While I was in Gorongosa National Park in July and August 2015, I was witness to a population boom of the beautiful grasshopper Metaxymecus gracilipes. They were the first grasshopper species I found there, and I found them commonly night and day throughout my trip. One warm night in particular was spectacular, with huge numbers of them showing up at the lights of the restaurant, Chikalango. This species is widespread across the African continent, and judging by all the specimens in the collection at the E.O. Wilson Lab and the Gorongosa material at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, it might appear that this is a common species. Indeed, it has been collected from sites all across the park. However, each and every one of those specimens was collected in 2012. Piotr tells me that they were extremely abundant that year, and he had not seen a single one since, until 2015. Apparently the species must be very seasonal, prone to large population booms in certain years and to be almost nonexistent in other years. 2012 and 2015 were clearly good years for this species. Who knows when the next good year will come about for Metaxymecus? We will have to wait and see.
Obviously there is a great deal to be learned about the biology of this species, but Metaxymecus is not unique in that regard, and every organism on earth has its secrets. This is one of many things I find fascinating about entomology, or any science: there are always new things to be discovered. Even common species have unsolved mysteries, and everyday phenomena leave unanswered questions. It is in our nature to puzzle out these mysteries, and the best part is that we’ll never run out of ideas to explore!