females have deposited their eggs. Grasshopper eggs are good at withstanding drought periods. Normal incubation time for Common Toadhoppers is 1-3 months but it can be as long as 1-2 years, the eggs simply waiting for the right conditions. We can recreate those conditions, simulating warmer days with longer heat and light periods, and heavy rain through flooding the enclosures with water. Then hopefully not too long afterwards, little toadhopper nymphs will appear and even though they may not live up to the second part of their name, these grasshoppers certainly love eating grass.

young Common Toadhopper. A young Common Toadhopper.
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In the meantime, come along to Melbourne Museum and visit our male Common Toadhopper, featured in the arid section of our Habitats display in Bugs Alive!.

arid habitat display Toadhoppers are in the arid habitat display in Bugs Alive!.
Image: David Paddock
Source: Museum Victoria
 

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