Professor Gokhan Aydin of Isparta University of Applied Sciences reveals fascinating facts about the species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world but Turkey.
Professor Gokhan Aydin is the head of Plant and Animal Production Department of Atabey Vocational School at Isparta University of Applied Sciences. He has been working on insects’ biological diversity, their habitat definition, indicator species, and species richness estimators. The basis of his work is using insects for habitat protection and sustainability.
“Dune crickets are a kind of insect,” Aydin says, “with six legs. We call all species with six legs insects.”
Aydin points out that more than 99 percent of insects are “good for nature,” despite what you may have heard. “Without them,” he notes, “humankind, that is, homo sapiens, would have no vegetables or fruits.” The endemic dune cricket is also a beneficial organism like other insects, he tells TRT World in an email.
The species was first discovered in 1987 in Gulek, in southern Turkey and was labeled Comicus inexspectatus. Forty years after its discovery, the museum re-examined the sample and realised that the species was not Comicus but Schizodactylus. The insect was kept for many years as a single sample at the Vienna Natural History Museum.
“Some scientists, because they had no data on the species and could not conduct scientific studies on it, declared that the species is extinct in nature,” Aydin says. “However, after nearly a century, what we call the endemic dune cricket was rediscovered in the Cukurova and Goksu Deltas where it had never been seen before and it was proven that [the species] was not extinct. Yet we couldn’t locate it at Gulek or Tarsus where it had first been observed a century ago.”
According to Aydin this brings to mind two possibilities: Either the area the cricket was first observed in 125 years ago was noted down incorrectly, or the insect couldn’t survive in that location due to the destruction of sand dunes and went extinct in the Gulek and Tarsus areas.
This species is endemic to Turkey, meaning there is no chance that you will come across dune crickets elsewhere. It lives only in Cukurova and Goksu Deltas.
The endemic dune cricket’s legs are unusual, Aydin says. “They can dig nests with their hind legs. They also use their hind legs to capture their prey. They leave their nest as soon as it gets dark and hunt during the night,” he explains. “With the first light of day, they use their chin and hind legs to dig in the sand and sometimes they dig tunnels as deep as 1.5-2 metres.”
Aydin tells TRT World that the insect creates a small chamber at the end of the tunnel and doesn’t venture out all day. “They do this every day and never use the same nest twice,” he says. “In contrast with other crickets, they are not herbivores but are good hunters. Among their prey are insects harmful to agriculture. That’s why they’re called schizodactylus inexspectatus, in addition to their legs being unusual compared with other crickets and in fact, other insects.”
The endemic dune cricket is adapted to desert ecosystems. “For example,” Aydin says, “The Cukurova Delta has the longest coastline in Turkey with 110 kilometres. The Goksu Delta, likewise.” The cricket can only live in sand dunes. “It is a key species in desert ecosystems,” Aydin adds. “It forms the top chain in that ecosystem among similar invertebrates.”
The endemic dune cricket can feed on all invertebrates in the desert ecosystem, including its own kind. “Especially when they are cornered into a small area, the strong eats the weak,” says Aydin. “To put it bluntly, it is a cannibalistic species. That is why they avoid each other’s territories.”
Another interesting fact about the endemic dune cricket is that it is hermaphrodite. “It is neither male or female,” Aydin explains. “Or rather, it is both male and female, because each insect has the sex organs of both males and females. That’s why they don’t need any other cricket to breed.” The species propagates by inseminating itself and laying eggs.
Aydin warns that the sole habitat of the endemic dune crickets, the Cukurova and Goksu Deltas, is shrinking due to the lack of protection strategies, even though they are protected areas. “Between 2000 and 2020 the habibat of endemic dune crickets has decreased by almost 90 percent. You can also see the destruction of the dunes from satellite images from between these dates. That also suggests that our endemic species’ population is decreasing by 90 percent.”
Aydin worries that “cities breaching into coastal areas, destruction of dunes, illegal agricultural activities and the senseless use of pesticides and tourism” contribute to the destruction of the species in its habitat.
“Turkey really has amazing qualities other countries don’t have. There are only two countries with three biodiversity hotspots, that is, protected areas, one of which is our country,” Aydin says. “But,” he adds, “we lose the beautiful things we have day by day before even discovering them. Who knows, maybe we have lost hundreds, maybe thousands of endemic species have disappeared without us discovering them because of human activity.”
“That’s why I think,” Aydin concludes, “homo sapiens, that is, humankind, who has been on this earth for only 200 thousand years, must show more respect to insects who have been living on earth for 500 million years.”
Thumbnail and headline photos of endemic dune crickets by AA, photographed by Yalcin Celen