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A Guide to the Katydids of Australia

A Guide to the Katydids of Australia

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A Guide to the Katydids of Australia

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Jun 9, 2010


Katydids are among the most commonly seen Australian insects. They range in size from about 5 mm to well over 90 mm and occur in many habitats all over Australia. Katydids are masters of deception, imitating twigs, bark, leaves and stems, as well as other insects. A few are brightly coloured and are distasteful to predators. They continue to be research subjects in many university curricula, where students study their behaviour, acoustical physiology and ecology.

A Guide to the Katydids of Australia explores this diverse group of insects from the family Tettigoniidae, which comprises more than 1000 species in Australia, including Norfolk and Lord Howe islands. It highlights their relationships to plants, humans and the environment, and includes colour photographs of many species.

2011 Whitley Award Commendation for Field Guide.

Jun 9, 2010

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A Guide to the Katydids of Australia - David Rentz







© David Rentz 2010

All rights reserved. Except under the conditions described in the Australian Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, duplicating or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. Contact CSIRO PUBLISHING for all permission requests.

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Rentz, David C.

A guide to the katydids of Australia / David Rentz.

9780643095540 (pbk.)

Includes index.


Katydids – Australia.

Tettigoniidae – Australia.


Published by


150 Oxford Street (PO Box 1139)

Collingwood VIC 3066


Front cover image: A rare pink morph of the Serrated Bush Katydid, Paracaedicia serrata. Photo by Jack Hasenpusch.

Set in Minion 9.5/12

Cover and text design by James Kelly

Typeset by Oryx Publishing Pty Ltd

Printed in China by 1010 Printing International Ltd

The paper this book is printed on is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) © 1996 FSC A.C. The FSC promotes environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.

CSIRO PUBLISHING publishes and distributes scientific, technical and health science books, magazines and journals from Australia to a worldwide audience and conducts these activities autonomously from the research activities of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of, and should not be attributed to, the publisher or CSIRO.






Sound and hearing

Collecting and studying katydids



Guide to species















Key to subfamilies of Australian katydids

List of the Tettigoniidae (katydids) of Australia



Appendix 1: Keeping katydids alive and preservation of specimens

Appendix 2: Special interest groups and entomological supplies


This illustration of the ‘Great Green Gumleaf Grasshopper’ comes from McCoy’s Natural History of Victoria (1886). However, it is not a grasshopper at all but a katydid. Subsequent research has revealed the scientific name McCoy used was a synonym of Terpandrus horridus, a species found in the Sydney region. The species illustrated here is most likely Terpandrus endota. Source: Museum of Victoria


Welcome to the world of Australian katydids. These insects occur almost everywhere across the country from the highest mountains to the seashore, and on continental and oceanic islands. The loud calls of some katydids are often mistaken for the sounds of cicadas. With a little practice you will be able to distinguish one from the other without even seeing the singers!

Katydids range in size from tiny species, 5 mm or so in length, to monsters that approach 130 mm. Many are secretive and have to be searched out in order to see them. At times, however, normally common species can be extremely abundant and cause public concern. We see this phenomenon in many Australian insects and in many grasshoppers. Some species can be agricultural pests and a number can cause problems to horticulturists because of their propensity to feed on developing flowers.

This book is primarily an identification manual to be used in the manner that you might use a bird guide. As a result, information on the many other aspects of katydids is scant. The book by Daryl Gwynne, Katydids and Bush-crickets: Reproductive Behavior and Evolution of the Tettigoniidae, published in 2001, provides many details and references to the vast literature available on this subject.

Naskrecki and Otte (1999) estimated that there are more than 6000 described species of katydids and that their diversity within the Orthoptera was second only to the grasshoppers which comprise some 12 000 species. There has been a trend in recent years to escalate subfamilies and tribes to family status. This has been accepted to some degree but a more conservative approach has been followed in the Orthoptera Species File (OSF). This catalogue is kept current and its scheme is what is followed in this book. Any serious student of Orthoptera taxonomy should become familiar with the OSF, a most useful tool.

Currently 19 subfamilies are listed in the OSF. These form major, easily recognised groups of a few to many species. Of the 19 subfamilies five, the Saginae, Acridoxiinae, Bradyporinae, Hetrodinae and Lipotactinae do not occur in Australia. Five subfamilies are endemic to Australia. They are the Microtettigoniinae, Phasmodinae, Zaprochilinae, Austrosaginae and Tympanophorinae. In addition, all of the genera of the Tettigoniinae are endemic to Australia, as well most of the genera in the other subfamilies. Shared katydid genera (in the Mecopodinae, Conocephalinae, Phaneropterinae, Pseudophyllinae and Listroscelidinae) are usually found also in New Guinea. As far as we know, there are no introduced katydids in Australia.

