Category Archives: Grass hoppers

More Kerio Valley bugs

There were a lot of ants scurrying about on other vegetation as well as the ant-acacias. This was one of the more striking species – wearing a fringing tutu of golden hairs! camponotus-keriovlr1.jpgWhile fiddling with the camera I noticed a very STRANGE creature moving about on some herbs. A closer look revealed that it was a bizarre and wonderful Stalk-Eyed Fly. This group of flies incredibly have their eyes on the ends of long stalks! They are considered a fine example of sexual selection –  where females are choosing  mates based on the length of their stalks. The males sometimes go ‘eye-to-eye’ pushing each other back and forth like two sparring bulls.  stalk-eyed-flylr1.jpg  Later in the late hot afternoon as I sat in the sparse shade of an acacia I noticed a piece of dirt moving. On closer inspection it turned out to have eyes and legs – can you spot it in the picture below?  hopper-kv-lr1.jpg A close look revelaed that it was a brilliantly camouflaged grasshopper… hopper-kv-lr2.jpg As I watched him, another grasshopper leapt out of a nearby clump and landed on the ground next to me. He wiggled his antennae at me as if to say “What about me – I’d like my picture taken too!” Of course, I obliged… hopper-kv-lr3.jpg After I took the picture he hopped back into the grass where he was much better concealed. More from the world of insects soon – thanks to everyone for the kind comments. 

Alien Body-Invader!

Walking along a path in the rainforest recently I came across an
amazing and slightly disturbing sight. Perched out on a twig was a
grasshopper. He was just sitting there out in full view of any passing
predator (or entomologist!). Net at the ready I approached slowly
expecting at any moment that he would launch himself into the
undergrowth with a flick of his powerful hind legs.

hopper-funglr3.JPG

I inched closer and closer ready to take the swing with my net. But
nothing happened the grasshopper didn’t move. Peering closely at the
grasshopper I discovered that it was perched firmly on the twig and
protuding from its body were the tissues of an ‘alien body-invader’!
Yes, just like in a horror movie this poor animal had been invaded by
a parasite that has used it’s body to reproduce.

Even more amazing is the effect that the parasite has had on the
unsuspecting grasshopper’s behaviour. Once the spores were ingested
and growing happily inside the grasshopper, the fungus is now faced
with a small dilemma – How can it reproduce and spread itself to other
hosts? Incredibly, the fungus manipulates the grasshopper’s brain and
therefore its behaviour. Instead of seeking shelter in dense
vegetation where normal grasshoppers would hang out, the individual
infected with the fungus heads in the opposite direction out into the
open on a twig! Here the fungus matures, finally killing its host and
bursts out of the grasshopper’s body. Now it can spread its spores in
all directions and infect many more insects.

Many parasites can manipulate the species they infect. Some
nematomorph worms that infect grasshoppers, mantids and other insects
actually make them jump into bodies of water and drown themselves!
This enables the worm to emerge and mate in the water and then lay
lots and lots of eggs. One parasite has even been found to override
the natural instinct of rats to avoid cats – infected rats in this
case will walk towards predators and of course be eaten (which is
exactly what the parasite wants as it will now be spread further in
the cat’s stomach!)

Even though it was hot and humid, as I walked away from the hapless
grasshopper glued to twig a shiver ran through me. And an appreciation
of how sophisticated some creatures are at manipulating others!