The Mystery of the Donut's Hole

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

mysteriously different. The map makes them look like residents of a hole in a donut. The species is Ceuthophilus seclusus in the maculatus group. Their name, therefore means, roughly, spotted shy crevice-lover. And having introduced one bit of Latin, I'll have to introduce another to explain the mystery of the donut's hole.

Camel crickets, like other insects, protect their bodies with a hard, tough exoskeleton covered with separate pieces or plates. These plates, depending on their location on the insect's body, have different names. The plate that extends across the back of what we would like to call the camel cricket's neck (but mustn't because it lacks a neck) from the base of its head to the top of the first part of its body, or thorax, is called a "pronotum."

Female camel crickets that live both in the rim of the donut and in its hole have a sleek, gently rounded pronotum. So do males who live in the donut's rim. And so do the males who live in the hole while they are still youngsters. But as these hole-dwellers molt and grow bigger and come to sexual maturity something strange begins to happen to their pronota. Just behind their head, an orange lump begins to swell up - bright, colorful, easy to see against the pale fawn of the rest of their body. And as it does, perhaps even to make room for it, the rest of the pronotum develops an inward fold, a notch.

Your eyes have, in a few seconds, danced across this paragraph which it has taken me a few minutes to write. But it took me a year to learn about this anomaly, three years to experiment with it, and neither I nor anyone else understands the least thing about it or what it signifies.

When I began work on the camel cricket chapter of my book I proceeded as I usually did in writing about other bugs. I took a fresh notebook and went to the Library of Congress and settled down to find out which entomologists had written what about them. I discovered that practically nothing was known about the biology and behavior of camel crickets.

Little had been written beyond the 1936 classificatory, descriptive work of Theodore Huntington Hubbell, the great University of Michigan orthopterist (alas, not a relation). It is 550 pages long and treats with one genus, Ceuthophilus.

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