Grasshoppers may look very different from humans, but there is one thing some of them have in common with humans and other mammals: their teeth. It might seem like a safe assumption that all grasshoppers are vegetarians, but it turns out that not only do some species eat meat, but they’ve also evolved the right teeth for the job.
A new study led by paleobiologists from the University of Leicester found similarities between the mandibles of grasshoppers and the teeth of mammals. The study, “Dietary Inference from Dental Topographic Analysis of Feeding Tools in Various Animals,” was published in the journal Methods in ecology and evolution.
“Knowing what animals eat is fundamental to understanding ecosystems, but it can be difficult and time-consuming, especially if the animals you’re studying are rare, small, or fast-moving,” said a postgraduate researcher from the Institute. ‘University of Leicester. Christopher Stockeywho was the lead author of the study, as reported by Earth.com.
Grasshoppers inhabit many types of terrain, from deserts and savannahs to mountains and rainforests. With about 12,500 speciesthey can be found on every continent except Antarctica, according to the Canadian Museum of Nature.
Animals‘mouths differ depending on what they eat, the University of Leicester reported. If they eat grass, their teeth will look like molars and be better equipped to grind, but if they are carnivores, they will have teeth with sharper edges to cut meat.
In order to find out what grasshoppers eat, the researchers decided to take a different route rather than traditional approaches like observing them in the wild or examining their interiors, which can be imprecise and only lead to broad categories as to what they consume.
Instead, the research team mapped the shape of the grasshoppers’ mandibles using three-dimensional imaging techniques.
“We measured the shapes of grasshopper mouthparts and analyzed them as the topography of a landscape, and found clear differences related to diet,” said Mark Purnell, professor of paleobiology at the University of Leicester and Director of the Center for Paleobiology at the University of Leicester. as the University of Leicester reported in a press release. “The mandibles of carnivorous grasshoppers that eat soft flesh have steeper slopes and sharper cliff edges, while those that eat hard plant matter, such as grass, have mandibles with complex undulating ‘landscapes’ .”
There are many rare or extinct species of grasshoppers that scientists don’t have much information about, but the new research has allowed scientists to delve into the diets of these species by comparing their teeth with those of mammals.
“One of the advantages of our method is the powerful comparisons it provides,” Stockey said, as reported by Earth.com. “Amazingly, comparing grasshopper mandible landscapes with mammalian teeth predicts grasshopper diets with 82% accuracy – quite amazing considering that mammalian and grasshopper mouthparts have evolved. independently for 400 million years and were not present in their common ancestor.”
The scientists based their research on 45 species. They used specimens from museums, and not having to dissect them saved time and avoided possible damage to the specimens.
“This study is an excellent example of combining modern analytical methods with historical samples from museum collections to help understand the biodiversity of our planet. As technology advances, additional uses of museum collections become possible and this non-destructive approach could reveal the dietary information of thousands of species, decades after the specimens were collected,” said the the Natural History Museum’s senior curator, Dr Ben Price, who was not involved in the research, as reported by the University of Leicester.