Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis, on Queen’s University Biological Station Properties

Post by Paul R. Martin, Department of Biology, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON Canada

Figure 1. Sean Thomas Martin, standing over the small creek on the Bonwill Tract where he captured the Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis.
Figure 1. Sean Thomas Martin, standing over the small creek on the Bonwill Tract where he captured the Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis.

The Pygmy Grasshoppers (Tetrigidae) are a large family of grasshoppers (>1000 species worldwide), also referred to as groundhoppers or grouse locusts (Preston-Mafham 1990). The family is poorly known and less commonly seen than many other grasshoppers — most species are cryptically coloured (brown, gray or black) and many species have expanded pronotums (the upper part of the back, just behind the head) that resemble leaves, stones or twigs (Preston-Mafham 1990). Only 9 species of pygmy grasshopper are known from Canada, and these are either placed in the family Tetrigidae, or partially split into the families Tetrigidae and Batrachideidae (Vickery and Kevan 1985). All 9 species are small (usually less than 2 cm long), brown, gray or black (never green), and have pronounced eyes and long pronotums that extend backwards, often ending in a point (Vickery and Keven 1985). Only one species has been described from the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS), the Ornate Ground Locust, Tetrix ornatus (Paiero and Conboy 2010). Here I describe the occurrence of another species on QUBS properties, the Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis.

On 28 April 2013, Sean Thomas Martin (age 5) spotted and caught a female Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper from above a narrow creek that led into the north end of Telephone Bay (Lake Opinicon), just east of the Bedford Road (Bonwill Tract) (Fig. 1). The grasshopper was caught immediately above the stream — Sean Thomas told me that it had been “laying eggs in the water,” but I could not verify this (he had already caught it). No other grasshoppers were seen that day. We collected, photographed, and later released the insect (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. The female Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis from the QUBS properties, April 28, 2013. Note the extended pronotum (the light brown "shield" on the back, extending from behind the head almost to the anus) and the black and brown colouration typical of pygmy grasshoppers.
Figure 2. The female Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis from the QUBS properties, April 28, 2013. Note the extended pronotum (the light brown “shield” on the back, extending from behind the head almost to the anus) and the black and brown colouration typical of pygmy grasshoppers.

Among the pygmy grasshoppers in Canada, our grasshopper can be identified to the two species in the Batrachideidae group by the 16 or more segments of the antennae (Fig. 2a) and the groove on the upper edge of the femor (the largest part of the back leg; Fig. 2b). The Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper is separated from the similar Armored Pygmy Grasshopper, T. armata, by the blunt shape of the pronotum where it reaches the head that lacks a pronounced point (Fig. 2b; Vickery and Kevan 1985).

Black-sided Pygmy Grasshoppers are widespread in southern Ontario and Québec and overwinter as adults (Vickery and Kevan 1985). Adults emerge early in spring (as early as 2 April in Québec) and can occupy a diversity of habitats, from dry sandy ridges to wet areas beside water (Vickery and Kevan 1985). Little is known of the species’ natural history, although it has been described from Manitoba to Nova Scotia, south to Central America (Vickery and Kevan 1985; Capinera et al. 2004). While this species has not previously been documented on QUBS properties, Black-sided Pygmy-Grasshoppers are likely overlooked by most observers over the age of 5.

Literature cited

Capinera, J. L., R. D. Scott, and T. J. Walker. 2004. Field guide to grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets of the United States. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Paiero, S. A., and M. A. Conboy 2010. List of Orthopteroides at Queen’s University Biological Station. http://www.queensu.ca/qubs/resources/specieslists/orthopteroids.html

Preston-Mafham, K. 1990. Grasshoppers and Mantids of the World. Blandford Publishers, London, UK.

Vickery, V. R., and K. M. Kevan. 1985. The insects and arachnids of Canada. Part 14. The grasshoppers, crickets, and related insects of Canada and adjacent regions. Agriculture Canada, Ottawa, ON, Canada.

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