New Zealand Entomology/Orthoptera

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[ 103 ]


The Orthoptera.

This Order, although including a comparatively small number of species, comprises some of the largest and most conspicuous insects inhabiting New Zealand, many of them reminding one of the denizens of the tropics in their gigantic size and striking appearance. They may be conveniently divided into the three following groups:—The Aquatic group, or those whose larvæ inhabit the water, including the Dragonflies, Mayflies, and Perlidæ; the Terrestrial group, including all the typical Orthoptera, Termites, and Mallophaga; and the Euplexoptera, including the Earwigs. We start our observations with the Aquatic group, as these exhibit the greatest affinity with the Neuroptera.

Aquatic Group.

Family Libellulidæ.[1]

Uropetala carovei (Plate XV., fig. 1 ♂, 1a larva.)

This magnificent insect occurs in all swampy situations during January and February, when it may be seen dashing about with amazing rapidity intent on catching [ 104 ]the various flies which constitute its food. Its curious larva is represented at Fig. 1a, the drawing having been taken from a singularly perfect exuvia, which I had the good fortune to discover, clinging to the stem of a fuchsia-tree in a swamp, the rent through which the perfect insect escaped having almost closed up. In this state it no doubt feeds on various aquatic animals, which it procures with a prehensile instrument similar in structure to the "mask" of British dragonfly larvæ, but much larger.

The female of this species may be at once recognized by the absence of the two peculiar leaf-like appendages at the anal extremity, from which the insect takes its name. Her abdomen is also much stouter. My experience leads me to believe either that she is very retired in her habits or else that there are at least six males to one female.

Closely allied, and much commoner than the above insect, is Cordulia Smithii, found almost everywhere, its rapid and continuous flight frequently taking it many miles away from any water. The specimen figured is a male (Plate XV., fig. 2), the female possessing a pair of slender sickle-shaped hooks, attached to the end of her body. She may occasionally be seen depositing her eggs in stagnant streams, the abdomen being violently beaten against the surface of the water during the operation. I have not yet met with the larva, which probably lives concealed in the mud. One specimen, taken near Lake Wairarapa, is remarkable in possessing a cloudy brown patch near the tip of each wing, but it is no doubt only a variety of the ordinary insect.

Family Libellulidæ.

Lestes colensonis (Plate XV., fig. 3, 3a larva).

Extremely abundant in all damp situations from September till May, being one of the last insects to disappear in the autumn. The larva is found under stones, &c., in [ 105 ]every stream, feeding on various aquatic insects and crustaceans. When very young the wing-cases are scarcely discernible, but gradually become more distinct at each moult, until the larva assumes the form shown in the illustration (Fig. 3a), which is taken from a specimen about a week before the emergence of the perfect insect. In all these insects it would be much more convenient to regard the metamorphosis as consisting of only two stages, viz., larva and imago, as there is really no condition analogous to the quiescent pupa of other orders. The female is rather stouter than the male, which is the sex figured, and her abdomen is of a dull bronze colour, instead of metallic blue. The only other dragonfly found in my neighbourhood (Wellington) is the pretty little Telebasis zealandica (Fig. 4), which occurs in similar situations to the last, but is not quite so common. The male is of a brilliant red colour, the female being bronzy green, but she may be readily distinguished from the same sex in Lestes colensonis by her smaller size. The larva of this species is rather more attenuated than that of the previous insect, and is of course considerably smaller.

Family Ephemeridæ.

Ephemera, n.s., near Coloburus[2] (Plate XVI., fig. 4, 4a larva).

The well-known mayflies are very extensively represented in New Zealand, hovering in swarms over running water during the summer evenings.

The larva of the present species (Fig. 4a) occurs abundantly under stones in rapid streams. It may be immediately distinguished from its numerous congeners by its large head and conspicuous black eyes. It is carnivorous, [ 106 ]feeding on various small insects, chiefly those belonging to the present family, but in lack of these it will even devour individuals of its own species. It is consequently a most difficult insect to rear, and it was a long time before I succeeded in obtaining a single imago in captivity. When mature the insect leaves the water, and an apparently perfect imago escapes through a rent in the thorax in the usual way. In a few hours, however, a second moult occurs, the wings gaining additional size and beauty, and the anal setæ becoming very much more elongated than before (Fig. 4). This second change, which has so perplexed some entomologists, is merely an apparent departure from the general rule, a careful examination of the exuviæ of the dragonflies, and pupa shells of many other insects, revealing a delicate membrane within, which invests the imago, and is cast off at the same time as the harder external envelope. In the case of the mayflies, the retention of this internal membrane some two or three hours longer than usual, will fully explain its apparently unique metamorphosis.

