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Grasshopper

Order: Orthoptera

Facts

There are over 17,000 species in this order, of which, over half are grasshoppers. About 600 species occur in Europe, and 33 in Britain, with 29 of those being native. The main identification point for this order is that in most specimens, the hind legs are enlarged and adapted for jumping. Some species do have wings, although in most species flight is avoided or very weak.

Insects of this order are renowned for their ‘singing’. ‘Singing’ is the noise created when one part of the insects body is rubbed against another, this behaviour is only seen in males and is used to attract females.

There are a number of separate families in this order, with grasshoppers, bush-crickets, and true crickets, all separated into different families.

Habitat

Grasshopper habitat and diet are details that offer interesting insights into these herbivorous insects. These insects belong to the order Orthoptera in the suborder Caelifera and are differentiated from katydids and crickets by being called short-horned grasshoppers. There are nearly 18,000 types of grasshoppers. The type of grasshoppers that are able to change color and are usually found in densely populated groups are called locusts. Grasshoppers can hop, fly and jump and they are said to be able to leap 20 times their own length and fly at speeds of 8 miles and hour.

Grasshoppers are spread all over the world except in the very cold polar regions and they thrive in warm weather conditions. Grasshoppers are medium to large in size and can vary in length from one to seven centimeters. Their body consists of chewing mouth parts, two sets of wings – with one being tough and narrow and the other being more flexible, and also the distinctive long back legs which facilitate jumping. Grasshoppers also have short antennae. One of the grasshopper’s major tricks for survival and proliferation is its ability to camouflage itself into its surroundings. They are brown, green or grey or a combination of these colors and this really blends into most of the typical foliage found in grasshopper habitat. There a few species of grasshoppers where the male has brightly colored wings to entice the females. The male grasshoppers are the ones that rub their legs and make the sounds that the species is known for. Females are typically larger than the male grasshoppers.

These creatures are found in a wide variety of terrain and landscape and so grasshopper habitat is rather a broad definition. They tend to live wherever they can find food and so fields and meadows are popular choices. They are amazingly adaptable and so have made themselves at home in mountains, deserts and forests. They are small creatures but are said to eat as much as 16 times their own weight and so food is an important part of what defines grasshopper habitat. Unfortunately for farmers this has sometimes meant that grasshoppers have occupied land where cereal crops have been grown and pest control has been a real challenge. Grasshoppers are found to be active at daytime although they also feed during the night. One of the reasons they are hard to eliminate when they infest farms is that they do not build nests and they are no clear territorial boundaries. They stay in any landscape as long as food is possible and move on when they need to.

Grasshoppers’ natural enemies are beetles, mice, snakes, birds and spiders. Flies are also predators of grasshoppers because flies lay their eggs close to grasshopper eggs and when the fly eggs hatch the baby flies eat the grasshopper eggs. The grasshopper has some natural defense mechanisms to survive the threats that lurk in the grasshopper habitat. Other than the ability to blend into the surrounding area, grasshoppers also spit a liquid when they are feeling threatened which allows them to distract the predator and jump to safety. Some species of grasshoppers eat toxic plants and retain the toxins in their body to defend themselves.

Scientists these days are working on ways to use a technique called grasshopper habitat manipulation to control grasshopper infestations. By changing the availability of food and controlling the predators in the environment it is believed that grasshopper populations can be managed if they get out of control. While these strategies are yet to be tested, they hold the possibility of controlling grasshopper over-population without resorting to chemicals which may permanently end up destroying grasshopper habitat.

Diet

What Do Grasshoppers Eat?
Ever wonder what do grasshoppers eat and how do they manage to destroy incredible amounts of crops and fields so quickly?

Found on almost every continent of the world except the poles, grasshoppers are a group of small or medium sized insects that have extremely voracious appetites. A typical grasshopper can eat more than 16 times that of its own body weight and can both jump and fly, making it easy for them to travel. They have powerful chewing mouthparts and climbing limbs as well. They are perfectly designed to eat.

The particular diet of a grasshopper varies based on the region where they are living. Grasshoppers can be found in almost all region types including:

  • Prairie
  • Grasslands
  • Forests
  • Mountains
  • Wetlands
  • Deserts
  • Caves

A grasshopper’s typical diet consists of vegetation as they are mostly herbivores. This includes:

  • Grass
  • Perennial Forbs
  • Leaves
  • Cereal Crops
  • Weeds
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
  • Sedges
How A Grasshopper Eats

A grasshopper uses its legs to climb down a plant and hangs head down to eat. Their powerful jaws quickly cut through plant material in a 1/8 of an inch swath until the entire width of the plant is gone.

