Introduction to Grasshopper

Grasshopper, a leaping insect closely related to roaches and crickets. There are two types of grasshoppers: long-horned and short-horned. Long-horned grasshoppers have antennae, or feelers, about the same length as the body. Short-horned grasshoppers have antennae less than half the length of the body. Short-horned grasshoppers are often called locusts, particularly when they migrate. The 17-year-locust, however, is not a grasshopper but a cicada.

The grasshopperThe grasshopper is a leaping insect related to roaches and crickets.

There are hundreds of species of grasshoppers, distributed throughout the temperate and warmer regions of the world. They range in length from one-half inch (1.3 cm) to more than six inches (15 cm) in some tropical species. Grasshoppers are generally colored green, brown, or gray.

What Are Grasshoppers and Their Relatives?

There are over 1 million different kinds of insects in the world. Grasshoppers belong to a group of insects called orthoptera (awr THAHP tuhr uh). Katydids (KAY tih dihdz) and crickets also belong to this group.

Most of these insects can do amazing leaps. A grasshopper about 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) long can leap 20 inches (50.8 centimeters). If a person 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall could jump that well, he or she could leap from one end of a basketball court to the other.

Orthoptera are also known for their musical talents. Many communicate by sound. And they have unusual ways of making their “songs.”

Like all insects, orthoptera have three pairs of legs. To spot an orthopteron, look at its two hind legs. They are longer than the other legs. Powerful muscles in its back legs help an orthopteron leap.

Where in the World Do These Animals Live?

These animals live almost everywhere on land. They live in forests, grasslands, and deserts. They even live on mountains. But there are two places where they don’t live—the freezing North and South poles.

Why not? Because orthoptera need warm bodies in order to survive. Like all insects, orthoptera are cold-blooded. That means the temperature of their bodies changes with the temperature of the air. If it’s hot outside, the insect’s body is hot. If it’s cold outside, the insect’s body is cold. If it’s too cold, the insect could freeze solid.

Did you ever notice when grasshoppers jump the most? They jump most in the middle of a hot afternoon. During the cool morning, they stay still. That’s because grasshoppers and other insects can’t be very active until their bodies warm up.

The Body of the Grasshopper

The body of the grasshopper, like that of other insects, has three sections—head, thorax, and abdomen. The head has two compound eyes, three simple eyes, and a pair of antennae. The antennae of short-horned grasshoppers point forward; those of long-horned grasshoppers generally curve backward over the body.

GrasshoppersGrasshoppers have two compound eyes, three simple eyes, and a pair of antennae.

Attached to the thorax are three pairs of legs. The hind legs are quite long and have thick, strongly muscled thighs that enable the grasshopper to jump a distance of roughly 20 times its own length. Some grasshopper species are wingless. Most, however, have four wings, attached to the thorax. They are folded lengthwise along the back when not in use. The hearing organs of the long-horned grasshopper are on its front legs, just below the knee. Those of the short-horned grasshopper are on the forward part of the abdomen, under the wings.

Male grasshoppers make crackling and buzzing sounds, usually in the daytime. Long-horned grasshoppers produce sounds by rubbing the front wings together. Short-horned grasshoppers “sing” by rubbing the hind legs against the front wings or by rubbing the wings together.

How Is a Grasshopper Put Together?

A grasshopper has its eyes, mouth, and antennae (an TEHN ee) on its head. It may look as if this insect has just two big eyes. But it really has five eyes.

A grasshopper’s two large eyes are compound eyes. They are made up of many separate lenses. The lenses work together to form a complete picture. A grasshopper uses its compound eyes to see. Scientists aren’t sure how a grasshopper uses its smaller eyes.

The thorax is the middle part of a grasshopper. The legs and wings are attached here. The abdomen is the back part. A grasshopper has breathing holes on its thorax and abdomen. These holes are called spiracles (SPY ruh kuhlz).

How Do Some Grasshoppers “Feel” Around?

A grasshopper’s antennae are thin and very sensitive. They help the grasshopper feel its way around. That’s why antennae are often called feelers.

A grasshopper feels with its antennae. It smells with its antennae, too. As a grasshopper feels its way around, it picks up scents from the surroundings.

Scientists divide grasshoppers into two main groups. These groups are the short-horned grasshoppers and the long-horned grasshoppers. Short-horned grasshoppers have short antennae, and long-horned grasshoppers have long antennae. The antennae on a long-horned grasshopper are usually much longer than its body.

How Does a Grasshopper Move About?

A grasshopper uses its legs and wings to move about. To walk, a grasshopper uses all six of its legs. To leap, it pushes off with its long, strong back legs. The grasshopper in the photograph is shown both before and during a leap. You can see how the grasshopper’s back legs propel it forward. Or, the grasshopper may shoot straight up into the air.

Many grasshoppers with wings can also fly. These grasshoppers use their back wings for flying. They use their wings in much the same way that a bird does.

Some grasshoppers have wings they can’t use. A few kinds never grow wings. These grasshoppers can’t fly. It’s a good thing they can leap so well!

How Does a Grasshopper Breathe?

