The Parktown prawn is a fascinating creature that often startles people due to its unique appearance. These creatures, scientifically known as Libanasidus vittatus, are a type of cricket native to Southern Africa. They are named after the Parktown suburb in Johannesburg where they are commonly found.
Although they are called “prawns,” these insects are not actually related to aquatic prawns. Instead, the name comes from their striking resemblance in appearance. Parktown prawns are generally 2 to 3 inches long with a reddish-brown body, paired with long legs and antenna. The Parktown prawns are known to be nocturnal and feed on plant debris and smaller insects.
Parktown prawns display several fascinating features:
- A unique defense mechanism: They spew a smelly brown liquid to deter predators.
- Strong legs: This allows them to leap great distances, making them efficient escape artists.
- Invasive behavior: Despite being native to Southern Africa, they have begun to spread to new regions.
Appearance and Identification
Exoskeleton and Antennae
The Parktown prawn, also known as Libanasidus vittatus, is an insect characterized by an exoskeleton and long antennae. They can grow up to 70mm (2.76 inches) in length, making them quite visible and easy to spot.
Some key features include:
- A hard exterior exoskeleton
- Long, thin antennae
- A reddish-brown color
Male and Female Characteristics
Male and female Parktown prawns have certain distinctive features that can be observed to differentiate between the two.
- Tend to be smaller in size
- Have more developed, larger hooks on their hind legs
- Generally larger than males
- Display smaller hooks on their hind legs
- Possess a wider abdomen, accommodating eggs when carrying offspring
|Feature||Male Parktown Prawn||Female Parktown Prawn|
|Hooks on hind legs||Larger||Smaller|
Habitat and Distribution
Johannesburg and Parktown
Parktown prawns, also known as Libanasidus vittatus, are large king crickets commonly found in Johannesburg, particularly in the suburb of Parktown. These nocturnal creatures prefer moist environments like gardens, leaf litter, and compost heaps.
In Johannesburg, Parktown prawns have become a well-known urban dweller. They are also known for their dramatic appearance and ability to jump significant distances, making them quite the conversation topic.
The distribution of Parktown prawns extends beyond Johannesburg, covering parts of Southern Africa, including South Africa, Namibia, and Angola.
- South Africa: In addition to Johannesburg, Parktown prawns can be found in other provinces like Gauteng and Western Cape.
- Namibia: These crickets also inhabit humid regions of Namibia and are often found in dense vegetation.
- Angola: In Angola, Parktown prawns appear in tropical and subtropical forest areas.
|South Africa||Johannesburg, Gauteng, Western Cape|
|Namibia||Humid regions, dense vegetation|
|Angola||Tropical and subtropical forest areas|
Behavior and Diet
Movement and Jumping
Parktown prawns are known for their unique movement patterns. They have impressive jumping abilities, which they use for evasion and hunting:
- Jumping distance: up to 10 centimeters
- Jumping height: up to 7 centimeters
Parktown prawns have an omnivorous diet and consume various types of food. Their menu includes:
- Vegetable matter
|Food Source||Prey Examples|
|Insects||Ants, beetles, flies|
|Snails and slugs||Garden snails, slugs|
|Vegetable matter||Decaying leaves, plants|
Overall, Parktown prawns play an important role in maintaining ecological balance, as they help control the populations of various garden pests while also contributing to the breakdown of organic matter.
Interaction with Humans
Encounters and Experiences
The Parktown prawn, a type of large cricket native to South Africa, is often encountered by humans in urban environments and gardens. These nocturnal insects have a tendency to find their way inside homes, startling residents. These encounters can lead to:
- Damaging doors, carpets, and fabrics while trying to escape
- Being compared to the aliens in the movie District 9, which depicted an insect-like alien race
Example: A homeowner discovering a Parktown prawn underneath their couch
Impact on Gardens and Suburban Dwellers
Parktown prawns can have both positive and negative effects on gardens and suburban dwellers.
