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The Northern Territory's Unicorn!

The tropical savanna woodlands of the Top End are one of the most entomologically rich eco-systems in all of Australia. The abundance of grasses allows for a diversity of katydid species both utilising the food source of the grass... and each other!

Many of these katydids have special adaptations to help them occupy specific niches.

Have a look at the photo below and try and pick the katydids that are carnivores - hint, look at the legs!

A slither of the Katydid diversity in the Top End's woodlands

But there is one Katydid unlike all others here in the Northern Territory. A cryptic species that looks unlike all the rest - with a fancy horn to boast.

The Mataranka Armadillo Katydid!

Built like a tank, you can see why they were given the name Armadillo Katydid by legendary orthopterist David Rentz and co in 2010 when they were first described. Three species were described, this species Armadillagraecia mataranka from the Top End and A. yerilla from the Kimberley and A. triodiae from western Queensland. These Katydids are also known to some Aboriginal people as 'Djelmayaniy'.

The shield-like pronotum of the Armadillo Katydid

These Katydids may look fearsome with their spiky legs, but are actually herbivorous! They feed on seeds and fruit and are often found high up in speargrass. The males create an amazing chorus on a humid wet season night of 'ziccing' calls as they try to attract a female. The adult males of this species are completely green whilst the females are completely brown! I am yet to be lucky enough to find and photograph a female.

Look at that impressive horn!

The Mataranka Armadillo Katydid lives in the open savannas of the Northern Territory and has been recorded south and east of Darwin, but not in Darwin itself. The holotype specimen is from near the town of Mataranka in the Northern Territory - which has amazing cultural history, a good whip-cracking show and a fantastic swimming spot!

Facing the Mataranka Armadillo Katydid

But there is a close relative of this Katydid that does live in Darwin - and it took me a bit of searching to find! Meet the Savanna Katydid (Kapalgagraecia nauma), which is a cryptic species found throughout the woodlands of north-western Australia. Mainly hidden under tree-bark during the day, I got lucky enough to notice one crawling through the long grass on a cloudy day.

There is more relatives of this genus, especially on the east coast of Australia. I was fortunate enough to find one of its relative - the Rainforest Unicorn Katydid in the beautiful rainforest of north Queensland last March.

Barbaragraecia unicorn was described in 2020

Katydids are incredibly diverse in Australia and live in all habitats. So many of them go unnoticed and there is still lots of unnamed species across the country! I love learning about them all and the relationships between each other taxonomically and also their niche behaviours in the wild.

If you want to see more of the Katydids we have photographed, click here!


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