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Some animals live in pretty extreme places, but the lava cricket might be the most hardcore of them all. These crickets have only been observed right after volcanic eruptions, and scientists have questions, like “How does a flightless insect appear on freshly-cooled lava?”

Hosted by: Olivia Gordon

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Sources:
http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/pi/pdf/20%282%29-133.pdf
https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/03/these-intrepid-crickets-hawaii-s-lava-home-sweet-home
https://books.google.ca/books?id=4LswmjBnlJMC&pg=PA259&lpg=PA259&dq=Caconemobius+fori&source=bl&ots=eVpMAvzIzr&sig=ACfU3U2i6BewNUtSgPk0b9-meV0FEyPa4g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjCtMKvxtfhAhXHu54KHaykBSg4ChDoATABegQICRAB#v=onepage&q=Caconemobius%20fori&f=false
https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/2019/03/25/hawaii-news/on-the-hunt-for-lava-crickets/


IMAGE SOURCES:
Credit: William P. Mull, 1974. Copyright © Bishop Museum
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/abstract-magma-texture-gm1077643600-288678388
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9d/Thurston_Lava_Tube.jpg
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/dry-lava-in-bali-indonesia-gm1150406781-311398203
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ropy_Pahoehoe_Lava_at_Kilauea_Volcano_in_Hawaii_20071209_A.jpg
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/aerial-photos-of-volcano-lava-flow-on-big-island-of-hawaii-gm924266248-253663066
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_lower_Puna_eruption#/media/File:USGS_K%C4%ABlauea_multimediaFile-2062.jpg
This episode of SciShow is sponsored by Wix.

Go to wix.com/go/scishow to create your own website. {♫Intro♫}. Animals live in some pretty extreme places, but 'ūhini nēnē pele or the lava cricket might be the most hardcore of them all.

It lives on freshly cooled lava from the Hawaiian volcano Kīlauea. And only on freshly cooled lava. In fact, though they were long known to native Hawaiians, scientists have only spotted them a few times—always right after volcanic eruptions.

And the first collection, in 1973, occurred about 100 meters away from a still-bubbling volcanic vent. While we don’t know as much about these awesome insects as we’d like, they could teach us a lot about how animals adapt to extreme environments. As you might have guessed, lava is a pretty terrible habitat for, well, anything really.

Surface temperatures can reach 60 degrees celsius during the day and then fall dramatically by up to 50 degrees at night. It’s also super dry—not just because there’s very little rainfall on the volcano, but also because the hot, black surface of the lava makes it all evaporate. And lava doesn’t really hold water on the surface anyway—it all dribbles down into the porous rock.

Oh and don’t forget about the boiling hot steam vents piping out sulfurous gases. It’s so unwelcoming that some scientists consider this environment the most inhospitable habitat in the world. But, of course, volcanic islands eventually end up with life on them, so something must see that barren rock and think “Yeah, this’ll work”.

You might expect that something to be algae, or maybe a jack-of-all-trades insect that can live almost anywhere and eat almost anything—something that’s able to fly in from afar. Instead, in Hawai'i anyway, what you get is a wingless cricket with a super-specialized diet. Lava crickets are close relatives of the crickets that live in lava tubes and other Hawaiian caves, and they’re really small.

Adults only reach about a centimeter in length, tops, and are hard to spot—they blend in almost perfectly with the lava. They’re a part of what’s called an aeolian ecosystem, which means their main source of food is brought in from outside the area they’re living in. The crickets are around long before any plants or seeds establish themselves, so they’re scavengers that feed on spores, pollen, other insects, or whatever bits of plant or dust are swept in from the surrounding forests by those strong winds.

And they might get a lot of their protein and nitrogen needs from sea foam that drifts upward from the ocean. As far as anyone can tell, the crickets are nocturnal and mostly hang out in cracks and under rocks where their food collects. Scientists actually catch them by sticking a bit of stinky cheese in a wine bottle to create a baited trap of sorts—the smell seems to draw them in like flies to vinegar.

And though bare lava is an incredibly rough habitat to live in, there are some advantages, which may explain why the crickets are found there. Like, the fact that it’s a nice, open range for them to roam around on and there seems to be no competition. But since these extreme insects are only found after eruptions, and, thankfully, those don’t happen all the time, scientists still have a lot of questions.

Like: Where are they when there isn’t any fresh lava? And how do they get to the lava without wings? They only seem to occur far from the edge of a cooled lava flow, and are never found where plants are growing. And, how they find each other, or find a mate without wings to chirp with?

I mean, that’s kind of what crickets are known for. Understanding how these little insects have adapted to such a harsh environment could help scientists understand how new ecosystems are colonized more generally. And researchers are going to get the opportunity to study these crickets more—after all,.

Kīlauea erupted for several months in 2018, and it’ll almost certainly erupt again. Lava crickets have evolved to be among the first if not the first animals to colonize lava flows, which is kind of inspiring, when you think about it. If a little cricket can brave that desolate environment, surely you can go out on a limb and start your own business or do whatever it is that you really want to do.

And that’s something Wix can help with. After all, no matter what your career is, you’re gonna need some kind of website. And with Wix, you get everything you need to get one up and running, including a website builder, reliable web hosting, and the best SEO for your website.

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