Wednesday, 5 July 2017


Think grasshopper. Grass. Hopper.

Surely, anything called a Sandgroper is the complete opposite of anything that hops about in the grass? Just look at this thing! It looks like a termite mixed with a beetle grub! And if you find yourself thinking that it looks like a Mole Cricket with all the edges rubbed off, then you're not alone. A lot of people used to think that, they just turned out to be wrong, is all.

You see, the insect order Orthoptera splits neatly into two groups: Caelifera (grasshoppers and stuff) and Ensifera (crickets and things). While Mole Crickets and Sandgropers bear certain similarities, they're not all that closely related. Mole Crickets are in Ensifera with all the other crickets, and Sandgropers are part of the grasshopper group.

Admittedly the Sandgroper's very closest relatives are known as Pygmy Mole Crickets, but they turned out to be weird, grasshopper types, too. Not as weird as the Sandgroper, though! It just goes to show, those life choices really matter. Especially if you choose to spend all your life underground...

There are sixteen known species of Sandgroper, almost all of them found digging through the sandy soils of Australia. One species is found in nearby New Guinea, while another lives all the way over in Argentina. All species belong to a family called Cylindrachetidae, which is split into three genera: Cylindracheta, Cylindraustralia and Cylindroryctes. As you may have guessed, Sandgropers are very, very cylindrical. And it's all because of the life subterranean. Every inch of a Sandgroper's body is adapted to living underground, and there are about three of them since they reach about 7 cm long.

It starts with the mole-hands (clearly they went to the same fancy dress shop as the Mole Crickets). These are the front legs, poised to claw at the soil and carve open a path to crawl through. Next, the smooth, rounded head easily slips through the burrow without friction. These front parts of the body are sclerotized, which means they're extra-tough and rigid and also gives them that orange-brown colour. The rest of the thorax is compressed, providing enough space for the other legs to move without getting in the way in those narrow burrows. Finally, a soft, pale abdomen trails behind.

Sandgropers spend the cooler, wetter months just below the surface, before delving into deeper, damper soil in the dry season. They seem to eat pretty much anything, from plant roots and fungi to small insects and spiders, although it's unclear whether they prey on those insects or scavenge on corpses they find.

In fact, a lot is unclear and unknown about Sandgropers. It's just another consequence of a life spent underground!


elfinelvin said...

The Land of OZ has done it again. What a marvelous creature!

ColdFusion said...

Or maybe they actually are what they obviously are and look like, and not something completely different that someone has decided based on irrelevant data.

Unknown said...

Women don't like to be groped and I'm sure sand doesn't like to be groped either. Someone should tell those, ahem, grasshoppers...

Joseph JG said...

@elfinelvin: Australia just doesn't do NORMAL!

@ColdFusion: I think they're more concerned with the relevant data :P

@Tim: Ha! Well, women also don't like to get walked on or have bits of them turned into castles so maybe someone should tell us, too.

Unknown said...

What things look like really does not matter in taxonomy. A croc looks more like a lizard than anything but it is an archosaur like birds. Genetics and ancestry, not superficial physical similarity, are what matters.

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