This little fellow – I think it is a Urnisiella species – and it’s close cousin below (it may be what is known a different level of instar nymph according to my insect field guide) are quite common here at the moment and give the dogs no end of excitement chasing them around the scrub.

We’ve had a good season this year – the ground-water has been replenished, there is still some surface water available and the occasional storm cell that stomps around the country provides a welcome late-season top-up.

There is plenty of good grass still around and new growth on the trees so there is a good load of insects, which, as someone who likes to spend a lazy hour or ten a day watching birds, is good for me as well.

More grasshoppers and small insects, more birds – happy me!

I recently bought a butterfly net & associated kit, including a wonderful field guide to Australian Spiders, and have been paying a bit more attention to those smaller things we share our world with.

Another Sand Grasshopper
Another Sand Grasshopper

Another recent purchase is the excellent introductory Field Guide to Insects in Australia, by Paul Zborowski & Ross Storey and published Reed New Holland.

The chapter on the Order Orthoptera (Crickets & Grasshoppers), tells me that in Australia we have 14 families and over 2,800 species of crickets and grasshoppers.

One thing I was not aware of is that Orthoptera go through a range of life stages that are often dependent upon local resources for progression.

As Zborowski and Storey say about crickets and grasshoppers:

Nymphs are wingless versions of the adults, with, at first, disproportionately large heads. Many species develop wing buds in later instars. The final moult to adult is around the fourth to sixth instar in grasshoppers and up to the tenth in crickets. The whole process takes a few weeks in good conditions, to many months if food supply and weather are adverse.

I’ve not come across too much information locally about uses for grasshoppers – though I have a paper somewhere in my files that discusses insects as food among a number of language groups across central Australia – I’ll update this post when I find that paper if it is relevant.

Kirr-kirr, the Warlpiri interactive dictionary, tells me that the Warlpiri word for grasshopper is Jintilyka:

Kala jintilyka kulaka wangkalku – kala yurnungkapilyirriji ka wangkajala. Kulalpa wangkayarla – wapami, paarr-pardimimipa ka. Palkaju jiilpari-jiilpari yangka marumaru yangka wita karla nguna, pinkirrpawanarlangu – purturlurla, manu piirrpirrparlanguyijala puunpuunpa walyapiya, ngulanya jintilyka. Jintilyka, kujaka wurliya parnka, ngulaji ka parnkanjarlaju wurliya wuurr-kijirni, ngulaka yangka pirri-manilki, walyakurra.
But the grasshopper doesn’t make a sound, whereas the yurnungkapilyirri insect really makes a noise. It cannot make a sound – it moves about and it flies. Its body is speckled, with those little black spots on it, on the wings and along its back, and it has white spots on it and it is also a red-brown colour like the earth. That is the grasshopper. The grasshopper which runs along on its feet, after flying for a bit, straightens out its legs and lands on the ground.

Nyanungu jintilyka, wardilykarlunya ka ngarni. Wardilykarlu ka ngarni, wardapirlangurlu ka ngarni jintilykaji nyanunguju. Ngarni kapala – wardapirli, wardilykarlu. Kuyu kapala ngarni – warduwarduku. Munku wiri-maninjaku.

The grasshopper, it is eaten by bustards. Bustards eat them and goannas eat the grasshoppers. Goannas and bustards both eat them. They eat it as their meat to satisfy their hunger. To fill up their bellies.

Wilypirirla kaji kurdu nyina, nyanungu yangka – kankarlarrarlangu nyinami – yurdingkayijala. Kujakarla – kuyurlangu jintilyka kurduku kanyirni. Puuly-mardarninjarla. Wiringarrirliji. Yinyiyijala karla kurduku – witakuju wiringarrikiji. Kuyuju.

If the baby bird is in the hollow of a tree trunk, placed high up in a tree, then the owl brings the baby bird a grasshopper to eat. It catches it and then it gives it to the young one – to the little owl.

One other source of information that I’ve found concerning grasshoppers and Aboriginal people is a reference in Roman Black’s Old and New Australian Aboriginal Art, published by Angus and Robertson in 1964.

Between pages 63 to 70 there are a number of references to Aboriginal ceremonial boards and one image that refers to Jukurrpa beliefs about grashoppers:

According to Black this design relates to the following events at a place called Ngapatjimbi (1), where there were a number of grasshoppers.

There they came out of the ground, and flew up, and on coming down they went into the ground again. The grasshoppers multiplied, and after the next rain they came out of the [unnamed] places marked (2).

They flew up and came down as men. These men went to Wantangara (3), and going into a cave, turned into churingas.

In this particular design the bands of parallel lines linking circles represent the paths the grasshoppers made by breaking down leaves. Pairs of lines represent their tracks.

As I said above, there are a lot of grasshoppers around at the moment – if I come across any more that will stay still enough for a photo I’ll keep you posted!

Got a grasshopper story – send a comment!