This book includes species that occur within mainland Australia and Tasmania, Norfolk and Lord Howe islands, and the islands of the Torres Strait. The fauna of the latter localities is poorly studied and we can expect to find many species there that remain unknown. Christmas Island species show no relationship with those of Australia and are not included in this book.

The taxonomic status of the Australian species is only partially documented. Ten or fifteen years ago Australian katydids featured prominently in the fields of taxonomy, ecology, physiology of hearing and stridulation, behaviour and sexual selection. One species, undescribed at the time, was featured on the cover of two separate issues of the international journal, Nature. However, only three volumes of my monographic series on the Australian Tettigoniidae have been completed – at least another three would be needed to thoroughly cover the fauna. So much needs to be done. I hope that this book might stimulate more interest in the group than there is at present.

David Rentz

Serrated Bush Katydid, Paracaedicia serrata


The author is indebted to many people for providing photographs, information on types, and suggestions for the style of the book.

First I would like to thank CSIRO Publishing and Nick Alexander for allowing the author a maximum of breadth regarding style and content and for helpful comments during the preparation of the text.

Mr Peter Hudson of the South Australian Museum provided photographs of the types of several of Tepper’s species which have never been illustrated before. These helped in assigning names to some common species in southern Australia.

CSIRO Entomology has allowed access to the Australian National Insect Collection which contains the bulk of the species described from Australia. Mr Eric Hines has been helpful in providing access to scanning electron micrographs made by the author when he was employed by CSIRO.

Dr Darryl Gwynne has made helpful comments. The late Dr Fer Willemse provided a copy of Brunner’s rare Additimenta, a publication necessary for anyone seeking to unravel taxonomic problems in the Phaneropterinae.

Mr Martyn Robinson, of the Australian Museum, Sydney, has been a source of information and his contacts with biologists have provided relevant information for several species.

Mr Paul Brock has be a source of information and encouragement.

Mr Ian Menkins has provided meticulous observations on the biology of the Mountain Katydid, Acripeza reticulata.

Mr Patrick Honan of the Melbourne Zoo has provided some helpful comments regarding the biology of several species under his care in the live insect exhibit.

Jack and Sue Hasenpusch have presented the author with a continuous stream of interesting katydids for more than two decades and have helped with suggestions and encouragement.

Gary Wilson has helped with comments of a botanical nature on habitats and ecology.

Finally I would like to thank my friend and colleague Mr You Ning Su, CSIRO Entomology, for many favours and friendship over many years.

The Striped Nicsara, Nicsara bifasciata, is a common species in northern Australia. Photo: Alan Henderson


Katydids are members of the family Tettigoniidae. This family belongs to the order Orthoptera, which includes grasshoppers, katydids, crickets and related insects. The order previously included stick insects, mantids and cockroaches, but nowadays we use Orthoptera in a more restricted sense. These other groups are correctly called ‘orthopteroid insects’.

The term ‘katydid’ is used in North America, New Zealand and Australia to identify members of the Tettigoniidae. The famous American entomologist C V Riley used it in his 1874 Report but the use of the word actually goes back to 1751, at least, when John Bartram referred to ‘catedidists’ in his ‘Travels in Pensilvania and Canada’ (Oxford English Dictionary). In the United Kingdom, tettigoniids (katydids) are called ‘bush-crickets’. They seldom use the word ‘katydid’. In France these insects are sauterelles, in Portugal and some parts of Central and South America they are called esperansas, grillos in Spain, and Laubheuschrecken in Germany (Nickle and Naskrecki 1997). Gwynne (2001) felt that the reason there were so many common names was because the group is so poorly known. This may be true but it may also reflect the general morphological diversity within the group. Often some folks, even entomologists, exclaim that they had no idea that this or that species is a katydid.

To further confuse matters, within the Tettigoniidae, some groups have different common names such as ‘long-horned grasshoppers’ or ‘meadow katydids’ or ‘Mormon Crickets’. In the latter example, the American insect is not a cricket at all but a tettigoniine katydid, Anabrus simplex. The ‘popular’ Australian Mountain Grasshopper, Acripeza reticulata, is a phaneropterine katydid and not a grasshopper.

The Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex, is not a cricket but a katydid.

The Australian Mountain Grasshopper, Acripeza reticulata is actually a katydid.

