This week a French translation of my book “Relics” is being officially released in France. The one difference from the original version, other than the language of course, is the cover. I was thrilled to see that the publisher decided to place on it one of my all-time favorite animals, the South African armored katydid or, as they are known in that part of the world, koringkriek. (Don’t let the cover fool you, however, the book is not only about katydids.)Despite their bulky appearance and scary-looking armature, these wonderful katydids are, like most insects, completely harmless. Their spikes and horns are nothing more than protection against birds and lizards, and can only be used to make their body more difficult to swallow – they cannot jab, poke, or cut anybody with their armor. The katydids’ only other defense is reflexive bleeding, quite similar to that seen in oil beetles that I recently wrote about. But unlike the beetles, whose blood contains deadly cantharidin, that of the katydids is not toxic. And, in contrast to other katydids who sometimes try to nibble you if handled, armored katydids never, ever bite, no matter how roughly they are treated. In places where they occur, mostly eastern and southern Africa, they have a horrible reputation among the local populace, despite absolutely no evidence that these insect have done any harm to anybody over the last million or so years of the human presence in the region. In fact, I simply cannot think of an animal that is more unjustly disliked and feared than the armored katydid. (One exception is Botswana, where people are quite fond of the armored katydids Acanthoplus armativerntris, but only as food.)
And if I cannot convince you that these gorgeous insects are worthy of your love, listen to biologist Edward O. Wilson, who proclaims that the armored katydid is in the “Top 10 of his most favorite organisms.” He also told me that he would love to have one as a pet, and walk it on a little leash – so much more original than a dog!