The weird and wonderful world of katydids

The katydids (or, as my compatriots and I know them better, the bush-crickets) can probably lay claim to a number of titles in the animal world. Here are just a few:

Slightly musical conehead, Neoconocephalus exiliscanorus (photo (c) Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger from their book "The Song of Insects")

Strangest name

I am part of a number of natural history mailing lists, mostly about dragonflies.  However, one email caught my eye.  The poster was reporting having seen some odonates flying around but quickly switched on to a different taxon altogether.  With delight he reported sighting the “slightly musical conehead” (Neoconocephalus exiliscanorus).  Apparently (and I haven’t checked this) this species also has the longest nose out of any of the North American katydids.  A double-whammy!

Green leaf katydid, Microcentrum retinerve (photo by Vishalsh521 on Wikicommons)

Best impression of a leaf

I’m going to get grief from any number of biologists I know who have their own favourite mimics.  This is an area that I work on personally and I know that there are many species which show remarkable resemblance to other animals or plants.  However, in the context of katydids, I have to mention the green-leaf katydid (Microcentrum retinerve).  I can’t get over how complex the false venation patterns are…

The tuberous bushcricket, Platycleis affinis (photo by Gilles San Martin)

Best-endowed animal

Crickets are excellent laboratory animals: they don’t spontaneously die (very often), their food is easy to come by, they have lots of interesting behaviours and they reproduce at a reasonable rate.  It was this last facet that Karim Vahed and colleagues were investigating when they made an astounding discovery.  In a comparison of different species of bush crickets, they found that the size of the testes in males in a given species was related to the number of females that males in that species tend to mate with.  This on its own was in line with predictions and not that surprising.  What was surprising was that in the species with the largest testes, the tuberous bushcricket (Platycleis affinis), the testes made up 14% of the animal’s body mass!  Those are some serious katydid cajones!

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References

Vahed, K., D. J. Parker, and J. D. J. Gilbert. (2010) Larger testes are associated with a higher level of polyandry, but a smaller ejaculate volume, across bushcricket species (Tettigoniidae). Biology Letters, 7: 261-264.

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