The Parktown Prawn Libanasidus vittatus (Kirby), is a King Cricket belonging to the
Family Anostostomatidae. It is common in gardens in and around Johannesburg.. It was first
described by William Forsell Kirby in 1899. The Holotype or primary specimen is an adult female
collected in Barberton (Mpumalanga Province, South Africa) by P. Rendall. It is housed in the
British Museum (Natural History). Tusk-like mandibles are only found on adult males.
Libanasidus vittatus (Kirby) was originally named by William Kirby in 1899. The type specimen is a female that was collected in Barberton by P. Rendall. When Kirby named this insect, he allocated it to the Genus Carcinopsis and named it Carcinopsis vittata. The genus Carcinopsis had already been described from New Caledonia (near Australia), so to find the same genus living on opposite sides of the globe might seem quite surprising, especially considering that these insects are wingless and can't fly, and that their distribution is therefore limited to shifting landmasses and rafting, and that they may have been geographically isolated for more than 200 Million years. By the time that Kirby published his Synonymic Catalogue of Orthoptera (1906) he had already concluded that it belonged to a different Genus, and placed it in the genus Libanasa. Subsequently, Peringuey (1916) realized that this insect was quite different from Libanasa, and erected the Genus Libanasidus, necessitating a change of the specific epithet from vittata to vittatus. It is now thought that this name has reached a state of stability, and the species is correctly known as Libanasidus vittatus (Kirby), the brackets indicating that although the species was first described by Kirby, he used a different name. We now think that there may be several similar looking or cryptic species of Libanasidus, and that some of these have not yet been named.
In the same way that there have been changes in the generic and specific names of this insect, there have been many changes or differences of opinion about its family name. When Kirby named this insect in 1899 he allocated it to the family Stenopelmatidae. Subsequently it has been allocated to the families Henicidae and Mimnermidae. Peter Johns of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand has now shown that King Crickets should actually be placed in the Family Anostostomatidae (Johns, 1987), and that they are distinct from Jerusalem Crickets (Stenopelmatidae) which also occur in South Africa and are superficially similar to King Crickets.
William Forsell Kirby. 14 January 1844 - 20 November 1911
William Kirby described the Parktown Prawn in 1899.
He was elected as a fellow of the Entomological Society of London in 1861. In 1867 Mr Kirby accepted the post of curator at the Museum of the Royal Dublin Society (later the National Museum of Science and Art), and lived in Dublin until his appointment at the British Museum (Natural History) in 1879 where he was employed until his retirement in 1909. He published several catalogues on different orders of insects including Lepidoptera, Odonata, Hymenoptera and Orthoptera, but also published popular books and articles on Entomology. However he had wide interests and exceptional ability as a linguist and philosopher, publishing on general Natural History, Botany, Evolution, Folk-lore, Mysticism and poetry. Reference to obituaries reveals that he was a kind, modest, humorous and thoughtful man who was always ready to help others.
Many residents living in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, will be familiar with the term "Parktown Prawn", having recently had their suburban gardens invaded by these "unwanted" creatures.
The Parktown Prawn Libanasidus vittatus, otherwise known as the Parkmore or Parkhurst Prawn, is, of course, not a prawn at all, but a six-legged insect belonging to the King Cricket family Anastostomatidae.
Good news... Johannesburg and Pretoria residents who have not yet found these creatures in their gardens can expect them to arrive in the next few years.
Special thanks go to Bill Bateman and Dr Rob Toms at
The Transvaal Museum
for the information and photographs,