Armored katydids, or Koringkriek

South African armored katydid (Acanthoproctus cervinus) on the cover of “Reliques: Voyages à la découverte des témoins vivants de l’évolution”

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.)

Bachmann’s katydid (Hemihetrodes bachmanni) from the Northern Cape province of South Africa displays green coloration, rare among katydids of the subfamily Hetrodinae. [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 100mm macro, 3 speedlights Canon 580EXII]
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.

Koringkriek (Hetrodes pupus), a common species across South Africa and one of the largest members of the Hetrodinae. [Canon 7D, Canon 14mm, Canon MT-24EX twin light]
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!

Edward O. Wilson with one of his favorite organisms, the Mozambique armed katydid (Enyaliopsis petersi) [Canon 7D, Canon 14mm, Canon 580EXII)

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Monique Coetzee says:

    I can send you some fotos of what it looks like when the koringkriek comes into contact with youre skin. Realy painfull.

  2. G says:

    Good day – is it true that the Koringkriek can spray liquid with the small horn or pin between its eyes
    in front of its head ? If that is true …. what is the effect of that liquid or fluid when in contact with
    the human skin.

    1. Rozanne Ley says:

      Yes … and it burns the shit out of your eyes like acid (AND IT STINKS) !!!!!

  3. Elizebeth says:

    Why when it rains they come out to haunt you? I hate those koring kriekets they are big and damm hard i had to kill it with a spade im scared of them.espesially when one desides to wait for me on my bed

    1. I am sorry that you feel that way, Elizebeth. These insects are harmless to us and quite beneficial by feeding on many agricultural pest species.

  4. Impressive animals – even more terrifying (if only in appearance) than our “red-eyed devils” in the desert southwest (which do bite!).

    I really want one of those 14mm lenses. Do you think tiger beetles are a large enough subject to create photos such as #3 above, at least with a cropped-sensor camera?

    1. Ted, the 14mm lens may not give you enough magnification for something as small as a tiger beetle, but of course this depends on what proportion of the frame you want to fill with it. In my experience this lens works very well for subjects that are 30 mm long or larger.

  5. biobabbler says:

    Oh, my. I LOVE katydids, but I did not know about armored katydids. Impressive. That third shot looks like it’s straight from a katydid power dream where everything on their adventure is PERFECT. Amazing positioning to get such a shot. =) A treat!

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