Let’s get it on: Grasshopper breeding project a world first

JUST HATCHED: A baby grasshopper from one of Dr Tara Murray's previous studies.

Tara Murray has spent months trying to make grasshoppers get it on – and she has had success.

The Canterbury University senior lecturer has been working with six pairs of robust grasshoppers in an effort to boost their rapidly declining population.

She is now in the process of observing dozens of grasshopper eggs to see if they will hatch, a world first in the science field.

“They started mating with each other, which was good, because that is often the stumbling point with insects in a lab,” she said.

Dr Murray said in the wild, grasshopper eggs were exposed to cold temperatures in
winter.

“We know we can rear them in the lab, we know they will mate and lay eggs, the only thing we don’t know at this stage is whether those eggs can hatch without being put back out in the field for winter.”

Dr Murray said some of the eggs were kept in the lab at about 20 deg C, some were in a fridge at 4 deg C, and others were being kept outdoors in natural conditions.

“Hopefully we will find out if they need cold periods and how cold that is, roughly.”

Grasshoppers were nationally endangered, which meant they were at risk of becoming extinct in the near future.

Dr Murray said their biggest threat was mammalian predators like rodents.

“Insects, in general, are hugely important for all eco-systems. Each individual species on its own, you might not notice if one disappears, but actually, if we let that keep happening over and over again we will start seeing influences on the eco-system.”

“If we lose kakapo the world isn’t going to end, but we don’t want to lose kakapo. It’s the same for the grasshoppers.”

The breeding project was supported by the Department of Conservation, which would potentially take on and expand the programme if it proved successful.

Dr Murray said baby grasshoppers in the wild usually hatched in early January, so she would be keeping a close eye on the eggs around that time.

She hoped more students would be interested in taking part in the project as part of their masters studies.

 

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