Main content area

The thoracic morphology of the wingless dune cricket Comicus calcaris (Orthoptera: Schizodactylidae): Novel apomorphic characters for the group and adaptations to sand desert environments

Leubner, Fanny, Bradler, Sven, Wipfler, Benjamin
Arthropod structure & development 2017 v.46 no.4 pp. 449-461
Tettigoniidae, ecology, flight muscles, insects, sand, spiracles, taxon descriptions, thorax
Schizodactylidae, splay-footed or dune crickets, represents a distinct lineage among the highly diverse orthopteran subgroup Ensifera (crickets, katydids and allies). Only two extant genera belong to the Schizodactylidae: the winged Eurasian genus Schizodactylus, whose ecology and morphology is well documented, and the wingless South African Comicus, for which hardly any studies providing morphological descriptions have been conducted since its taxonomic description in 1888.Based on the first in-depth study of the skeletomuscular system of the thorax of Comicus calcaris Irish 1986, we provide information on some unique characteristics of this character complex in Schizodactylidae. They include a rigid connection of prospinasternite and mesosternum, a T-shaped mesospina, and a fused meso- and metasternum. Although Schizodactylidae is mainly characterized by group-specific anatomical traits of the thorax, its bifurcated profuca supports a closer relationship to the tettigonioid ensiferans, like katydids, wetas, and hump-winged crickets. Some specific features of the thoracic musculature of Comicus seem to be correlated to the skeletal morphology, e.g., due to the rigid connection of the tergites and pleurites in the pterothorax not a single direct flight muscle is developed. We show that many of the thoracic adaptations in these insects are directly related to their psammophilous way of life. These include a characteristic setation of thoracic sclerites that prevent sand grains from intrusion into vulnerable membranous areas, the striking decrease in size of the thoracic spiracles that reduces the respirational water loss, and a general trend towards a fusion of sclerites in the thorax.