- They can help control other pest populations, like snails and slugs
- As decomposers, they contribute to breaking down organic matter
- They can harm certain plants through their consumption of roots and leaves
- Their presence might frighten residents due to their size and appearance
|Characteristic||Positive Impact||Negative Impact|
|Pest Control||Yes (Snails, Slugs)||No|
|Plant Damage||No||Yes (Roots, Leaves)|
In conclusion, knowing more about Parktown prawns and their interaction with humans helps us understand the balance between their roles in urban environments and the importance of managing our reactions to these creatures.
Natural Predators and Pests
The Parktown prawn encounters a few natural predators and pests in its environment. One notable predator is the Hadeda Ibis, a bird species found in South Africa.
- Hadeda Ibis: This bird is known for its distinct loud call and can be found in urban areas, feeding on insects such as the Parktown prawn. Due to its size and beak, the Hadeda Ibis can easily prey on these large insects and consume them for energy.
Some pests may affect the Parktown prawn’s habitat and population as well.
- Invasive species: Invasive pests and diseases might disrupt the ecosystem and cause harm to Parktown prawns by competing for the same resources or altering their living conditions.
To better understand the relationships between Parktown prawn, Hadeda Ibis, and pests, we can compare their features in the table below:
|Entity||Role in Parktown Prawn Life||Pros||Cons|
|Hadeda Ibis||Predator||Helps control Parktown prawn population||Could impact Parktown prawn numbers|
|Invasive pests||Competitor||None||Harm Parktown prawn population & habitat|
Knowing the natural predators and pests may help in developing relevant Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies to maintain balance in the ecosystem. Remember to always consider the environment and other species when attempting control measures.
Role in Ecosystem
The Parktown prawn (Libanasidus vittatus) plays a significant role in its ecosystem. Being a part of the Anostostomatidae family, it is one of the nocturnal invertebrates contributing to the ecosystem’s balance.
As a predatory insect, the Parktown prawn consumes various smaller insects. This helps control the number of pests in the environment. The species also serves as food for several birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Dwelling primarily in the leaf litter, these insects create decomposition sites. In turn, this benefits other organisms and helps recycle nutrients in the ecosystem.
The Orthoptera order has more than 25,000 species, including crickets of the Gryllidae family. The Parktown prawn, although part of the Anostostomatidae family, shares similarities such as being nocturnal and having hind legs adapted for jumping.
Comparison Table: Parktown Prawn vs. Crickets
|Feature||Parktown Prawn||Cricket (Gryllidae)|
|Diet||Insects||Plant materials, insects|
|Hind Legs (Adapted for jumping)||Yes||Yes|
Key Characteristics of Parktown Prawn:
- Belongs to Anostostomatidae family
- Hind legs adapted for jumping
By understanding the Parktown prawn’s role in the ecosystem, we appreciate their importance and the ecological balance they help maintain.
Parktown prawns, also known as African king crickets or Libanasidus vittatus, are fascinating creatures that have some unique features and behaviors. Here are some interesting facts about these insects:
- Parktown prawns are large crickets, closely related to the Tusked king cricket and the New Zealand tree wētā.
- They are nocturnal and often found hiding in gardens or cupboards during the day.
- Like other crickets, Parktown prawns are known for their nocturnal songs which are produced by rubbing their wings together.
Rain plays a significant role in their life cycle, as their eggs are laid in moist soil and their population booms after heavy rains.
Diet and natural predators:
- Parktown prawns feast on snail populations, which can be beneficial for gardeners, as they help control pests.
- These crickets are also known to eat locusts.
- Cats are reported to enjoy hunting them, with some even finding them in cat food.
Interaction with householders:
- Parktown prawns have a reputation for entering homes, which can make them an unexpected visitor for householders.
- They are known to avoid light and indeed prefer dark hiding spots.
- Parktown prawns are impressive in size, with adults averaging 2 to 3 inches in length.
- They have prominent tusks and a reddish-brown color, which sets them apart from other cricket species.