Grasshoppers can work quickly and methodically when eating, leaving nothing behind. In certain situations where grasshoppers may become overcrowded or if the habitat quality has become too low, they have been known to eat the bodies of other alive or dead insects, including each other.

Grasshopper Swarms

The amazing eating ability of this small insect is seen during swarms. Grasshoppers usually stay in what is known as a solitary phase where they eat and travel alone, but sometimes if the conditions arise, they can go through a phase change. After this change they are known as locusts.

Habitat and climate conditions may cause a high grasshopper birth rate, and when this overcrowding meets a limited food supply, the grasshoppers become agitated and join together in swarms.

Swarms of locusts have been recorded by humans for centuries, there are even passages relating to them in the bible. A locust swarm may be millions or even billions of grasshoppers strong. Once the swarm has gone airborne in search of new feeding grounds, they have become a plague and there is nothing that can stop it.

A swarm can be miles long and across and have been recorded to darken the skies. In a 24 hour period, they can move over several hundred miles and will eat everything they see. They can destroy an entire crop field in just minutes. They always fly with the wind currents, allowing them to travel very fast and can even follow wind currents over large bodies of water.

A plague of locusts can be responsible for countless human deaths by destroying the crops that we rely on. This is especially true for countries that still rely on subsistence farming techniques.

Luckily, locust plagues do not happen very often, as humans have spent a great deal of time and effort to learn about ways to prevent swarming. Created in 1945 to research what grasshoppers eat and test methods of preventing locust plagues, the Anti-Locust Research Centre performs all sorts of operations to reduce the risk. They run programs to limit grasshopper breeding and distribute chemical poisons. One of their best weapon is currently in testing – a fungal disease that only attacks grasshoppers.

Lubber Grasshopper

The lubber grasshopper could best be described as a rather colorful pest. It is found mainly in the southeastern corner of the United States, but several types are found as far west as Arizona, and in the southern Plains states as well. Being quite a large grasshopper, its coloration gives it a somewhat fierce appearance. The lubber is harmless to humans however unless eaten, where their toxicity could cause a problem, although usually only small mammals are apt to be seriously affected. One familiar with grasshoppers in general might think that the lubber grasshopper, because of its size, could hop farther, fly farther and eat more than most other grasshopper species. The opposite is the case.

Clumsy And Slow – All of the types of lubber grasshoppers found in the United States are flightless, though they all have wings. The problem is, their wings are too small and too short to do any good. Neither are they particularly good at jumping, a type called the Horse lubber being an exception. Mostly they prefer to walk, which being somewhat clumsy, they really aren’t very good at either. To cap it off, the lubber grasshopper is slow moving, seemingly easy pickings for any predator. As far as eating is concerned, the lubber eats less food than most grasshoppers, but a swarm of nymphs can, as a group, eat quite a bit in a short time.

Color, Foam, and Hiss – While the lubber grasshopper isn’t going to outrun, or even out hop, anything that might be considered a predator, the insect does have a defense system. Its first line of defense is its coloration, a bright yellow with red or black stripes or markings. Many creatures, especially some kinds of fishes, use bright colors to warn away predators. Bright colors often say, “I taste terrible”, or “If you eat me, you will die”. The lubber grasshopper is in fact toxic, and probably doesn’t taste good either

And, Tobacco Juice – The second line of defense might even cause us humans to move back a step. When bothered or touched, the lubber will spray a foamy substance from its abdomen, accompanied by a rather loud hiss. The foam and hiss would more than likely cause someone to drop the insect should they pick it up. The foam contains some toxic elements, not considered to be harmful to humans. Finally, the lubber grasshopper may resort to what many grasshoppers do, and regurgitate partially digested food, a substance we often refer to as tobacco juice. Though harmless, this juice can stain a nice shirt.

Lubber grasshoppers are typically from 1-1/2 inches long to 3 inches, depending upon the type. The Plains lubbers are the smallest, rarely exceeding 1-1/2 inches in length, still large for a grasshopper, while the Eastern lubbers are the largest, reaching 3 inches. Most of the other types range from 2 inches to 2-1/2 inches in length. The best jumpers are the Horse lubbers, though the Plains lubber can jump several feet. The other types seem to prefer walking. Each type of lubber grasshopper has its favorite food, ranging from citrus plant leaves, to sunflowers, to grasses. All seem especially fond of orchids, and all are opportunistic eaters, eating anything they come across if their favorite food isn’t available. The male lubber grasshopper leads a pretty good life, having sex seemingly at every opportunity.

The lubber grasshopper can create some real problems in those locations where it is found. Insecticides are effective mainly against the grasshopper when in the nymph stage. To kill an adult, the insecticide must usually be applied directly to the insect. Hand picking and squashing are the usual means of eliminating the lubber grasshopper.