Biodiversity and the green stranger

This post is also available in: Dutch.

Most people tend to translate the concept of biodiversity simply into numbers of species. How many species are present in a particular area? In some countries an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required by law in case of proposed development of an area. Unfortunately, this is (still) no obligation on Curacao, although some developers take steps on their own in order to market themselves as having a ‘green’ image.

Such a EIA seems quite a powerful tool, but in most cases only the quantities of the obvious, well-known species are taken into account. And this immediately shows the weakness of an EIS. A huge gap in knowledge still exists, in particular about the species of insects, bacteria and fungi that are part of the biodiversity of our small island. Often, the writer of an EIS does not even leave his desk. The mainstream bio-books list the known species nicely. He just writes the report based on this literature, sends the bill, and the developer is allowed to, with or without modifications, do his thing.

However, diversity is not only about numbers of species. It is the relationships between the different species that pose the interesting picture. What are the connections between species, which tree or plant is important for which animal, and vice versa? Which plant is essential to the survival of the whole natural system of the island?
If you include the relationships in the math then you end up with much more complex statistics. And that is exactly what biodiversity is all about.

Praying Mantis - wow!

Sometimes unknown diversity literally flies around your head, like what happened to us a few years ago on the porch of our house. A small green insect came whirring by, no larger than 5 centimeters in length. Something was not right in our notion of this animal, the appearance did not fit the existing models in our heads. Further observations produced a nice surprise. It instantly triggered Leon to get his camera and to start fumbling with macro lenses. A Praying Mantis! On Curaçao! We are unable to put a name on this animal because it has never been identified or described for the island. An unknown occupant, who officially does not exist because it’s not listed in any book about our nature. It is part of the biodiversity, but not part of our statistics. Incidentally, it did not stop at a single encounter. Later on we encountered the same species in different places on the island.

This creature is a member of the order of Mantodea, worldwide represented by some 2,200 species. They are ferocious hunters, catching their prey with a swift movement of their powerful forelegs. These scissor-like arms are the modified front legs of the animal. In fact, the Dutch name Bidsprinkhaan (praying grasshopper) is misleading. The creature indeed seems to pray (anthropomorphism?), but it certainly is no grasshopper.
If you look closely at the picture, you’ll discover that the creature is hurt. It is missing a piece on the left foreleg. It seems unlikely that the animal could have survived for long with this disability.

What makes these animals so special for us is the face. The animal can turn its head in all directions, and if you observe such an animal up close, it might well be that you get the same feeling that we get all the time we encounter one: the animal looks you straight into the eyes. A nature moment once again! Exchanging glances with a creature that would not be misplaced in a subsequent episode of Star Wars.

About Michelle da Costa Gomez

One Response to “Biodiversity and the green stranger”

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  1. Jonathan jonckhher says:

    I saw one of these to my great surprise at porti marie beach! Unfortunately i did not have my professional camera on hand that day, but i did manage to get a photo with my iphone! Very pretty and interesting insect!