In summary, Parktown prawns are fascinating creatures that can be helpful in controlling pests such as snails, but their size and appearance can sometimes surprise or alarm homeowners when they find them inside their homes.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – King Cricket from Australia
Subject: King Cricket Identification
Location: Warragul, Victoria, Australia
January 25, 2013 6:59 pm
I have found what I believe to be some form of king cricket (Anostostomatidae), however I cannot find exactly what it is. I was wondering if you could help me define exactly what this is (Genus and species).
My intentions are to keep it as a pet until I receive supplies for a pinning board, then this will hopefully be my first pinned insect, I would love it if it could be labelled correctly.
Any help would be much appreciated.
Signature: Ian Melbourne
We have not been able to locate a reliable online source for identifying King Crickets in the family Anostostomatidae to the species level. Your individual is a male and it looks very much like this image posted to FlickR. According to the Journal of Orthoptera Research: “The Anostostomatidae, the family of Weta and King Crickets, is predominantly a southern hemispheric group and is represented by many species in Australia and New Zealand and a fre in New Guinea and New Caledonia. The known faunas in southern Africa, Madagascar and Central America are apparently extensive, yet individual species are poorly known and there is still come confusion in the taxonomic hierarchy. The relationships between the genera and species are very poorly known and at least the Australasian faunas have many yet to be described. They are nearly all predators …”.
Perhaps one of our readers will have more information.
Letter 2 – Bug of the Month February 2014: King Cricket from Western Australia
Subject: Weta bug?? In the Pilbara
Location: Tom Price
February 1, 2014 6:57 am
Hi. I work in Tom Price in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. I have seen this (what looks to be a female juvenile) weta walking around at night. But from all my research they are from New Zealand. .. can you tell me if they have been seen here before. None of the locals knew what it was…
Signature: Peta Louise
Dear Peta Louise,
Wetas and King Crickets belong to the family Anontostomatidae, and according to records posted to the Atlas of Living Australia, there are sightings from Pilbara. While the Weta species found in New Zealand may be endemic and not found in Australia, there are representatives of the family in Australia where the common name King Cricket is used. You can view some images of both female and male King Crickets, Australostoma australasia, on Aussie Pythons & Snakes. You are correct that this is a female, but not necessarily a juvenile. We also located a matching photo on FlickR. Because they are large and formidable looking, King Crickets are often victims of Unnecessary Carnage. We are tagging your submission as the Bug of the Month for February 2014.
Letter 3 – King Cricket from Madagascar
Large Bug with very large Mandibles
Location: Antsiranana, Northern Madagascar
August 29, 2011 10:36 am
I wonder if you are able to identify the buy in the pictures as it has been puzzling me and my friends for sometime. it is between 1-2 inches long with the mandibles being 1 inch long. It was spotted in the early evening (about 8pm) not far from the sea in a remote location in the bay of Diego, Northern Madagascar. It was late last November and still in the dry season (towards the end). Any identification would be greatly appreciated.
If you were in New Zealand, this would be a Weta, and if you were in South Africa, it would be a Parktown Prawn. The close relatives in Madagascar are simply called King Crickets and they are in the family Anostostomatidae. Here is a photo on Flickriver for comparison. We believe the larger mandibles on your specimen indicates it is a male. Here is a very informative website called Wetas Information.
Thank you so much for your rapid and informative response much appreciated. I have seen Wetas in NZ but never drew the comparison. The picture of the King Cricket confirms it for me.
Letter 4 – King Cricket from Australia
Subject: King cricket
Geographic location of the bug: Whyalla south australia
Time: 02:41 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Seen this at work today after a big storm lastnight never seen one before just wanna know what it is and how it got here
How you want your letter signed: Adam ellis
This does look to us like a female King Cricket, Australostoma australasia, but alas, the images of female King Crickets on the internet that are the closest match are all from our own archives, and we do not like to cite our own archives when doing identifications.