A grasshopper needs to breathe air—just as a person does. But grasshoppers don’t have lungs. Instead, they have tiny holes, called spiracles, in their thoraxes and abdomens.

A grasshopper has 10 pairs of spiracles. Air goes into the insect’s body through the front holes. Air leaves the body through the back holes. Next time you see a grasshopper, look at it closely. You will see its abdomen move in and out as it breathes.

What Do Grasshoppers Eat?

Short-horned grasshoppers feed on plants. Some eat only certain kinds of plants. Others eat any plant they can find. Many grasshoppers eat clover, corn, cotton, soybeans, and other farm crops. Hungry grasshoppers sometimes eat a whole field of corn stalks—right down to the ground.

Most long-horned grasshoppers eat plants, too. However, some eat the remains of dead animals. A few even eat other insects.

Grasshoppers are very big eaters. A large group, or swarm, of grasshoppers can eat up entire fields of grain. Their huge appetites cause farmers a lot of trouble.

How Does a Grasshopper Make Music?

You know that a grasshopper has very powerful hind legs. These legs are good for leaping. But short-horned grasshoppers also use their legs to make music!

Short-horned grasshoppers sing by rubbing a hind leg against a front wing. It’s a bit like playing a violin. The grasshopper’s hind leg acts as the bow.

Many long-horned grasshoppers can sing, too. But they use their two front wings instead of their legs. One wing has a “file.” The other wing has a “scraper.” The grasshopper rubs these two parts together to make a song.

Male grasshoppers usually do all the singing. The females rarely make sounds. Males have several reasons for singing. They sing mostly to attract females. Males also make sounds to warn other kinds of insects to stay away. Some grasshoppers even make alarm calls when danger is near.

Life of the Grasshopper

Some long-horned grasshoppers, such as the katydids, lay their eggs on leaves. Most other long-horned grasshoppers deposit their eggs in the soft tissue of plants or on tree branches. Short-horned grasshoppers deposit their eggs, in clusters of 15 to 100 or more. underground. They cover the clusters with a fluid that hardens to form a protective cover. The eggs are laid in late summer or fall, and the nymphs (offspring) emerge in spring.

GrasshoppersGrasshoppers "sing" by rubbing their wings together.

The nymphs go through a cycle of development called incomplete metamorphosis. The nymphs resemble the adults except that they are smaller and wingless. They feed, as do adults, on leaves and other soft plant parts. As they grow they molt, or shed their coverings, usually five times. In two or three months they become adults. The adults die in winter, and the species are perpetuated by the nymphs that emerge from the eggs in spring.

Relatively few grasshoppers survive to reproduce, for the insects have a host of enemies. Moles, shrews, fly maggots, and the young of blister beetles eat the eggs. Birds, toads, skunks, lizards, mice, and other animals eat both nymphs and adults.

How Does a Grasshopper Lay Her Eggs?

Soon after grasshoppers mate, the female is ready to lay her eggs. She usually lays her eggs in the ground. A special body part called an ovipositor (oh vuh PAHZ uh tuhr) helps the female do this. The ovipositor is a tube from which the eggs pass out of the female’s body. Before she lays her eggs, the female drills a hole in the soil. She uses her ovipositor to do this. Then she lays her eggs inside the hole. Each egg looks like a tiny grain of rice. The female may lay over a hundred eggs at one time.

After she lays the eggs, the female covers them with thick, sticky foam. The foam hardens and keeps the eggs from getting wet. The eggs and foam together are called a pod.

How Does a Baby Grasshopper Hatch?

Many grasshoppers lay their eggs in the fall. By the next spring, the eggs are ready to hatch. When a baby grasshopper hatches, it wiggles slowly out of its egg. Then it pushes through the egg pod and makes its way up out of the hole.

A baby grasshopper is called a nymph (NIHMF). Nymphs may be tiny, but they have huge appetites. In fact, nymphs eat even more than adult grasshoppers do.

Why Does a Nymph Shed Its Skin?

Like its parents, a nymph has a hard exoskeleton. This exoskeleton cannot grow or stretch. So, as the nymph grows, it must shed its exoskeleton. This is called molting.

When a nymph is ready to molt, it climbs onto a leaf or a branch. It may even hang upside down. Slowly, the nymph slides out of its old exoskeleton. Underneath, the nymph has a new, soft exoskeleton. The nymph puffs up with air. This makes its body bigger while the new exoskeleton hardens. Now the nymph has room to grow until the next molt!

As they molt, most nymphs grow wings. The wings begin as little pads. They grow with each molt. The wings are finally formed by the time of the last molt.

Economic Importance

A source of protein, grasshoppers have been eaten in nearly all regions at various eras. They are a common food in parts of Asia and Africa—fried, roasted, or ground to be mixed with flour. The damage grasshoppers cause by eating green plants, however, by far outweighs their value as food.

Long-horned Grasshoppers,

in general, do comparatively little damage. The katydid, which lives in trees and shrubs, seldom occurs in numbers large enough to do noticeable harm. The green meadow grasshopper, common in most fields east of the Rockies, also is relatively harmless. The Mormon-cricket, however, has been one of the worst insect pests of the Great Plains ever since it threatened destruction to the crops of early settlers in Utah, (Despite its name, this insect is a grasshopper, not a cricket.)

