By Precious Tshililo
From the 26th September to the 15th October 2016 I went on the first grasshopper collecting trip for the Karoo BioGaps project together with my intrepid field assistant, Paula Strauss, and joined for the first week by Orthoptera taxon lead and my MSc supervisor, Corey Bazelet. The weather, especially the wind, was very discouraging at first and a few farmers said to me,” good luck catching grasshoppers in this weather!” Three weeks, 5000 km, and 13 sites later, I had bags full of grasshoppers - about 800 specimens of a wide diversity of species - and a huge sense of accomplishment!
I was hoping to find at least a few Euryphyminae, a southern African endemic subfamily which has rarely been studied and which is the focus of my MSc. Based on museum specimens, we suspected they may be abundant at certain times of year in the Karoo – but we had no idea how to predict when and where to find them! Not only did I find a huge diversity of Euryphyminae on this trip – some of which I hope may be new species to science – but I was surprised by the large diversity of stone mimicking grasshoppers (Pamphagidae) which were present at this time. The females of these species are flightless and camouflage perfectly with the Karoo’s bare ground and stones, while the males are often fully-flighted and sing loudly at night to attract their mates.
Besides getting too much sun, getting lost, getting startled by “toads” or “stones” which turned out to be grasshoppers, and getting sore from all the exercise chasing grasshoppers (some grasshoppers fly like birds!), in hindsight I can safely say that the fieldwork was a great success. Our predictions that the Karoo would house a diverse, abundant and endemic grasshopper assemblage of arid-adapted species seems to (luckily) be true! The timing of the trip was also excellent, with most grasshoppers’ already young adults which are much easier to identify than nymphs.
Grasshoppers are definitely more diverse and abundant in the Karoo than someone would expect when seeing the sparse vegetation and dry habitats – after all aren’t grasshoppers supposed to be found in grass? Now, I can’t wait for the next field work session!!! I have my running shoes ready and I can’t wait to see what else I find.
|Pamphagidae - mating pair|