Grasshopper — This is a herbivorous insect from the suborder of the short-winged orthopterans, the order Orthoptera. To distinguish them from crickets or katydids, they are sometimes referred to as short-horned grasshoppers. Species that change color and behavior at high population densities are called locusts. About 11,000 known species of grasshoppers have been found in the world, often found in grassy fields, meadows and forests.
Origin of the species and description
Modern grasshoppers are descended from ancient ancestors that lived long before dinosaurs roamed the earth. Fossil data show that primitive grasshoppers first appeared during the Carboniferous period, over 300 million years ago. Most ancient grasshoppers are preserved as fossils, although grasshopper larvae (the second stage in a grasshopper’s life after the initial egg phase) are sometimes found in amber. Grasshoppers are divided according to the length of their antennae (tentacles), which are also called horns.
There are two main groups of grasshoppers:
- long-horned grasshoppers;
- short-horned grasshoppers.
Short-horned grasshopper (family Acrididae, formerly Locustidae) includes both harmless non-migratory species and the often destructive, swarming, migratory species known as locusts. The long-horned grasshopper (family Tettigoniidae) is represented by the katydid, meadow grasshopper, cone-headed grasshopper, and shield-mounted grasshopper.
Other orthoptera are also sometimes referred to as grasshoppers. The pygmy grasshopper (family Tetrigidae) is sometimes called the partridge, or pygmy locust. Leaf-rolling grasshoppers (family Gryllacrididae) are generally wingless and lack hearing organs.
Appearance and Features
Grasshoppers — medium to large insects. The length of an adult is from 1 to 7 centimeters, depending on the species. Like their relatives — katydids and crickets, grasshoppers have chewing mouths, two pairs of wings, one narrow and stiff, the other wide and flexible, and long hind legs for jumping. They differ from these groups in that they have short antennae that do not extend too far back to their bodies.
The femoral region of the grasshopper’s upper hind limbs is greatly enlarged and contains large muscles that make the feet well adapted for jumping. The male can make a buzzing sound either by rubbing the forewings (Tettigoniidae) or by rubbing the tooth-like projections on the hind femora against the raised vein on each closed forewing (Acrididae).
Fun Fact: Grasshopper — an amazing insect that can jump 20 times its body length. In fact, the grasshopper does not “jump”. He uses his paws like a catapult. Grasshoppers can jump and fly, they are able to reach speeds of 13 km/h when flying.
Grasshoppers usually have large eyes and are colored appropriately to blend in with their surroundings, usually a combination of brown, gray or green. Some species of males have bright colors on their wings, which they use to attract females. Several species feed on toxic plants and store the toxins in their bodies for protection. They are brightly colored to warn predators that they have bad taste.
Female grasshoppers are larger than males and have sharp points at the end of their abdomens that help them lay their eggs underground. The senses of the grasshopper are in contact with organs located in various parts of its body, including antennae and palps on the head, cerci on the abdomen, and receptors on the paws. The organs of taste are located in the mouth, and the organs of smell — on the antennas. The grasshopper hears with the help of a tympanic cavity located either at the base of the abdomen (Acrididae) or at the base of each fore tibia (Tettigoniidae). Its vision is carried out in compound eyes, while the change in light intensity is perceived by simple eyes.
Where does the grasshopper live?
Most orthoptera, including grasshoppers, live in the tropics, and there are about 18,000 species. About 700 of them are found in Europe — mainly in the south — and only 30 species live in the UK. There are eleven species of grasshopper in Britain, and all but one of them are capable of flight. Their preference for warmer weather is also evident from the fact that only about 6 species are found as far north as Scotland.
Grasshoppers are found in a variety of habitats, most abundant in lowland rainforests, semi-arid regions, and grasslands. Different species of grasshopper have different habitats. The large marsh grasshopper (Stethophyma grossum), for example, is found only in peatlands. The meadow grasshopper, however, is much less fussy and loves any pasture that is not too dry; it is the most common grasshopper.
Some grasshoppers are adapted to specialized habitats. South American paulinid grasshoppers spend most of their lives on floating vegetation, actively swimming and laying eggs on aquatic plants. Grasshoppers are usually large, more than 11 cm long (for example, the tropidacris of South America).
Now you know where the grasshopper is found. Let’s see what it eats.
What does a grasshopper eat?
All Grasshoppers — herbivores, feeding mainly on grass. Over 100 species of grasshoppers are found in Colorado, and their feeding habits vary. Some feed mainly on grasses or sedges, while others prefer broad-leaved plants. Other grasshoppers limit their feeding to plants of little economic value, and some even feed primarily on weed species. However, others readily feed on garden and landscape plants.
Among vegetable crops, some plants are preferred, such as:
- sweet corn;
Grasshoppers rarely feed on the leaves of trees and shrubs. However, during outbreak years, even these can be damaged. In addition, grasshoppers can accidentally damage guard belt plantings when they lean on branches and gnaw on the bark, sometimes causing the death of small branches.
Of the approximately 600 grasshopper species in the US, about 30 cause severe damage to landscape plants and are considered garden pests. A large group of grasshoppers belonging to the suborder Caelifera are herbivores, they eat insects that can cause significant damage to plants, especially crops and vegetables. In large numbers, grasshoppers are a major problem for farmers, as well as a major annoyance to home gardeners.
