200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 80: “Crickets of Hawaii ”

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illustration of four crickets
Four of the 227 native species of crickets discovered by Daniel Otte. From left to right: Leptogryllus kauaiensis (a sword-tail cricket), Trigonidium crepitans and Lampula nigra (both tree crickets), and Caconemobius sandwichensis (a ground cricket). Illustrations are by Daniel Otte.

Crickets of Hawaii

Islands are natural laboratories of evolution. Their isolation enables scientists to study how the lucky few plants and animals that colonize these islands evolve over time. One significant study of this kind is the work of Dr. Daniel Otte on Hawaiian crickets. Dr. Otte, the chair of the Academy’s Entomology Department, began a study of these island insects in 1968. It culminated in the 1994 publication of The Crickets of Hawaii. He discovered at least 227 species that were native to the islands before the arrival of humans. Almost all of these are found only in the Hawaiian Islands, and most were new to science. 

In addition to revealing an impressive diversity of crickets, Otte delved deeply into their evolutionary history. He could trace their origins to a few lucky individuals belonging to four or five species. One species came from North America. The others came from the western or southwestern Pacific. Otte found out that movement between islands was rare and that most evolution happens within an island or even in isolated patches within an island. He also discovered that different groups of crickets evolved in various ways. For instance, many of the tree crickets (Oecanthinae) lost the ability to sing (and hear) and climb trees. Some even took to a life in caves. Another group, the sword-tail crickets (Trigonidiinae), comprises numerous species that are difficult to distinguish based on their appearance but differ greatly in their song.

In addition to being a highly respected entomologist, Dr. Otte is an accomplished illustrator. Now through December 4, you can see some of his work in the Academy’s Art of Science Gallery.

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