05 November 2011 by Julienne du Toit

The Loudest Insect

There’s usually a comforting backtrack to the African night. It’s usually made up of crickets and frogs and a few haunting wails from a hyena or a jackal. Or simply a crystalline silence.

But when we were staying at a bushcamp near Addo recently, it sounded like an angle grinder had moved in next door. I am the soundest sleeper, so I was blissfully oblivious. My insomniac husband Chris on the other hand, was hollow-eyed in the morning, convinced someone had been operating heavy machinery.

The culprit was just outside the door. Culprits, actually. We’d left the outside light on by mistake and every moth within a 5km radius had homed in on it. Also no fewer than 8 strange apple-green insects I’d never seen before, bearing a passing resemblance to grasshoppers, but puffed up to a ridiculous degree.

I consulted my guide book (S.H. Skaife’s African Insect Life) and found that this was a bladder grasshopper. And I quote:

“The sound that the male grasshopper makes is so loud and so unlike that made by any other insect that few people hearing it during the night would recognise it for what it was…. [T]he call may best be explained as a long, loud rasping noise, with deep resonance, repeated every few minutes. The volume suggests the owner of such a voice must be at least as large as a bullfrog, yet it is the call of a puny grasshopper about 50mm long - albeit an insect which looks as if it has been pumped up with air to the point of bursting.”

I was completely hornswaggled though, to learn that the female’s wings are reduced to stumps and she can neither jump nor fly. In fact, I saw one crawling. She took five minutes to traverse a tiny distance. Could evolution not grant her some faster means of locomotion so that her would-be mate allow us all to get some rest?

Category: Wildlife

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