Gorongosa: Chasing Ornithacris

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Ornithacris magnifica (Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique)

One day while in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, I was wandering around the grounds of the Community Education Center (CEC), sweeping the grass in search of interesting orthopterans (or any insects, really), when an enormous pink shape burst up in front of me and shot off like a little bird. I smiled, for I knew that this had to be a bird grasshopper (subfamily cyrtacanthacridinae), a group of extremely large, powerful flyers with many species in Gorongosa. These insects have a reputation for being extremely difficult to capture because of their outstanding flying abilities. Nonetheless, this was the first bird grasshopper I had run across so far in Gorongosa, and I set off in pursuit. His light brown coloration provided almost perfect camouflage against the dry grasses and leaf litter, making him difficult to see when on the ground. Every time I got a little too near, he leapt up into flight again, flashing his hot pink hindwings. I played this cat-and-mouse game with him for over 20 minutes. Finally he made the mistake of landing too close to me. I was able to distinguish his outline from the background, and I slammed my net down. As I pulled him out of the net, he tried very hard to kick me with his hind legs, which I noticed were covered in big spines. I made extra sure to keep out of range of his kicking hind legs. This was one large, powerful insect.

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O. magnifica in my small field photography studio. 

Upon later inspection at the Wilson lab, it turned out that my catch was a new grasshopper species for the park, Ornithacris magnifica (now a subspecies of O. pictula). Previously we had recorded a related species Ornithacris cyanea as a very common animal here, so this was the park’s second species in this genus. O. magnifica inhabits herbaceous savannahs and miombo forest, exactly the habitat I had caught him in and one of the more common habitats in the park; proving once again that new discoveries abound in Gorongosa.

 

Reference:

Johnsen, P. (1983). Acridoidea of Zambia. Part 4. Zoological Laboratory, Aarhus University (Denmark). 1983.

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Ornithacris cyanea, the park’s more common species in the genus, which I was fortunate enough to also have the chance to photograph while in Gorongosa. Note the obvious differences in the color pattern, as well as structural differences such as the shape of the pronotal crest. 

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