In Australia's Top End a beguiling grasshopper is heralding the coming of the wet season by putting on its gaudiest outfit. Leichhardt's Grasshopper is out in full adult glory. It's Australia's most brightly coloured grasshopper and one of the most spectacular in the world.
Leichhardt's Grasshopper is bright red, blue and orange. Its strong colours are a defence against predators which works so well that this little grasshopper has Attitude - often it doesn't even bother to fly away when predators approach.
Ludwig Leichhardt reported great numbers of them as he crossed the Arnhem Land plateau in 1845. However, after a few more sightings, Leichhardt's Grasshopper went incognito for 120 years. It's only reappeared on the scientific record recently, around 1973, when the mining industry boomed and access into Leichhardt's grasshopper territory was improved.
The Jawoyn and Gundjeibmi people of Western Arnhem Land call the grasshopper Alyurr, children of the lightning man, Namarrgon, a powerful ancestral being. The country around Darwin and across to Arnhem Land has one of the highest incidences of lightning in the world. Namarrgon is commonly depicted in the regions rock art with axes hanging from his body, which he uses to strike the clouds. Around Kakadu the axes on his head represent grasshopper's antennae.
The peak time for lightning is November–December during the 'build-up' when spectacular dry thunderstorms light up the skies. At this time of year, Leichhardt's grasshopper is said to be out and about looking for the lightning in its new gaudy outfit.
The ABC’s Janet Parker compiled a fascinating report, published on 2 November 2000, from which this introduction is extracted. You can read the full article on the ABC Science website here.
To see a YouTube video of the grasshopper’s electric colours in its natural environment, click here.
Petasida ephippigera ~ image courtesy of the ABC