Genetic and morphological comparisons within the orthopteran family Pneumoridae
Bladder grasshoppers belong to the order Orthoptera, ancient family Pneumoridae and Superfamily Pneumoroidea. This small group of grasshoppers are sound producing, nocturnal, herbivorous grasshoppers endemic to the coastal regions of southern Africa. Very little genetic work has been done on these grasshoppers, and there is some taxonomic confusion regarding the validity of some species descriptions. The aim of this study was to provide much needed clarity on the true taxonomic diversity and polymorphic attributes within the Pneumoridae, focusing on selected taxa of uncertain status. Bladder grasshoppers show distinct discontinuous polymorphism, resulting in two clearly different male morphs utilizing two different mating strategies. Primary males make use of acoustic communication for mate location. Secondary males (alternate males) are significantly smaller and employ a “sneaker” or satellite strategy where they exploit the calling between duetting couples to locate the females before the primary male. Three species of bladder grasshoppers have been described (Parabullacris vansoni, Paraphysemacris spinosus and Pneumoracris browni) that only have an alternate male morph. The validity of these species descriptions has come into question with the discovery of alternate male morphs in at least three other species (Bullacris discolor, B. membracioides and B. obliqua). Thus, the species described by Dirsh (1963) may simply be alternate males of existing species. However, to date there have been no studies looking at the genetics of alternate males, which would definitively establish whether they are conspecific with primary males.