Caught in the Act
This is not the face of remorse. This is the face of a teenage Giant Grasshopper (Valanga irregularis) who has eaten its bodyweight in one of my favourite plants and will do it again, as soon as the next flush of leaves appears.
As the common name suggests, the Giant Grasshopper is the largest species of grasshopper in Australia. It lives in tropical and subtropic regions of the continent, feeding on a wide range of plants. So far, this grasshopper has focused on only one species in my collection — Claudie Laurel (Cryptocarya claudiana, Lauraceae). It seems that once a grasshopper finds something it likes, it tends to stick to that. The Proteaceae on either side remain untouched…for the moment.
The Claudie Laurel is restricted to rainforests of McIlwraith Range and Iron Range of Cape York Peninsula. It is not widely planted, so it might be difficult to find a replacement if this one is whittled down to a stick. It is holding its own but I don’t know how much longer it can resist this six-legged chainsaw. Something will Have to be Done.
This chonk is not yet an adult. Like praying mantises, grasshoppers are hemimetabolous — they do not undergo a complete metamorphosis between larval and adult stage. With each successive moult, the young insect becomes more like the adult. Apart from only being 50 mm long (adults are up to 70 mm), the big giveaway is the wing buds. They are not yet fully formed. Only adults have functioning wings.
Although the grasshopper was well aware of my presence, it did not stop eating. I wanted to take photos of the mouthparts in action and even when I brought the camera in for some close ups, it kept going.
Insect mouthparts are fascinating. So many elements. And variations of those same elements — stretched, rolled or folded — are found in nectar-feeding butterflies, blood-sucking mosquitoes and houseflies that mop up liquids. This is insect origami.
Over the decades, I have looked at a lot of insect mouthparts. Drawn quite a few of them too. At uni, we would examine the generalist feeders (usually cockroaches) or…