Leichhardt’s Grasshopper

The Leichhardt’s grasshopper is named after explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, who first discovered and wrote about this species in 1845. This grasshopper’s appearance is striking compared to most other grasshopper species, with its bright orange-colored body marked with blue and bright red. Adult males are slightly smaller and thinner than the females. Like other grasshoppers, they have an exoskeleton made of a material called chitin. This protects them and helps their bodies to retain moisture, especially on the hottest days. Although they do have wings and can use them to fly, they seem to be reluctant to fly for long distances, and really don’t travel or migrate much at all during their lifetime.

Food

Unlike some other grasshopper species that have varied diets, the Leichhardt’s grasshopper prefers a plant called pityrodia, and nothing else. An adult will most likely spend much of its life on just one “host” pityrodia plant, first living around the plant’s base after it hatches, then gradually moving higher up on the plant as it matures to adulthood.

Habitat

The Leichhardt’s grasshopper is found in the rugged country of Kakadu, in the Northern Territory of Australia. Most of the area where this grasshopper lives is pretty remote, and in a National Park. Because of this, not that much is known yet about how widely distributed the Leichhardt’s is in this area. Although its food source is widely distributed and plentiful, it is believed that the number of grasshoppers remains low due to predators and factors such as the controlled burning that takes place in the Northern Territory National Park that is their primary habitat.

Predators

Although the bright coloring of the Leichhardt’s grasshopper may serve as a warning that it tastes bad and may keep some predators like birds away from it, it doesn’t deter others such as spiders, wasps, and other insects who want to feed on it or its eggs. It may also become prey for reptiles or amphibians.

Social Structure

Much of the grasshopper’s day is spent resting, backing in the sun, or feeding. During the hottest part of the day it may seek shelter from the sun on the shady parts of its host plant.

Birth & Offspring

The Leichhardt’s grasshopper hatches early in the dry season (usually in April), and then goes through seven stages, or instars, of growth between hatching and adulthood. After each stage it sheds its exoskeleton as it grows. It starts life as a nymph, which looks like a grasshopper but is very tiny, with barely noticeable wing stubs. It is much duller in coloring as well, probably to help protect it from predators. The nymph grows slowly until August, when humidity and temperatures are higher, and the host plants are growing more quickly too. After the seven stages of growth the grasshopper finally takes on its more colorful appearance and by November looks like the other adult grasshoppers. By January or February the grasshoppers are fully mature and mating has taken place. The females start to lay their eggs in the ground, and another cycle of life will soon begin.

Senses

Like other grasshoppers, the Leichhardt’s grasshopper uses its antennae to feel and smell. It has two pairs of eyes, “simple” and “compound”, to see. A round membrane located on either side of its body near its hind legs called a “tympanum” allows it to detect sound waves. It uses the parts of its mouth called palps to taste things. It has spiracles, or tiny holes located all along the abdomen, which allow it to breathe.

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