Family Perlidæ.

Stenoperla prasina (Plate XVI., fig. 3, 3a larva).

This is the green gauzy-winged insect which we see flying feebly over running water, during the twilight, throughout the summer.

Its larva (Fig. 3a) is aquatic, hiding itself under stones, and devouring the unfortunate Ephemeræ found in similar situations. Towards the end of its career the rudimentary wings become very conspicuous, at which time it is a most interesting object. The curious appendages on each side of the abdomen are gills, which the larva is constantly vibrating, in order to obtain a fresh supply of aërated water. When mature, it ascends the stem of some aquatic plant, the skin becomes dry and brittle, and finally bursting, allows the perfect insect to escape, [ 107 ]and in a few hours its wings are sufficiently hardened for flight. Several other species occur in New Zealand, one of the commonest being Perla cyrene, a black insect much resembling S. prasina, but considerably smaller; its larva may be occasionally found, and is at once known by its dark colour.

Terrestrial Group.

Family Psocidæ.

Psocus zealandicus, n.s. (Plate XVI., fig. 2, 2a larva).

During the hottest days in summer every one must have noticed numbers of minute active insects assembled on garden fences in groups, ranging from ten to fifty, immediately dispersing when disturbed. These are individuals of Psocus zealandicus (Fig. 2), a curious little species, closely allied to the renowned "Book Tick" (Atropos pulsatorium), whose ravages in museums and libraries need no description. Its larva (2a) may be found in the same situations as the imago, and often assembles in similar groups. Its food probably consists of rotten wood and other decaying vegetable matter, and in its later stages it is provided with wing-cases, thus differing from the Book Tick (A. pulsatorium), which remains apterous during the whole of its life.

Family Termitidæ.

Stolotermes ruficeps (Plate XVI., fig. 1 ♂, 1a ♀, 1b "soldier," 1c "worker").

The termites, or white ants, which occur in such great numbers in the tropics, are represented in New Zealand by several small species, the commonest in this neighbourhood being Stolotermes ruficeps.

This species inhabits rotten logs, excavating extensive burrows, resembling in a very humble manner the [ 108 ]wonderfully elaborate nests constructed by the African and other species, about which so much has been written, and so much remains to be discovered. The present insect appears in the perfect state during January and February. It is seldom noticed flying about, but may be readily obtained by opening the nests, where a large number are frequently seen huddled together in the main galleries. At this time the community consists of three classes of individuals, viz., males, females, and workers, which last are in all probability nothing more than the larvæ. After pairing they shed their wings and return to the nest, the female becoming very much distended with eggs. About March she commences to lay. This is continued for several months, and during this time the female is queen of the nest. She resides in a capacious chamber, from which numerous galleries diverge in all directions, some extending as far as eighteen or twenty inches, but the most populous portion of the nest is contained within a radius of six inches from the queen's apartment. The "soldiers" (Fig. 1b) now appear in considerable numbers. They are chiefly stationed in the royal chamber, and furiously attack any intruders; but the workers which stream in and out, carrying the eggs from the queen, they treat with the greatest gentleness. I have never seen soldiers in a nest containing winged insects, nor indeed later in the spring than October, when they seem to have all disappeared. With regard to the nature of these individuals I am unable to supply any positive information, but it appears probable that they are abortive males, in the same way that the neuters of the bees and ants are abortive females. As none of these insects have yet been reared, many points of great interest remain to be discovered in connection with their economy, and a rigid investigation of a number of nests kept in captivity, is the only mode by which we can hope to become fully acquainted with the habits of this interesting family.

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Family Blattidæ.

Periplaneta fortipes (Plate XVII., fig. 5).

Few people who cut up old wood remain unacquainted with this species for very long, its insufferable odour immediately betraying its presence independently of anything else. It is very common under the bark of rimu, henau, and other large trees, where specimens may be found in all stages of growth; the mature individuals only differing from the young in the matter of size and the possession of rudimentary wing-cases. I have never found the females of this species carrying their eggs, but have, on several occasions, discovered the closely allied, but smaller, Periplaneta undulivitta thus engaged under stones on the hills round Nelson. This is a much more agreeable insect to study than P. fortipes, not possessing the disgusting odour so characteristic of the latter species.

