Poisonous beauty: The ‘Elegant Grasshopper’

Aposematic coloration

The ‘Elegant Grasshopper’ (Zonocerus elegans) occurs commonly throughout Southern Africa and is mentioned due to its aposematic coloration, which is typical for animals which want to announce that they are poisonous. And he is a poisonous grasshopper.

In case of Zonocerus elegans, its poisonous properties are based on its favorite food of milkweed and bitter apple. And the ingested toxins of these plants are getting accumulated into the grasshopper’s body. When disturbed by an inexperienced predator, they will produce a frothy substance with distasteful and toxic properties. This concept worked for Zonocerus elegans so well, that most of them even lost completely the ability to fly and a recessive gene took over and adapted the grasshoppers accordingly.

This example of an insect with aposematic coloration was chosen as a reminder that many species of insects, inclusive locusts, are staple food still for many societies in Africa, but common sense has to be applied not to collect and eat conspicuously colored species.

Lessons learned about aposematic coloration

  • Don’t handle or even eat aposematic colored insects or amphibians.
  • Conspicuously colored fish (mostly reef fish) during the cooler months of the year can be eaten.
  • Colorful birds can also be eaten, but there are studies which suggest that naturally colored birds got better taste.