Grasshoppers: a plague on your house

Depending upon the source of information, the world is plagued with anywhere from 18,000 to 20,000 species of grasshoppers. Texas is home to only 150 of those species. Of those 150 species of grasshoppers, only five, yes five, cause ninety percent of the damage to crops, gardens, and landscape plants.

These would be the Differential grasshopper, Red-legged grasshopper, Migratory grasshopper, Two-striped grasshopper, and Packard grasshopper. I could go into the differences between them, so you could identify what’s in your yard, but suffice to say, you probably have several of these species, and when you’re standing there looking at naked plant stems grieving the loss of your roses, do you really care which kind you have?

If only five grasshopper species destroy ninety percent of our plants, then the remaining 145 species must provide some benefit, and they do. Many eat plants toxic to livestock, and their droppings, or frass, add nutrients to the soil. They also make good fish bait. The males chirp to attract a mate, which can be a positive if you like their music.

From a wildlife perspective, grasshoppers are a food source for many mammals, as well as birds like turkey and quail. Chickens like them. Certain species of beetles and flies prey on their eggs.

In normal years an average field will have roughly eight grasshoppers per square yard. They like temperatures over ninety-five degrees, and dry. Take notice of years when we have hot, dry summers followed by a warm, dry fall, which is optimum egg laying weather. A dry spring during hatching time means more nymphs survive (rain drowns many of them), which translates into summer party time for grasshoppers.

Considering that grasshoppers partake of plant material eight times faster in proportion to their size than cows, the normal buffet of crops and gardens soon runs out. And, I guess if they run out of food, and you run out of food, you can always eat them. They have up to 20.6 grams of protein. Just clean and cook them, otherwise you could get a tapeworm.

Females lay between 200 to 400 eggs.

The eggs begin hatching in the spring, peaking in mid- June. Each species hatches at a different time, so throughout this period you will see young grasshoppers. They’re born nymphs, which are tiny versions of adults. Nymphs mature in six months, and can then fly, up to a speed of eight miles an hour.

Grasshoppers breathe through holes along the body called spiracles. And like their cousin, the cricket, grasshoppers have a tympanum, a diskshaped organ, in which to hear. The grasshopper tympanum is located over the back leg, under the wing.

We all know grasshoppers have two big, compound eyes. They also have three smaller simple eyes. Two of the simple eyes are located at the base of each antenna, and the third is between the antennae. All these eyes give them great vision, which makes them very hard to sneak up on. Grasshoppers are mainly day feeders. They are not territorial, and usually congregate only long enough to mate.

Interestingly, the grasshopper is also a locust. Up until the 1920s, scientists believed locusts and grasshoppers were two different species. When grasshopper populations explode, they very quickly consume all available forage. This packs them into small areas. The crowding causes a surge of serotonin into their bodies that physically changes them into a stronger, darker, and highly mobile locust. It’s nature’s way of making them move on to greener pastures.

Luckily, only ten grasshopper species morph into locusts. There are two species in North America–the American Desert Locust and the Rocky Mountain Locust (which is extinct).

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2010-09-30 digital edition

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