The only winged Blattidæ found round Wellington are Blatta conjuncta, and Periplaneta orientalis. The former (Fig. 6), may be occasionally noticed under the scaly bark of rimu and matai trees, but a sharp eye and hand are needed to effect a capture, the insect running with marvellous rapidity. The latter species I have not yet noticed, but as it is the ordinary "cockroach" of Europe its habits have already been amply described.

Family Mantidæ.

Tenodera intermedia (Plate XVII., fig. 2).

A local species confined, I believe, to the South Island, and occurring in some numbers round Nelson, where my specimens were obtained. It seldom flies, but crawls stealthily about the trunks of trees, in the hottest sunshine, capturing and destroying great quantities of insects, its green colouring and leaf-like form rendering it very inconspicuous [ 110 ]to its victims. The purple spots on the tibiæ of this insect are very noticeable, and resemble small drums in structure, hence they are regarded by Mr. A. H. Swinton ("Insect Variety," page 239), as the organs of hearing. These curious drums may be also found in insects belonging to nearly all the remaining families of the Orthoptera, but, as we find no auditory organs occupying a similar situation in any other groups of insects, I think that Mr. Swinton's explanation of their function must be regarded at present as a somewhat doubtful one.[3]

Family Phasmidæ.

Acanthoderus horridus (Plate XIX.).

The curious Stick Insects are familiar to most people from their remarkable similarity to the twigs of trees.

The present species is one of the largest, the mature insect frequently attaining a length of five inches. It is best taken at night, when it may be readily discovered, feeding on the leaves of shrubs, and suddenly becoming perfectly motionless when the lantern is turned upon it. The favourite plant for this (and indeed most of the species) is the white rata, upon which they are often seen in large numbers when the entomologist is collecting Lepidoptera in autumn. One of the commonest species found in this way is Bacillus (hookeri?) chiefly remarkable for its great sexual disparities, the male resembling a very slender stick about twenty-eight lines long, while the female is nearly half as long again (thirty-eight lines), and much more stoutly built. A more systematic investigation of this family is needed before we can pretend to correctly determine the various species, as there is little doubt that in other cases the sexes will be found quite as divergent. In addition to this [ 111 ]the insects are most variable in colour, and their completely apterous character rendering the distinction between larva and imago a matter of considerable difficulty, it is very probable that some of the smaller species may be only immature specimens of the larger ones.

Stick insects are easily kept in captivity, and will not be found devoid of interest. They are great eaters, and grow with considerable rapidity, frequently casting their skin, a task of no easy accomplishment, which I once had the pleasure of watching in the case of a specimen of Acanthoderus prasinus which I had under observation for several months.

The insect first suspends itself by its hind pair of legs, keeping the others in the same position as when walking, the head is bent in, and the antennæ are placed along the breast, the long abdomen hanging over backwards. The skin then splits along the back of the thorax, and the head and thorax are gradually pushed out. The front and middle legs are immediately afterwards extracted, the long femora and tibiæ easily passing the sharp angles in the exuvia, owing to their complete flexibility. When these are finally clear, the insect reaches forwards with its fore-legs and draws the abdomen and hind-legs out of the old skin, which remains attached to the branch until dislodged by some accident.

During the spring months great quantities of little stick insects may be noticed on the parasitic ferns covering the tree stems in the forest; they are curious little animals, their antics when simulating inanimate twigs being often most amusing, and if the reader wishes to investigate a comparatively untouched branch of entomology he cannot do better than keep a number of these until mature, when he will doubtless contribute much to our scanty knowledge of this curious family.

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Family Achetidæ.

Acheta fuliginosa (Plate XVIII., fig. 1).

This destructive insect is not indigenous to New Zealand, having been introduced from Australia into the Nelson district many years ago. Strange to say it has never been seen in Wellington, where specimens must be constantly landed amongst produce, &c., but appear to be unable to effect a settlement, owing, probably, to some peculiarity of the climate which renders the place unsuitable for them. The larvæ may be first observed about December, when they are often seen hopping about the vegetation. They are extremely obnoxious, devouring everything, and frequently entering houses, where they consume provisions, clothes, and even boots. During the summer of 1875 the farmers round Nelson were fairly eaten out by this insect, the cattle absolutely starving for the want of food, but since that time the pest seems to have gradually diminished, although it is still very injurious to many garden plants.

