Grasshoppers: Singing In The Sun   Leave a comment

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.

Over the past week the rains have continued, now sometimes during the day as well as at night.  The water level in the creek has risen, not drastically, but enough so that there is a steady flow.  The mango orchard is the scene of a lot of activity with so many animals coming to feed from the bumper crop.  During the day spider monkeys and white-faced capuchin monkeys can be seen greedily feasting on the abundant and ripening fruits.  Monkeys are very wasteful feeders, they pluck a fruit from the branch, take a bite and throw the remainder to the ground.  Here the white-nosed coatis and agoutis take advantage of a free meal falling from above.

At night the mangoes are visited by kinkajous in the trees and pacas on the ground, the nocturnal cousin of the agouti.  All manner of insect life feeds on the fermenting mangoes, everything from flies, bees, butterflies and at night, moths.

Hopping Through The Grass

Grasshoppers are one of those creatures that tend to be a subject for more specialist study.  Walking around the gardened areas of the lodge, particularly if it is a hot and sunny day, the disturbance of the longer and more dense vegetation will cause a flurry of activity as various species of grasshopper do as their name suggests, and jump out of the way to safety, others have wings and fly.  Once they land, as long as you approach slowly, then you will be able to observe them at close quarters.

Orthoptera. Acrididae. Cytacanthacridinae.

Unidentified Spurthroated Grasshopper species

The order: Orthoptera is an ancient order of insects and it is divided into two groups, the long-horned orthoptera which includes the crickets and katydids and the short-horned orthoptera which includes the grasshoppers.  The horns referred to in the name are the antennae which in the grasshoppers are distinctively short and stubby.  The majority of grasshoppers belong in the family: Acrididae.

Most people will be familiar with grasshoppers and the way they look.  If it is a still, windless day then you will hear the male grasshoppers “singing” to attract a female.  The sound is generally produced by stridulation or the rubbing of part of the hind leg on the forewing.  If they are communicating with sound then they need receptor organs to hear it and the ears of a grasshopper are located on the first abdominal segment.  The calls may also serve to keep rival males at a distance from one another.

Orthoptera. Acrididae. Cyracanthacrinae.

Unidentified Spurthroated Grasshopper sp. The perfect color of grass.

The majority of grasshoppers live in grassland but there are a few species that inhabit the forest and those prefer the upper levels of the canopy layer.  Grasshoppers are almost without exception herbivores.  In turn grasshoppers, because of their abundance and the fact that they are up to 75% crude protein, provide a large dietary percentage a many mammals, birds and reptiles.

Due to the lack of reference material it is very difficult to identify the grasshoppers to species level.  The two that I photographed this week both belong to the subfamily: Cyrtacanthacrinae or Spurthroated Grasshoppers which are named for a small ventral spur between the front legs and which also includes the locusts.

Papering the Leaves

It does not require too much effort to seek and find the nests of paper wasps at the moment.  All around the grounds the nests which are grey, globular parchment-like structures can be found hanging beneath the leaves of various plants.  Some are small, some are large, some have the brood cells enclosed within a skin while others have the cells open.

I was watching butterflies flitting around the Lantana bush last week when I noticed this wasp on a leaf busying itself with something.  Not having a hand lens with me I could not see what the wasp was investigating.  Sometimes wasps are as difficult as butterflies to photograph.  They will not remain still but this one seemed to be preoccupied and not going anywhere.  I took the photograph but even after zooming in on the image was not entirely certain as to what the object was.

Hymenoptera. Vespidae. Polistinae. Myschocettarus sp.

Long-waisted Wasp, (Myschocittarus sp), investigating mystery object

The wasp itself was one of the social wasps in the family: Vespidae and this one a Long-waisted Paper Wasp of the subfamily: Polistinae.  The genus Mischocyttarus includes about 186 species and is therefore the most numerous of the paper wasps. The female Long-waisted Paper Wasps make a nest suspended by one or more stalks that she anoints with an ant repellant secretion she produces from a gland.  The stalks secure anywhere up to 100 brood cells beneath a leaf.  There is generally only one founding queen, (haplometrosis).  When the new workers emerge from the cells, they help with the care of young developing in the brood cells.  Eventually one of these subordinate female workers make take over dominance and drive the existing queen off.

The adult wasps catch prey and chew it up to feed the larvae as well as chewing up vegetative material to make the nest.  In this case it looked like it was quite possibly a caterpillar that had been caught as there seemed to be leaf material within an enclosing integument.  If anyone could shed any light on the object I would be happy to hear their opinion.

Backstabbing Bug,

While walking through the forest I noticed a small creature stumbling awkwardly across the forest floor.  Sinking to my knees I could see it was an Assassin Bug.  These are true bugs in the order: Hemiptera.  Because they possess uneven wings they belong in the suborder: Heteroptera.  The Assassin bug are placed in the family: Reduviidae.

Hemiptera. Heteroptera. Reduviidae. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica

Assassin Bug with the corpse of a beetle

All Assassin bugs, as is indicated by their name, are fiercely predaceous carnivores.  If you look closely at the photograph you will see protruding from the front of the head is the main weapon of death, a long, segmented beak that is normally held beneath the head and thorax until a victim is spotted that is.  The assassin stabs the dagger-like beak into the prey, piercing the exoskeleton and delving deep into the tissues.  The prey is held tight in the bug’s front legs while at the same time saliva is injected into its body.  The saliva paralyzes the victim and digests its internal organs which are liquidized and then sucked out leaving only a dry and drained husk.  Closer examination revealed the reason for the bugs ungainly gait across the ground, it was still carrying on its beak the now emptied body of a beetle.

Turkey Tail Perhaps

Sometimes there may be no other reason for photographing a subject other than its aesthetic appeal.  That was why I photographed this bowl-shaped fungal fruiting body with the concentric bands of color, I just found it pleasing to my eye.  I think this one is one of the Trametes sp.  Due to the banding these are commonly called Turkey Tail Fungi.  There are approximately 50 species in the genus and they are distributed globally throughout forest habitats.

Trametes. Felipe del Bosque.

Beautiful bowl-shaped Trametes fungus

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica


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