Which Grasshopper is a Thief?

Some farmers consider the Mormon cricket to be a thief. That’s because this cricket steals feed from grazing lands in the western United States.

The Mormon cricket is not really a cricket. It’s actually a long-horned grasshopper. But it does look like a field cricket. Both insects can be large and black. Both have long feelers. So how can you tell them apart? A Mormon cricket’s wings are much smaller than a field cricket’s wings. Because their wings are so small, Mormon crickets can’t fly.

Mormon crickets seem to prefer the flower and seed parts of a plant. These are the same parts that cattle, sheep, and horses graze on. After Mormon crickets sweep through an area, little is left for farm animals to eat.

Short-horned Grasshoppers

Locusts are among the most destructive of all insect pests. Swarms of desert locusts were among the plagues of the Biblical Egyptians, and they still plague farmers throughout Asia and Africa. Their threat is so great that regional and international organizations monitor desert locust populations and launch control measures when necessary.

Locusts are particularly destructive in hot, dry regions when a sudden increase in their numbers, combined with food shortage, forces them to migrate. They migrate in huge swarms, devouring virtually every green plant in their path.

In the United States locusts are especially destructive on the Great Plains. Ninety per cent or more of the damage done by locusts is caused by five species: the lesser migratory grasshopper, the differential grasshopper, the two-striped grasshopper, the red-legged grasshopper, and the clear-winged grasshopper.

Locusts are most effectively controlled by pesticides spread by aircraft.

Who Is That Brightly Colored ‘Hopper?

It’s a “monkey ’hopper,” of course! The monkey grasshopper, which lives in tropical rain forests, is famous for its beautiful colors. The monkey ’hopper’s head seems to shine and there are many different colors on its abdomen!

There are over 1,000 different kinds of monkey grasshoppers. Some are mostly green, and these blend in with the colors of their rain forest homes.

Monkey grasshoppers have very short antennae and very long hind legs. Their hind legs are so long that when a monkey ’hopper sits on a leaf, its legs often splay, or spread out, to the sides.

What Preys on Grasshoppers?

Spiders prey on grasshoppers. So do insects such as ants and mantids. Birds, monkeys, and snakes also make meals out of grasshoppers. And so do chameleons.

A grasshopper’s eggs aren’t safe either. Many insects enjoy eating grasshopper eggs. Young beetles will often move into an egg pod and stay there until they’ve eaten all the eggs. Some adult insects lay their own eggs inside a grasshopper’s pod. When the babies of these insects are born, they feed on the grasshopper eggs.

How Do Grasshoppers Protect Themselves?

Grasshoppers have several ways to protect themselves. One way is by leaping. With their leaps, they can often jump away from their enemies. The grasshoppers simply leap up and fly away.

A grasshopper’s coloring may also help to protect it. Some grasshoppers blend right in with their surroundings. For example, grasshoppers that live near green plants are often green.

Other grasshoppers have a different approach. Instead of blending in, they really stand out. Often, brightly colored grasshoppers are poisonous. A grasshopper’s bright colors warn enemies to stay away.

It may seem rude, but grasshoppers also spit to protect themselves. When a grasshopper is handled, it spits out a brown liquid. This foul stuff helps keep enemies away. A grasshopper may also use its strong jaws to bite an enemy.

What Happens When Grasshoppers Swarm?

Grasshoppers usually live alone. But every so often, grasshoppers swarm, or form a large group.

Scientists aren’t sure why grasshoppers swarm. They often swarm after many females have laid their eggs very close together. When the eggs hatch, there are nymphs leaping all over the place! For some reason, these nymphs often stay together. They begin to move about as one. Soon they become adults and form a flying swarm.

Sometimes swarms of short-horned grasshoppers migrate, or travel long distances. Short-horned grasshoppers that migrate are known as migratory locusts. These locusts may travel 25 to 50 miles (40 to 80 kilometers) a day. They may fly hundreds of miles before they are finished.

How Big Can a Locust Swarm Get?

Imagine billions and billions of insects flying overhead. That’s how big a swarm of migratory locusts can be! The swarm can become so thick that it fills the sky and blocks out sunlight. The swarm can extend for thousands of miles.

Eventually the locusts in a swarm do land. Then they eat just about everything in sight. They mow through entire fields of crops.

In the past, swarms of locusts have formed in almost every part of the world. There have been large swarms in Africa, Australia, Europe, and the western United States. Passing through a swarm by car or plane can be dangerous.

Grasshoppers belong to the order of straightwinged insects, Orthoptera.

Long-horned grasshoppers belong to the family Tettigoniidae. The fork-tailed bush katydid is Scudderia furcata; meadow grasshopper, Orchelimum vulgare; Mormon cricket, Anabrus simplex.

Short-horned grasshoppers belong to the family Acrididae. The desert locust is Schistocerca gregaria; the lesser migratory grasshopper is Melanoplus mexicanus; differential, M. differentialis; two-striped, M. bivittatus; red-legged, M. femurrubrum; clear-winged, Camnula pellucida.