Parktown Prawn

Male Parktown Prawn (Libanasdus vittatus) from the Modjadji Cycad Reserve in Limpopo. [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 100mm macro, 2 speedlights Canon 580EX]

Male Parktown Prawn (Libanasdus vittatus) from the Modjadji Cycad Reserve in Limpopo. [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 100mm macro, 2 speedlights Canon 580EX]

Around this time of the year, the lucky inhbitants of Johannesburg in South Africa are often visited by this handsome beast, known as the Parktown Prawn (Libanasidus vittatus). Originally found only in indigenous forests of northeastern part of the country, in 1960′s these cricket and katydid relatives (Anostostomatidae) started appearing in gardens and houses around Jo-burg. It is not quite certain what attracted them there, but it was likely a combination of the relatively high humidity of suburban gardens, combined with the lack of their natural predators, mongooses and monitor lizards, in this anthropogenic environment.

These beautiful insects are feared by many, but of course they are completely and utterly harmless. The massive jaws seen in the males are used only in territorial battles with other males, and cannot be used to stab or bite a person. Their only defense is, unfortuntely, rather odorous defecation. But if left alone they make a beautiful addition to the South African urban ecosystem.

Male Parktown Prawn (Libanasdus vittatus) from the Modjadji Cycad Reserve in Limpopo. [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 100mm macro, 2 speedlights Canon 580EX]

Female Parktown Prawns lack the huge processes on their mandibles. [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 100mm macro, 2 speedlights Canon 580EX]

8 thoughts on “Parktown Prawn

  1. Nice photos.
    I grew up with these guys in Jo-burg and used to love playing with them in the garden (I still have a Parktown prawn T-shirt). However most of my memories of these little critters are of my relatives telling me how hard they were to squash beneath their foot! Quite sad really.
    Cheers
    Dylan

  2. These animals are really beautiful, and your photographs show their amazing structure and colors very well. Anostostomatidae are one of my major groups of interest. In a few weeks I will be going to New Zealand to study ground weta, but I hope to get a chance to see some tusked weta.

    • Isn’t it funny how the same animal can have a very different reputation in different places? In New Zealand anostostomatids are the subject of national pride and intensive conservation efforts, whereas in S. Africa most people are only concerned with how to get rid of them.

  3. Prawn said in a Sarth Ifrican accent now immediately brings to mind the rather good Sci Fi film ‘District 9′. It’s used a derogatory term for the (sort of insect-like) alien slum dwellers.

      • Very cool, Piotr! Surely there aren’t many entomologists who can claim such a thing…

        Also, just wanted to say that I bought your book ‘Relics’ as an early xmas present to myself, and it’s absolutely fantastic (I couldn’t bring myself to hide it away until the 25th)… I was recommending it to Kevin Judge (at Grant MacEwan University) the other day, as he works on sagebrush crickets, so you can send me the royalties from future sales via paypal ;)

      • You’ve gone up in my estimation even more! By the way, I hope you enjoy posting these pics because my daughter Cara (7) and I (>7) think they’re incredible.

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