March 28, 2023

What Do Grasshoppers Eat? Startling Similarities Discovered Between the Mouths of Grasshoppers and Mammal Teeth

There are around 11,000 recognized types of grasshopper. It likely comes as a surprise that not all grasshoppers consume lawn. In reality, they play a variety of important functions in meadows and other ecosystems– some are even meat-eating.
Analysis of the ecological importance of insects is not simple, and discovering out what they eat requires comprehensive study of the contents of their guts or painstaking and time-consuming observations of how they feed in the wild. There is, however, a much better way.
Like animals with teeth, the mouthparts of insects, referred to as mandibles, differ according to what they eat: some are molar-like and grind tough foods like turf, while others have sharper cutting edges. Until now this method has lacked precision, able to assign grasshoppers just to broad feeding classifications.
The Leicester research– with input from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol– supplies a new method to investigate the diets of the lots of species researchers have little information about, either because of their rarity or because they are extinct.
Leicester PhD researcher Chris Stockey is corresponding author for the study. He said:
” Knowing what animals consume is fundamental to understanding ecosystems, however working this out can be hard and time consuming, particularly if the animals you research study are uncommon, little, or move quickly.
” One of the advantages of our approach is the effective contrasts that it supplies.
” Surprisingly, comparing the mandible landscapes of grasshoppers with mammals teeth enables grasshopper diet to be predicted with 82% precision– pretty incredible when you consider that the mouthparts of mammals and insects have progressed individually for 400 million years, and were not present in their typical ancestor.”
Mark Purnell, Professor of Palaeobiology and Director of the Centre for Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester, said:
” We measured the shapes of insects mouthparts and analyzed them like the topography of a landscape, and discovered clear distinctions connected to diet plan.
” Mandibles from carnivorous insects that consume soft flesh have steeper slopes and sharper cliff edges, while those that eat tough plant material, such as grass, have mandibles with complex undulating landscapes.”.
The research was based on museum specimens, part of the substantial collections kept behind the scenes for researchers to study– spaces complete of countless samples below the viewing galleries. Even the most studied of collections, such as Charles Darwins, yield new types each year.
Without having seen these organisms alive the only method to learn about their diet plans and lifestyles previously has been to painstakingly dissect them. Not just is dissection a sluggish process, however it can harm the specimens and limit their effectiveness for further study.
The application of this brand-new non-destructive technique to museum collections offers an alternative way to discover about the ecologies of unusual animals whilst protecting them for future study.
Dr. Ben Price, Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum, who was not associated with the research study, added:.
” This study is a terrific example of integrating contemporary analytical techniques with historic samples from museum collections to assist comprehend the biodiversity of our world. As technology advances extra uses of museum collections become possible and this non-destructive approach might reveal the diet info for countless species, decades after the specimens were gathered.”.
Reference: “Dietary inference from dental topographic analysis of feeding tools in varied animals” by Christopher Stockey, Neil F. Adams, Thomas H. P. Harvey, Philip C. J. Donoghue and Mark A. Purnell, 15 March 2022, Methods in Ecology and Evolution.DOI: 10.1111/ 2041-210X.13832.

An illustration of grasshopper mandibles with different landscapes adapted to processing different diet plans recorded by oral topographic metrics. Grasshoppers with steeper topographies and sharp cliff edges consume animals. Grasshoppers with other diets have different combinations of these qualities. There are around 11,000 recognized types of grasshopper. It likely comes as a surprise that not all insects eat turf.

An illustration of grasshopper mandibles with different landscapes adjusted to processing different diets caught by oral topographic metrics. The most intricate undulating landscapes are related to hard plant material such as turfs. Insects with steeper topographies and sharp cliff edges eat animals. Grasshoppers with other diet plans have various mixes of these characteristics. Credit: Chris Stockey/University of Leicester
What do grasshoppers consume? Its not simply lawn!
New Leicester research study reveals similarities with mammal teeth like never before.
New research led by paleobiologists at the University of Leicester has recognized shocking resemblances in between the mouths of insects and mammal teeth.
The group of researchers used sophisticated three-dimensional imaging techniques to precisely map the shape of insects mandibles, and provide their findings in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, published today (Wednesday).