The illustration (Fig. 1) is taken from a female, the male wanting the long ovipositor. These insects appear in the imago state about March, and continue in great abundance until the end of summer, the cold weather which generally sets in about the beginning of May rapidly destroying them.

Family Gryllidæ.

Deinacrida megacephala (Plate XVIII., fig. 2 ♂, XVII., fig. 8 ♀).

This conspicuous species is especially interesting, as it may be regarded as the type of a very peculiar assemblage of apterous crickets, pre-eminently characteristic of New Zealand. It is very abundant round Wellington, and may be occasionally taken under logs, &c., but is best procured [ 113 ]from the hollow stems of various trees, where it is found inhabiting the deserted galleries of wood-boring species—frequently enlarging them to suit its own requirements.

The plant most usually selected by these insects is the mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus), whose stems may be often seen pierced with large holes. Out of these the insects emerge at night to feed on the leaves. To extract a number of specimens, without injury, requires considerable care, and is best performed with a small axe, which should be first used to cut in about three-quarters through the trunk, just below one of the holes. Another notch is then cut about a foot lower down, and the intermediate wood split off in long pieces, until the tunnel is laid bare. On approaching an insect the first thing seen are two red threads, which are the antennæ, laid back as shown at Fig. 8. A deep notch is then cut into the trunk, some nine or ten inches below this point, and the piece bodily wrenched off. If the individual thus treated is a male he will cling firmly to the log, elevating his hind-legs in the air and biting viciously at anything within reach, but the females, in the majority of cases, endeavour to escape and hide themselves under the leaves, &c., on the ground. Both sexes when irritated emit a peculiar grating sound, which may be often heard at night in the forest, and is produced by the friction of the femur against a small file situated on each side of the second abdominal segment. They can also leap a short distance, but not so far as many of the smaller species (Libanasa macropathus, &c.). They are evidently strictly arboreal in their habits, as they exhibit great skill in walking along branches, and will climb up a thin stick with wonderful rapidity.

When in their burrows the posterior legs are extended behind the insect and push, while the anterior and intermediate ones are thrust forwards, the claws being firmly inserted, so as to enable the insect to pull itself along. [ 114 ]Travelling along the burrow in this manner, they frequently evade all efforts to extract them, until they are stopped by arriving at the end of the gallery.

The sexes of this species are readily distinguishable, the male (Plate XVIII., fig. 2) possessing an immense head furnished with a pair of enormously powerful mandibles. The female (Plate XVII., fig. 8) is a more attractive insect, her gracefully curved ovipositor and smaller head having a much more pleasing appearance than the terribly menacing jaws of her mate. Both sexes are able to give severe bites, but it is extremely doubtful whether they would prove anything worse than slight mechanical injuries, as the insect is not likely to be poisonous. I am, however, unable to speak from experience.

Family Gryllidæ.

Xiphidium maoricum (Plate XVII., fig. 1).

This pretty insect may be found in great abundance round Nelson during the autumn, but is rarer in the Wellington Province. Its presence may be at once detected by the curious chirping heard in various directions shortly before sunset and lasting till eight or nine o'clock in the evening. This sound is produced with the wing-cases, which the male insects may be seen vigorously rubbing together. The females are quite mute, and they may be also distinguished by possessing a short curved ovipositor at the end of the body. The peculiarly leaf-like shape of the insect and its bright green colour render its discovery amongst the herbage a most difficult matter, even when its whereabouts is indicated by its cry—in fact, were it not for their music, there is little doubt that very few of these insects would ever be captured, as they are practically invisible, and are an instance of protective resemblance carried to great perfection.

When disturbed these crickets fly about twenty yards [ 115 ]and again settle in a bush or amongst herbage, carefully avoiding alighting on the ground where they would be readily visible. Their flight is somewhat feeble for such large insects. Great care must be taken, when capturing specimens for preservation, not to hold them by their powerful hind-legs, as they will not infrequently cast one off while endeavouring to escape.

I have not yet noticed the larva of this species, but should imagine it would closely resemble a wingless imago.

Family Locustidæ.

Caloptenus marginalis (Plate XVII., fig. 4).

This is the little grasshopper which rises before our footsteps in swarms on a hot summer's day; it is one of the last insects to leave us in the autumn, being frequently found in warm situations on fine days in the middle of winter. Owing to its great abundance this species must inflict considerable damage on the grass, as it has taken up its quarters like the English grasshopper in the cultivated fields, where an unlimited supply of food is always at hand. Formerly, no doubt, it was much less common round Wellington than at present, owing to the few open spots then existing, none of these grasshoppers being found in the forest.

