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Jan. 02, 2013

Pink Katydids

by The Bug Chicks

Click to enlarge images
We spent the holiday break looking over our photos from 2012 and compiling a list of our best from the year. For this post, we decided to talk about one photo that we picked. It is not a great photo, technically speaking. Sometimes, the subject itself is noteworthy and amazing, even if the artistry or technique isn’t quite there. Enter our pink katydid photos!
 
These are katydids that we photographed at the Soltis Center, a research facility in Costa Rica. The green katydid on the left is the normal phenotype. The pink on the right is a result of erythrism -- a rare genetic mutation that allows for abnormal amounts of red pigment or the absence of normal pigment -- in this case greens and browns.
 
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Some people have suggested that this phenotype might be an adaptation to better survive on pink or red flowers, but after much searching, we haven’t found any evidence to support this theory. Nevertheless, seeing an insect with erythrism is a rare occurrence.
 
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There is not much known about the behavior of pink katydids in the wild, or the likelihood of finding one. But apparently the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans is now breeding and studying this particular pigment disorder in katydids!
 
There are many examples of pigment disorders in nature. The most well-known is albinism (amelanism). In vertebrates, this is an inability to produce melanin. A lesser-known disorder that affects melanin production is piebaldism. People with piebaldism usually have sections of hair or skin that is white. This condition is called poliosis and is cause by the absence of melanocytes in a given area.
 
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The reason we bring this up? At a New Year’s party last night we ran into a young man with poliosis, just as we were planning this post on erythrism!  We asked if we could include a picture of him in our post and he was game. It just goes to show that A) you should always have your camera with you and B) even if it’s not an award-winning photograph, it still might be one of a kind. Thanks Joe!
About The Bug Chicks

Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker are The Bug Chicks. They each have Masters Degrees in Entomology and love to teach people about insects and spiders.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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