As the name suggests, this little cutie is the smallest of Aotearoa New Zealand’s short-horned grasshoppers (known as Acrididae). The Acrididae are a family in the insect Order Orthoptera, which also includes the wētā, crickets and katydids. Female Minute Grasshoppers can grow to a whopping 1.6cm long, while males are about 2/3rds the size. Like other endemic grasshoppers in Aotearoa, the Minute Grasshopper is flightless. They do have wings, but they are only about 1mm long!
In addition to being adorably tiny, the Minute Grasshopper boasts an impressively variable appearance, coming in a range of colours and patterns that match the plants, lichens, soils and rocks in its habitat. These different patterns are known as ‘colour morphs’ and make the grasshoppers extremely well camouflaged in their natural environment, the dry, open grassland plains of Te Manahuna the Mackenzie Basin.
Grasshoppers are herbivores, keen on their veggies. However, you may be surprised to find that they will happily munch on a bit of dead insect if they find some (we all need our protein!).
The Minute Grasshopper is Threatened – Nationally Vulnerable. They are easy prey for introduced mammals, especially hedgehogs. Although their amazing camouflage protects them from native birds that hunt by sight, it does nothing against mammals who can sniff them out. Minute Grasshoppers have also lost a lot of their original habitat. Unfortunately, the dry, open spaces they need often look like empty brown paddocks to us humans, but if you look closely, they are full of cryptic native plants, lichens, and hundreds of species of endemic insects and spiders. There has been very little work on the ecology of the Minute Grasshopper. Most of the information available (e.g., on Wikipedia) is actually about their close relative – Sigaus childi – another beautiful grasshopper which lives in similar habitats in Central Otago and was once thought to be the same species.
Check these links for more info on the Minute Grasshopper in NZ
Wikipedia: More info on Sigaus minutus
Predator Free NZ: Insects get eaten too – so does predator control help grasshoppers?
Radio NZ: Critter of the Week
Click on the image to visit the official iNaturalist.nz observation.