Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Crested Pygmy Grasshopper

I love finding interesting little insects that I’ve never before seen. This is the Crested Pygmy Grasshopper, Nomotettix cristatus. This tiny little fellow measured just over a quarter of an inch in total length. It’s not too difficult to determine where the common name came from. It’s obviously a grasshopper, one quarter of an inch is definitely pygmy in the grasshopper world, and that ridge running from head to tail can certainly be described as a crest.

Besides being tiny, this grasshopper has some excellent camouflage going for it. If I hadn’t been crawling along the ground with my nose close to the soil, I would have missed it altogether. Actually, I wasn’t even looking for insects. I was trying to see what seeds might be germinating at this time of year. As I stared at a little patch of bare ground, the grasshopper crawled out of a clump of grass. Morning temperatures were cold, so I don’t think it was in any shape to jump. It sat quietly while I got my camera into place.

I was amazed at being able to get enough shots to show all of the primary characteristics necessary to properly identify this species. It only took a couple of minutes to run this specimen through Helfer’s key and produce a species name. I was a bit concerned when the first couplet asked about the number of antenna segments, but I found them easy enough to count in a couple of my images. My normal luck is to get good shots of every part of an insect except the one detail that would allow me to begin the journey to a proper identification. So I not only had the joy of observing such a handsome little grasshopper, I had the satisfaction of learning its name.

This would be a wonderful species to observe in a terrarium setting. There seems to be very little life history information on this species and I would really like to know more about how it interacts with its environment. They are said to eat algae and decomposing plant material found on the soil surface. It doesn’t sound like they have the potential to become plant pests. I think I’ll search out a couple of these guys next summer and let them live in a nice indoor, artificial environment where I can keep a close watch on them.

Just when I began moving in for some really close shots, the grasshopper leapt away. The spot where it had been resting was in a little patch of sunlight and it had warmed itself enough to put its powerful legs into action. The departure occurred between shots, at a time when my view screen was still displaying the previous photo. I heard a little snap as it left, but have no clear idea of the direction or distance of the jump. I waved my hands above the surrounding area in hopes of making the pygmy grasshopper show itself, but was unsuccessful in my attempts. The encounter was over and I crawled on to see what else I could find.

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