Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A Few Local Grasshoppers

These are common grasshoppers but have an all-together different appeal when seen up close and in their majestic colours. (Of course, if you are trying to grow vegies, you may have a different opinion all together!)
 Northern Grass Pyrgomorph Atractomorpha similis Bolîvar; Pyrgomorphidae; Pyrgomorphinae; Atractomorphini
Atractomorpha similis Bolîvar; Pyrgomorphidae; Pyrgomorphinae; Atractomorphini


The Northern Grass Pyrgomorph occcurs across the top of Australia and down the east coast nearly to the Victorian border. It overlaps much of its souther range with the Australian Grass Pyrgomorph, A. australis Rehn. The two are very difficult to distinguish and you need to make measurements of the proportions of the length and width of the fastigium (the process between the eyes and base of the antennae) to make an identification.

Atractomorpha is a large genus with many species in Asia and Africa. There is a third species in Australia known from sandy areas and the escarpment in the Kakadu region of the Northern Territory where is is associated with the shrub, Hypoestes floribunda. It has a red-orange hind wing as opposed to the rosy pink hind wing of the other two species.

The Northern Grass Pyrgomorph occurs along rainforest margins but it is equally at home on lawns and playing fields. It is remarkablde that it survives and thrives on lawns that are regularly mowed. It either jumps or flies away from the mower to live feeding on grasses and forbs until the next mowing session.


 Froggatt's Buzzer Froggattina australis (Walker); Acrididae; Acridinae; Acridini; female

  Froggattina australis (Walker); Acrididae; Acridinae; Acridini; male

 Froggatt's Buzzer, Froggattina australis (males 19 mm, females 28 mm), is another grasshopper commonly seen along forest margins, on lawns and playing fields. Unlike the Northern Grass Pyrgomorph, males buzz when they fly. They make very short flights on under 2 m suddenly drop and seem to disappear into the grass. The colour and colour pattern is variable in this species. If the grass is primarily green, then green is the predominant colour of the grasshopper. If the grass has a lot of dead brown patches and is predominantly brown, then the grasshoppers will be more brown than green.

Froggatt's Buzzer occurs on both coasts of Australia and in a broad band from NW Australia through the centre and almost to the southern border. A similar but smaller species, Calephorops viridis, overlaps with it in coastal areas of northern Queensland and NW Western Australia and adjacent Northern Territory. It is a much smaller and more slender species (males 15 mm, females 20 mm) and similarly buzzes but the buzzing flights are much shorter, lasting less than a half second.
            Froggatt's Buzzer, head and thorax of a male

  Garden Bermius, Bermius brachycerus Stål; Acriddiae; Oxyinae; Oxyini; female

The Garden Bermius is known to many gardeners along the east coast of Australia, especially in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria where is has the habit of invading vegetable plots and feeds on lettuce, beans and other vegies. It is a species of disturbed habitats-a weed species. It is a native that finds human activities to its liking. It does not live on lawns  but can be found in adjacent vegetation, especially if there is abundant moisture.
  Garden Bermius, Bermius brachycerus Stål; Acriddiae; Oxyinae; Oxyini; female
   Garden Bermius, Bermius brachycerus Stål; Acriddiae; Oxyinae; Oxyini; female

The"prosternal tubercle", the peg between the fist pair of legs is a useful character to help identify many grasshoppers. The "Buzzers" discussed above have no such process between their front legs. In the example of the Garden Bermius, this structure is called a "peg". This grasshopper can be confused with the one below, the Rice Grasshopper. They are of similar size, though the Garden Bermius is a bit larger (males 23 mm, females 33 mm) and does have banded antennae and does not have the hind tibiae expanded for swimming.

  Rice Grasshopper; Oxya japonica (Thunberg); Acrididae; Oxyinae; Oxyini; female

The Rice Grasshopper has a very broad range in Asia where it does considerable damage to rice and other grasses. In Australia is is found in a narrow band along the east coast from the vicinity of Cairns south to almost the southern border of Queensland. It has been found in the northern portion of the Northern Territory. Oddly, it is not a pest in Australia. The antennae of this species are not banded. The  apical portion of the hind tibiae are expanded, somewhat paddle-like. This helps the grasshopper to swim which it does readily when threatened.

                      Fireman Grasshopper, Tolgadia infirma (Stål); Acrididae; Oxyinae; Oxyini; female
                  Fireman Grasshopper, Tolgadia infirma (Stål); Acrididae; Oxyinae; Oxyini; female

The Fireman Grasshopper is so-called because of its escape habit of sliding down grass stems as a fireman slides down the pole in the firehouse. This grasshopper is short-winged ( click on the hopper above to expand the photo), the wings extending a short distance down the abdomen and incapable of flight. This is a common species and lives in grasses and forbs in disturbed areas, especially along forest margins. It has a reasonably large range extending along the coast from southern Queensland across the top portion of the continent and into the Northern Territory and adjacent Western Australia.


 Giant Valanga, Valanga irregularis (Walker); Acrididae; Catantopinae; Cyrtacanthacridini; female

The Giant Valanga is known to most gardeners from northern New South Wales to north Queensland and the northern part of Western Australia and adjacent Northern Territory. This is a large grasshopper (males 64 mm, females 87 mm) that is capable of making extensive flights. Deposition of a single egg pod amongst shrubs in the garden can lead to a disaster. The nymphs are voracious and feed on a wide variety of ornamental and native shrubbery. They can reduce an expensive plant to shreds in a few days if not controlled.

Valanga poses a difficult taxonomic problem in Australia. Either there are many similar but slightly different species or, as is now accepted, it is a genus with a few very highly variable species. It is a wonderful taxonomic problem awaiting study utilising the latest DNA techniques. Is anyone is looking for a PhD topic? There are hundreds of specimens in Australian museums and it is not difficult to find these grasshoppers in the field.
Giant Valanga, Valanga irregularis (Walker); Acrididae; Catantopinae; Cyrtacanthacridini; female
Giant Valanga, Valanga irregularis (Walker); Acrididae; Catantopinae; Cyrtacanthacridini; nymph

This nymph was found on the same shrub as the female above. It is assumed to be the same species, maybe even a brother os sister of the adult above. But it may be something different. It shows some similarity to nymphs of Austracris proxima.

More information on Australian Grasshoppers can be found at the Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/naturenoises/

or in the following book

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