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Monday, Dec. 16, 2002

ANIMAL TRACKER

Groundhopper


* Japanese name: Hishibatta
* Scientific name: Formosatettix japonica
* Description: Groundhoppers (also known as pygmy grasshoppers) are in the same order (Orthoptera) as crickets and "regular" grasshoppers, but they are smaller (less than 20 mm long) and sturdier. Like their orthopteran relatives, groundhoppers have short, thin antennae and, most obviously, a large pair of hind legs. They have two pairs of wings, but only the hind wings are used for flight; the groundhopper's fore wings are vestigial. In grasshoppers and crickets, the hind wings are protected by a thickened pair of fore wings, but instead, groundhoppers have a distinctive shieldlike covering called the pronotum that extends over the abdomen. The brown-black body of groundhoppers has a granular texture.
* Where to find them: In moist and muddy parts of fields and woods, and also alongside streams. Females lay their eggs in mud at the beginning of the rainy season. The larvae look like miniature versions of adults, and they grow through five or six stages before they become mature. Each time they molt, they swallow air to expand their bodies and split their old cuticles (skins).
* Food: Algae and other plant-derived organic material on the surface of wet soil and mud. Groundhoppers have two pairs of mandibles that chew from side to side, allowing them to thoroughly process the plant material before swallowing it. They are preyed upon by birds, snakes, frogs and other insects, particularly robber flies.
* Special features: The femur (the equivalent to the thigh bone) of groundhoppers is extremely well-developed and muscular. It is adapted for leaping, and groundhoppers, which are small compared to grasshoppers and crickets, can jump relatively long distances. Sometimes after defecation their dung gets stuck to their hind legs, so, for purposes of hygiene, they kick out to fling the dung out of the way. They are among the few members of the Orthoptera that can survive the winter as adults. Their excellent camouflage makes them difficult to spot. Unlike their relatives, they have no hearing or "stridulatory" organ. This means they can neither hear nor stridulate (make chirps like crickets and grasshoppers). So they are rarely seen and never heard.



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