Although grasshoppers can feed on many different plants, they often prefer small grains, corn, alfalfa, soybeans, cotton, rice, clover, grass, and tobacco. They may also eat lettuce, carrots, beans, sweet corn, and onions. Grasshoppers are less likely to feed on plants such as squash, peas, and tomato leaves. The more grasshoppers present, the more likely they are to feed on plant species outside of their preferred group.
Character and Lifestyle Traits
Grasshoppers are most active during the day but feed at night. They do not have nests or territories, and some species go on long migrations to find new food supplies. Most species are solitary and only come together to mate, but migratory species sometimes gather in huge groups of millions or even billions of individuals.
Fun fact: When picked up, a grasshopper “spits” a brown liquid known as “tobacco juice”. Some scientists believe this fluid may protect grasshoppers from attacks by insects such as ants and other predators — they “spit” liquid on them, then catapult and fly away quickly.
Grasshoppers also try to escape from their enemies hiding in the grass or among the leaves. If you’ve ever tried to catch grasshoppers in a field, you know how quickly they can disappear when they fall into tall grass.
Locust — it is a type of grasshopper. They are big and strong fliers. Sometimes their populations explode and they travel in huge swarms in search of food, causing great damage to the crops that man has grown for them. There are several species of locust in the Middle East that make their way into Europe, the migratory locust (Locusta migratoria) lives in northern Europe, although they often do not accumulate in huge numbers.
Social structure and reproduction
Grasshopper life cycles vary by species. Eggs are laid when the female pushes her ovipositor into grass or sand. All grasshoppers lay their eggs in the soil in dense clustered pods. Relatively dry soils untouched by tillage or irrigation are preferred.
Egg laying may be concentrated in certain areas with favorable soil texture, slope and orientation. The female grasshopper coats the eggs in a foamy substance that soon hardens into a protective coating and protects them through the winter.
Ovum stage — this is the wintering stage of most, but not all, grasshoppers. The eggs overwinter in the soil and begin to hatch in the spring. Young grasshoppers can be seen jumping in May and June. One generation of grasshoppers is born once a year.
When hatching, the tiny first-stage larvae come to the surface and look for tender foliage to feed on. The first few days are critical to survival. Unfavorable weather or lack of suitable food can lead to high mortality. Surviving grasshoppers continue to develop over the next few weeks, usually molting through five or six stages before eventually reaching the adult form.
Adult grasshoppers can live for months, alternating between feeding, mating and oviposition. Species that remain in the egg stage in winter die out in late summer and early autumn. A few species, such as the most notable spotted-winged grasshopper, spend the winter as larvae, remain active during warmer periods, and may develop into adults by the end of winter.
Natural enemies of grasshoppers
Grasshoppers’ greatest enemies include various types of flies that lay their eggs in or near grasshopper eggs. After the fly’s eggs hatch, the newborn flies eat the grasshopper’s eggs. Some flies even lay their eggs on the grasshopper’s body even when the grasshopper is flying. The newborn flies then eat the grasshopper.
Other enemies of grasshoppers are:
Some insects usually feed on grasshoppers. Many species of blister beetles develop on grasshopper egg pods and in blister beetle population cycles along with their grasshopper hosts. Adult mugger flies are common summer predators of grasshoppers, and other flies develop as internal parasites of grasshoppers. Many birds, especially the horned lark, also feed on grasshoppers. Grasshoppers are also often eaten by coyotes.
Grasshoppers are prone to some unusual diseases. The fungus Entomophthora grylli infects grasshoppers, causing them to move upward and cling to plants shortly before they kill their insect hosts. Stiff, dead grasshoppers found stuck to a grass stalk or branch indicate an infection with this disease. Grasshoppers also sometimes develop a very large nematode (Mermis nigriscens). Both the fungal disease and the nematode parasite are favorable in wet weather.
Fun Fact: Humans have been consuming locusts and grasshoppers for centuries. According to the Bible, John the Baptist ate locusts and honey in the wilderness. Locusts and grasshoppers are a regular dietary component of local diets in many parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and because they are high in protein, they are also an important food item.
Population and species status
Over 20,000 grasshopper species have been identified worldwide, and over 1,000 exist in the United States. Grasshopper populations are not in danger of decline or extinction. Many species of grasshoppers are common herbivores, feeding on a variety of plants, but some species feed only on grass. Some species, under the right conditions, can have population booms and cause billions of dollars of damage to food crops each year.
One single grasshopper cannot do too much damage, although it eats about half its weight of plants every day, but when locusts swarm, their combined feeding habits can completely ruin the landscape, leaving farmers without crops and people without food. In the US alone, grasshoppers cause about $1.5 billion in damage to grasslands every year.
Grasshoppers can be the most visible and harmful insects for yards and fields. They are also one of the most difficult insects to control as they are highly mobile. For many reasons, grasshopper populations fluctuate greatly from year to year and can cause serious damage during periodic outbreaks. Problems typically begin in early summer and can continue into severe frosts.
While grasshoppers can cause significant damage to crops, the ecosystem would be a very different place without these insects. They play an important role in the environment, making it a safer and more efficient place for plants and other animals to thrive. In fact, even changing the mood of a grasshopper can change the ways in which it benefits the environment, reflecting how dependent our ecosystem is on jumping insects.
The grasshopper is an interesting insect that not only causes damage, but also benefits to people and the ecosystem as a whole, promoting the decay and regrowth of plants, creating a balance between the types of plants that thrive. Despite their small size, grasshoppers consume enough food to influence the types of plants that will subsequently grow.