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The Secret Lives of Bush Crickets

July 21, 2016

The Secret Lives of Bush Crickets

July 21, 2016
Posted in: Nature | Reading Time: 7 minutes

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I planted African Daisy Spoon Petal plants in my garden and apparently one came with several cricket eggs waiting to hatch. I simply wanted a cool flower shot and could barely see these two nymph crickets, as they were no more than 4 mm long and 1 mm wide. I watched and shot them over the next few weeks and here are some of the best shots I published on Facebook. Resident expert, "Bug Boy," tells me that these two are boy crickets. Their names are Charles and Chandler.

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So apparently there are about a ga-gillion types of crickets. Another bug expert chimed in and told me these fellas are katydids or bush crickets, sometimes known as long-horned grasshoppers of which Wikipedia states there are 6,400. So lets just say that Charles and Chandler here are long-horned grasshoppers, and leave it at that, mmm-kay? Apparently it is common for the ladies to lay their eggs beneath soil or in a plant stem hole. It's no surprise why she chose the African Daisy Spoon Petal.   The spoon-shaped petals make a nice little place to store some eggs. Then she splits leaving the babies on their own.  (Feminism!) These boys will just hang out on the plant, avoiding predators until they grow up and can leave.

Of the two, Charles was very shy with the camera and would intentionally turn away every time I tried to photograph him head on. Seriously, 5 times of re-positioning and him turning his back---I got the message, loud and clear.  Chandler, on the other hand was a bit of a ham and happily posed for his close ups.

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Depressed, Charles contemplates the meaning of life as a bush cricket. He just found out that his short life span of no more than one year is mainly consumed with mating. This does seem like not such a bad thing, but like everything in life it comes with pros and cons. You see, when they mature at 3-4 months, male katydids will spend the majority of their lives searching & calling for females. However some katydid males are blessed with the ability to produce a "food gift" called a "spermatophore" which contains sperm encased in an outer, protective covering. This provides a source of nutrients for the female and if it's big enough, for her off spring too. This makes the female more apt to be the searcher with her own call for the male with a large food gift even if she has to risk predation to get it. The downside for the dude who produces big food gifts is that he can only mate once, maybe twice, in his life, while the dudes who do not produce food gifts can get action once or twice per night! Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor. And we all know, chicks always dig those bad boys. But, as an insurance policy in those food gifts, there is a compound that increases the female's egg-laying frequency AND decrease her willingness to mate with other males.  Wealth may always get the girl but it doesn't guarantee a lifetime of happiness. It is in this moment that Charles realizes his future is doomed to either a life of as a meaningless playboy or as a one-time Charlie. To Jump or Not to Jump?

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Chandler poses for his daily close-up. Unlike Charles, he remains optimistic about the polygamous nature of his kind. Already, he is planning how he can continually invest in his food gift for all the available chicks on the market while studying how to sing his mating call when he grows up in a few months. Katydids get their name from the sound crickets make calling to each other, which sounds like "katy did" and "katy didn't."  I don't think he'll have to worry too much about his sex life because it's been found that some species of katydids (the tuberous bush-cricket)  have the largest testes in proportion to body mass of any animal, accounting for 14% of the insect's body mass!  This ensures a healthy offspring. I'll just stop right there at the weird reproductive facts because there's a whole other species of crickets where the males actually seek out and prefer virgin females while others actually become a cuckold, or a male unwittingly investing in the parental effort of offspring not genetically his own. Paternity Test  The cricket world is starting to freak me out. But Chandler here seems pretty happy about his upcoming life of jumping and mating around.

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Lest you think I have an unusual curiosity about the sex lives of bush crickets, lets move on to their culinary habits, shall we? After all, next to sex, cuisine is one of the few great joys to life. Am I right?

It turns out that crickets will eat anything. Their diet includes leaves, flowers, bark & seeds but many are predatory feeding on insects, snails, or even small vertebrates such as snakes & lizards. Wait, what? This wee thing is gonna take on a lizard? I HAD to Google some images, for educational purposes, of course.   Do yourselves a favor: do NOT Google images of katydids eating a lizard. I'm still having nightmares.

Bush crickets grow 5-130 mm long with hind legs that are longer than the front or middle legs. Their long thin antennae can be 2-3 times the length of its body. You know what they say, "large antennae, large communication skills."    Katydids can be green, as you can see Chandler here (about 5 mm) is becoming green, but they can be brown and spotted to camouflage themselves with the leaves they eat. Their oval shaped wings appear during one of their several moltings & are used to communicate their mating sounds.

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Katydid's are hunted by bats, birds, snakes, frogs & monkeys. Some species are consumed by people, such as those living on Mars, err, I mean in Uganda & neighboring areas.  A katydid's camouflage helps fool predators. However, when predators do see it, katydids use their long back legs to jump to safety. Though they have wings, they aren't great at flying but they may spread them to expose bright colors warning predators of noxious chemicals or use them to make a nasty hissing sound. Some katydids can squirt toxic blood 6 cm out of their exoskeletons. Yet others can inflict a fairly painful bite to discourage a predators.  If all other defenses fail, some katydids will vomit their stomach contents all over themselves. Ugh. I just lost my own appetite. These adorable little bugs are one of Mother Nature's all-around bad-asses & won't go down without a fight.

Don't worry Chandler & Charles, this is not Uganda. I won't snack on you or any of your cousins. You are welcome to devour the aphids in my garden.

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Look closely at this shot. There are two bugs. Can you see the second one? My naked eye did not see the wee bug hiding in the spoon petal of the flower. I was merely following bashful Charles around the flower trying to trick him into posing for me when he stopped above this petal and gave no more than 3 seconds to shoot him. Charles himself is still no bigger than 5 mm long, so you can imagine just how wee this adorable little creature is? I actually thought the wee thing was a nymph bush cricket newly hatched but Facebook expert chimed in quickly and told me this was a flower thrip bug. I'm in awe that my lens could pick up something so small. This little guy's name is Chance, because it was by chance he was in the right place for my lens to capture him.

Bonne chance on your new life Chance! You're gonna need it around bug-eating Chandler and Charles.

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2 comments on “The Secret Lives of Bush Crickets”

  1. hello wild dingo its dennis the vizsla dog hay i for wun welkum owr noo jiant krikkit overlords and there strayndjly byootiful flower shaypd flying spayship masheen!!! just let me no wot i kan do for yoo jiant krikkits i am happy to be of serviss!!! ok bye

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