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magazine / mj02

May/June 2002 issue


FEATURE

Friend or foe? | It’s a bug’s life | Grasshopper facts | Grasshopper anatomy
Grasshoppers on film | Nature’s symphony | Literary hoppers | Archives


Fascinating grasshopper facts

Did you know?

1. Grasshoppers can sometimes benefit farmers. Turnbull’s grasshopper (Aeoloplides turnbulli), a species found on the Prairies, feeds on plants we consider weeds. It eats goldenrod, Russian thistle, kochia, lambsquarters and other well-known weeds. Another species, the two-striped grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittatus), eats plants that are toxic to cattle.


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2. Flies are some of the most important enemies of grasshoppers. In this photo, a robber fly has captured a white whiskers grasshopper (Ageneotettix deorum). Grasshoppers are also attacked and killed by maggots of parasitic flies.

3. Grasshoppers are also eaten by birds, coyotes, skunks, reptiles, rodents, mantids, beetles and spiders.

4. In some cases, a tropical fungus that does not harm birds might replace chemical insecticides to control grasshoppers. Young pheasant chicks that consumed fungus-infected grasshoppers stayed healthy, and showed no evidence of harm to their tissues or organs.

5. The "eardrums" of short-horned grasshoppers are clear, circular membranes (tympana) located on the abdomen, just behind where the hind legs attach to the body. The hearing organs of long-horned grasshoppers and crickets are found on the forelegs.

6. The mandibles of grasshoppers occur in pairs and are situated so that they chew from side to side, and are so tough they are not damaged when the grasshopper is eaten by a burrowing owl. For example, when an owl eats 50 grasshoppers, almost the only grasshopper remains found in the pellet (which is coughed up by the owl after grinding and digesting the food) will be a few legs, 100 mandibles, and some other smaller grasshopper mouthparts.

7. Some grasshoppers spit a brown, bitter liquid as a defensive behaviour when they are handled. This liquid is often called "tobacco juice."

8. Although it depends on the species and environment, when grasshoppers reproduce, the female typically uses her spade-like ovipositor at the end of her abdomen to dig a small depression in the soil. The eggs are then laid in this hole. After a few weeks of warmth in the soil, the larvae hatch.

9. Grasshoppers grow and mature through a process called metamorphosis. The egg hatches into a worm-like larva which moults to become the first in a series of nymphs. Nymphs look like miniature adults without wings and reproductive organs. They moult and pass through five or six stages on their way to becoming adults.

10. When grasshoppers moult, they swallow air to build up pressure in their bodies to split the old cuticle.

11. The moulted exoskeleton, like the skin shed by a snake, is a perfect replica of the grasshopper’s body. It includes the antennae and eyes, and even the insides of its mouth and anus!

12. Locusts are particular species in the grasshopper family which differ by having two phases, or forms of existence. They usually exist in the "solitary" phase, but under certain environmental circumstances they switch to the "gregarious" form and behaviour. It is in this latter condition that the insects swarm and can cause considerable damage to crops and wild vegetation. However, of the thousands of known grasshopper species, only a handful of them form swarms. None of these species is currently found in Canada. Recent locust outbreaks have been prominent in China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Australia and Africa.

13. Some grasshopper species sing, but different groups make noises in different ways. Grasshoppers belong to the taxonomic family Acrididae, with a number of subfamilies. Members of the subfamily Gomphocerinae (tooth-legged) make sounds using a row of pegs on the inner hind femur. The Oedipodinae (band-winged) grasshoppers clatter their wings together while in flight to make noise, while the Tettigoniidae (long-horned grasshoppers and katydids) rub their wings together. The subfamily Melanoplinae (spur-throated) does not sing.

14. Grasshoppers’ jumping abilities make them some of nature’s best athletes. If you could scale up the jump of a 5-centimetre-long grasshopper to a human, the human would be able to make a standing long jump of about 40 metres!

15. The special jumping legs of grasshoppers have another purpose – they sometimes drop-kick their frass (insect dung). Sometimes the frass remains stuck to the grasshopper after defecation, so it flicks its hindleg to get rid of it. This probably has adaptive value as a hygenic behaviour.

Photos courtesy of Dan Johnson.

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