Hold the fly spray! These are the unseen cogs of the natural world. They pollinate plants, feed animals and dispose of the dead, fertilising soil in the process. Without them, our dirt would die and be covered with animal shit – and our birds would starve. So would we.
If Game of Thrones ever needs to cast a grasshopper in fantasy armour (available in either riverstone grey, black or orange), Brachaspis robustus is a shoo-in. Murray now breeds these grasshoppers, aiming, one day, to release enough to ensure the species’ survival – the same principle that has saved the tīeke, the kakī and many other New Zealand birds.
The action takes place in Murray’s lab, – and also behind a 500m hedgehog- and stoat-proof fence within the “Tekapo Triangle”, an area of Crown land transferred to DoC last year.
Captive rearing requires a close understanding of the grasshopper’s life cycle, from sexual habits to egg laying and food preferences. B. robustus eggs, for instance, need low temperatures as a signal to hatch – a requirement, by the way, that makes them critically sensitive to a warming world. However Murray and her team have already learned enough to raise a generation of young “hoppers” to adulthood outside the lab. Although the fence cost funders Te Manahuna Aoraki (a large-scale conservation project launched last November with several sponsors) about $130,000, the insect’s size makes them relatively cheap to conserve.
Photo Jennifer Schori