Order Orthoptera

Suborder Ensifera

Superfamily Gryllacridoidea




(King Crickets and relatives)


(Cave and Camel crickets)

Gryllacrididae (Raspy Crickets)

Superfamily Tettigonioidea

Tettigoniidae (Katydids)

Tettigoniids are readily distinguished from most other orthopterans. The long antennae and female ovipositor places them in the suborder Ensifera and well away from the Caelifera (grasshoppers and allies). Katydids are most commonly confused with Raspy Crickets. In older texts these insects are called Wood Crickets or less commonly King Crickets. True King Crickets belong to the family Anostostomatidae. These insects are related to katydids. They are members of their own superfamily along with others that are not likely to confuse you. The hierarchy of these related groups is shown in the box above.

Raspy Crickets (Gryllacrididae) can be separated from Katydids fairly simply by the characteristics shown in the table on page 3.

True Crickets (Gryllidae) are not often confused with katydids but their nymphs might be mistaken for those of katydids. This can be quickly reconciled. The cricket body plan is quite different. Most crickets are dorso-ventrally flattened. That means they are slightly flat when viewed from the side. This is an adaptation to living on the ground, in burrows and under rocks or under leaves. Katydids are laterally compressed or cylindrical. This facilitates an existence on foliage. There are plenty of crickets that live in foliage but they too are usually flattened. The ovipositors are radically different between the two groups as well.

Crickets usually have a cylindrical, slender and needle-like ovipositor. Katydids have many ovipositor shapes but they are never like those of crickets. If you are still confused, there are more technical differences you can check. The tarsi of crickets are 3-segmented, those of katydids are 4-segmented. The cerci are segmented in crickets but not in katydids. In most crickets that have wings (there are some wingless species) the right tegmen overlaps the left. In katydids, it is most often that the left tegmen overlaps the right. If still confused Rentz (1996a) provides illustrated keys and photographic examples of Australian Katydids, Raspy Crickets, True Crickets and other examples of the Australian Orthoptera fauna.

A male anostostomatid cricket, Gryllotaurus bicornis.

This is a King Cricket belonging to the family


Katydids are often concealed in their habitat and are most likely to be overlooked by general collectors because many are hidden from view and most are nocturnal in their habits. Some species will display ‘startle behaviour’ when first discovered. A hungry bird or lizard will have to make a prompt decision on whether to pursue a species. In this instance, sharp spines and effective jaws should serve to discourage small predators. With other species the display is a bluff.

A Raspy Cricket, a member of the family Gryllacrididae.

Some katydids become very obvious when their populations swell and they appear in large numbers. This happens sporadically, generally as a response to prior weather conditions. In some years, certain species such as the Mountain Katydid (see page 172), are so abundant as to literally ‘stop traffic’. At other times in the same locality at the same time, you might not be able to locate a single specimen. Almost all species are songsters with the males singing, usually, but not always, to attract females. Some calls are raucous and can be heard at great distances, others are so soft or at such frequencies that the human ear, especially of an adult, cannot hear them at all.

Despite its display, this katydid has neither effective spines or strong jaws and would probably be acceptable food to most predators.

In most crickets that have wings the right tegmen overlaps the left.

The ‘startle’ display of a katydid, Chlorobalius leucoviridis. Photo: Alan Henderson

Katydids may be more often ‘heard than seen’. This is one reason why they have been extensively studied by animal behaviourists in at least two distinct areas – communication and sexual selection. The songs that katydids (and some other orthopterans) produce has provided the basis for studies on communication, involving morphology, physiology and sexual behaviour. Important groundwork has been laid within Australia, especially by Win Bailey and his colleagues at the University of Western Australia. Following on from that are many studies, initiated at the University, on sexual selection.

Years ago, even Charles Darwin noted the importance of the ‘singing apparatus’ in male katydids. Many of these studies are eloquently documented in Darryl Gwynne’s book (2001). Australian species have played an important role in the understanding of sexual selection in insects.

Katydid anatomy

The external anatomy of a katydid is not very complex and not difficult to learn. There is a bit of specialised terminology, but not much. The illustration on page 6 shows the various parts of the katydid body you will need to know in order to use this book successfully. The spination of the legs (often called the armature) is often described in detail and used in keys to genera and species.

The venational patterns of adult wings (there are two pairs of wings) are important in the identification of many species. The shape and structure of the fore wing (called the tegmen) is very useful in identification. The position, shape and other features of the veins in the wings are also used to identify species (see page 6).

The parts of a katydid.

The wings of a katydid.


Katydids occur everywhere on all continents except Antarctica and at all altitudes from sea level to high in the mountains. Many species occur in the driest parts of Australia. On one the most uncomfortable days spent in the Australian interior where temperatures were over the 50°C mark, there was little insect activity during the day. But after dark, the lights of a roadhouse attracted about a dozen species, some in large numbers, which had been sitting quietly during the day in trees and shrubs.

The smallest katydids and some of the largest katydids occur in

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