General Information on the Parktown Prawn








 

    Members of the family Anastostomatidae are related to crickets and long-horned grasshoppers, as they possess similar "ears" located (oddly enough) on their front legs. Unlike their cricket relatives, which "call" by rubbing their wings together, these wingless king crickets can produce hissing sounds by rubbing their abdomen against their hind-legs when disturbed.

    Unfortunately Parktown Prawns do possess several distressing attributes, which cause many householders to think of them as disgusting creatures. They are frequently attracted to light and wander into houses, where they have even been discovered in beds.


Dr Toms of the Department of General Entomology at the Transvaal Museum clarifies:
"On one occasion an individual appeared in my bath when I pulled out the plug. It had managed to force its way through the grating in the drain. On another occasion one started nibbling (painlessly) at my toe while I was reading during the evening."
One of their most unpleasant doings is their habit for defaecating when threatened. The odour of their black faeces is particularly vile.

Although the Parktown Prawn has been known for over 100 years, not much is known about these creatures. Little is known about their act of courtship, except that it takes place in their burrows.

Although it is known that they can produce hissing sounds when disturbed, it is unknown if they use sound in communicating with members of the opposite sex. In fact, it isn't even known how the males and females find each other, although there is evidence that chemical communication is important. A paper on this topic has recently been published in the Journal of Insect Behaviour. Also unknown is whether their ears are functional or not.

When it is understood that there are groups of insects in South Africa of which more than 90% percent of the species are completely unknown, one can begin to appreciate the daunting task ahead of our entomologists. Since many endangered species probably don't have names, we may be losing species that we never knew existed!

Dr Toms is the first person in South Africa to specialise on the study of ensiferan Orthoptera, which includes Stenopelmatoidea ("Parkmore prawns" and their relatives).

He is presently working in the Department of General Entomology at the Transvaal Museum and with help from Bill Bateman, an English Biologist, has managed to collect this information by observing Claudette (now deceased) and Hugh.

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