Appearance of the Parktown Prawn

    The Parktown Prawn is a cold-blooded insect, and therefore is very much a dozy creature on a cold day. It has a soft, but brittle exoskeleton or shell and opposed to popular belief can be killed when trodden on. (Although entomologists would prefer to have them donated alive for public display or for their habitual studies).

    It has feelers underneath its jaw and on top of its head. These are used for navigational purposes.

    The Parktown Prawn, when burrowing a home, burrows head first and uses its spined hind legs to kick out the debris. The spined hind legs are also used to fend off competitors and predators.

Parktown Prawns are quite different in appearance to most other members of the Family Anastostomatidae:

  • The male Parktown Prawn has strongly developed mandibles which are present in the final juvenile stage, and reach their growth peak in the adult stage. One of the largest males collected measures 53 millimetres (just over two inches) from the tip of the mandibles to the rear of the abdomen and 157 millimetres from the tip of the antennae to the hindfeet. The actual function of the mandibles of the males is at present unknown, although it has been noted that the males defend themselves by gripping and throwing the offender over its shoulder with the use of these strong mandibles.

  • Female Parktown Prawns, on the other hand, possess a well-developed ovipositor, through which they lay their eggs (between 80 to 200 eggs). One of the largest females researched measures 64 millimetres from the front of its head to the tip of its ovipositor. The ovipositor is 19 millimetres long and the total length of the insect, including legs and antennae, is an astonishing 166 millimetres (six and a half inches).

(Both of these individuals were collected in indigenous forest and are larger than the specimens normally found in Johannesburg gardens.)

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