Meet our Blushing Beauties!

This year in the Cockrell Butterfly Center, we were taken on quite a roller coaster ride with Lois the Corpse Flower! I don’t think any of us will ever forget about that! People filled the Grand Hallway and waited in line to see the most talked about flower Houston has ever seen.

In the midst of everything, we quietly received a very special gift, which may have been overlooked. Over Memorial Day weekend, I traveled to New Orleans and was able to visit the Audubon Insectarium, which was amazing! I was very jealous of their live animal collection and in particular, their pink katydids. They had quite a few of them, but despite that, my attempts to organize some kind of trade with them to get some pink katydids here in Houston were futile.

It wasn’t long after I got back that I received a call from a family in Dayton who said that they had found a pink katydid! They were so kind to drive to HMNS and deliver it. When I saw it I was overjoyed, it was the exact same species they had in New Orleans and just as pretty and pink as any of theirs! He was a boy and we named him Don Johnson (One of my friends said his color reminded her of Miami Vice).

So, when it rains it pours; a few weeks later I got another phone call about a pink katydid, a female. Don Johnson had a girlfriend and this would hopefully lead to little pink baby katydids! I got yet another phone call from a gentleman who had found a golden katydid and an orange one before that. The orange one got away, but he brought me the golden one. So at this time I had a veritable cornucopia of colorful katydids!

What did Katy do?
Katydid in the wild
Creative Commons License photo credit: frankcheez

The pink coloration is unusual, but not quite as rare as you might think! The color comes from a genetic defect, similar to albinism, called erythrism. Some animals, such as flamingoes, become pink because of what they eat, but since katydids eat nothing but green plants with only the occasional flower, it is due to a lack or abundance of certain pigments in their bodies. Not many people actually understand the reason for this. In tropical places, it may help the katydids to camouflage themselves among pink or red flowers and plants. Here in the United States, however, it’s not much of an advantage. The only katydid native to the United States known to have this genetic defect is the oblong-winged katydid, Amblycorypha oblongifolia. The most common form of this katydid is green, less common is the pink or golden form, and the rarest is the orange form. I wish I could have gotten my hands on the orange one!

Sadly, Don Johnson passed away at the end of July, followed by Goldie, but my pink female was alive up until a couple of weeks ago, continuing to lay eggs in her enclosure. The eggs have started to hatch and we’ll soon have baby pinkies everywhere! They are fat and round with very long back legs, and their color is amazing! Don Johnson and Pinkie’s oldest son is up there on display now, soon to be joined by his brother’s and sisters.

If you haven’t had the privilege of seeing one of these hot pink katydids, stop by and take a look, they’re sure to steal your heart!

A Valentine’s Day Suprise, A Pink Grasshopper!

Feb2010 100
Val!
Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

Tuesday morning, I came into work, turned on my computer, started to eat my morning snack, and checked my messages. I just about choked and went through the roof when I heard a message from a woman named Kelly McLaughlin, who said that her son Ronnie had found a pink grasshopper in their backyard! I was so excited!! She was so sweet to drive here from Santa Fe, Texas to donate this amazing little creature to the Butterfly Center.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering, what’s so special about a pink grasshopper? Well, have YOU ever seen one? A pink grasshopper should not really exist! It has an unusual genetic mutation known as erythrism. This is when an animal has either too much of one pigment, or not enough of another, causing it to be red or some variation of red such as pink or purple. It can be found in a wide variety of animals, including several types of insects.  There are several theories about why this happens but no one is completely sure. Erythrism has been observed in certain species of katydids, in fact, the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans has been able to breed pink katydids and put them on display. I have always been so jealous! When I heard this phone message, I actually expected to see a pink katydid and I was shocked that it was actually a grasshopper instead! If everything goes well, I may be able to breed pink grasshoppers for display, how cool would that be?

What did Katy do?
A pink katydid
Creative Commons License photo credit: frankcheez

Since Ronnie found this grasshopper on Valentine’s Day, her name is Val. We have identified Val as a Northern Green Striped Grasshopper (Chortophaga viridifasciata). This species is very common in Texas. They are small, only reaching a little over an inch as adults. They mostly feed on grasses and prefer wet areas. They usually have two forms, green or brown, but occasionally a pink mutant pops up! I’m not sure how rare they really are, but I don’t think anyone in this area has seen one. This is very exciting! Val has a little more growing to do and hopefully in a few weeks she will be ready for display. She will certainly receive some TLC here so we can make sure she makes it to adulthood. So, remember to keep your eyes open for pink bugs. If you find any, we’d love to hear about them! Happy Bug Watching!