The perfect insect may be recognized by the rudimentary wings which are present on the thorax, thus causing it to closely resemble the larval form of many of the winged species, and for which it might readily be mistaken were its true character unknown.

Family Locustidæ.

Œdipoda cinerascens (Plate XVII., fig. 3).

This large and conspicuous insect occurs abundantly in all open situations near Nelson, but is very rare in the [ 116 ]Wellington district, becoming, however, again common further north.

When disturbed it leaps into the air, spreads its wings, and flies away with great rapidity for thirty or forty yards, when it alights, and allows its pursuer to get within a few yards of his prize before again making off. This habit renders the capture of a good series of this insect a most arduous matter. The sexes may be readily distinguished by their size, the female being nearly twice as large as her mate.

This species is very variable in colour, some individuals being dark green whilst others are of a uniform drab.

The food of this insect consists of various domestic grasses, but I do not think it is at present sufficiently abundant to exercise any harmful influence on agriculture. By some entomologists, however, it is regarded as only a variety of the renowned migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), and as such its advent in large numbers might be viewed with serious apprehension.

It is also strange that although I have often seen large numbers of this species in the perfect state I have never observed the larva. I can only conjecture that the insect breeds in very secluded localities and then migrates in search of fresh food supplies.

Group Euplexoptera.

Family Forficulidæ.

Forficesila littorea (Plate XVII., fig. 7).

Abundant on the sea beach throughout the year, where it may be readily captured under stones and seaweed. It is a very bold insect, and when disturbed will grasp a blade of grass, or other object, very firmly with its powerful abdominal forceps, and allow itself to be lifted off the ground and carried away rather than relinquish its hold.

[ 117 ]The food of this species probably consists of seaweed, although it is possibly carnivorous, and feeds on the small insects and crustaceans, which are numerous on the beach. Being permanently apterous, mature individuals can only be recognized by their large size, and the perfect development of their anal forceps. It is evidently erroneous to regard these as organs exclusively employed in opening and shutting the wings, as we see that in the present insect, which does not require them for that purpose, they are larger than in many of the flying earwigs. They are probably chiefly used to intimidate intruders.

This species is strictly marine in its habits and is seldom found more than a few yards above high-water-mark. The females may be often observed hatching their eggs. For this purpose they excavate an oval chamber underneath a log or large stone, and after carefully smoothing it within, deposit the eggs at the bottom. These eggs are most faithfully guarded by the mother, which boldly attacks all intruders, and will suffer herself to be killed rather than leave the spot. She also remains with the young ones for a considerable time after they are hatched, as we sometimes observe the females accompanied by a number of larvæ of quite a large size.

Fig. 1.—Uropetala carovei ♂.
" 1a.—Larva.
" 2.—Cordulia Smithii ♂.
" 3.—Lestes Colensonis ♂.
" 3a.—Larva.
" 4.—Telebasis zealandica
Plate XV.

Orthoptera (continued).
Fig. 1.—Stolotermes ruficeps ♂.
" 1a.—Female.
" 1b.—Soldier.
" 1c.—Worker.
" 2.—Psocus zealandicus, n.s.
" 2a.—Larva.
" 3.—Stenoperla prasina.
" 3a.—Larva.
" 4.—Ephemera, n.s. (near Coloburus).
" 4a.—Larva.
Plate XVI.

Orthoptera (continued).
Fig. 1.—Xiphidium maoricum ♂.
" 2.—Tenodera intermedia.
" 3.—Œdipoda cinerascens.
" 4.—Caloptenus marginalis.
" 5.—Periplaneta fortipes.
" 6.—Blatta conjuncta.
" 7.—Forficesila littorea.
" 8.—Deinacrida megacephala ♀.
Plate XVII.

Orthoptera (continued).
Fig. 1.—Acheta fuliginosa ♀.
" 2.—Deinacrida megacephala ♂.
Plate XVIII.

Orthoptera (concluded).
Fig. 1.—Acanthoderus horridus.
Plate XIX.

  1. The Libellulidæ, Ephemeridæ, Perlidæ, Psocidæ, and Termitidæ are usually included in the Neuroptera.
  2. One mutilated ♀ specimen of this insect was sent to Mr. McLachlan, but was too imperfect to describe from.
  3. For account of the earlier stages of this, or a closely allied insect, see "Transactions of New Zealand Institute," vol. xvi. p. 114.