Ask the Contractor: Everything you wanted to know about grasshoppers
Thanks for your phone calls and e-mails about my fruit files gone wild column. I am so happy to know that I am not the only one that was made “buggy” by these critters. I received several questions about “we have grasshoppers” how do we get rid of them?
We know grasshoppers are occasional pests of ornamental landscapes and this is the season. They are hopping all over in large grass fields and along uncleared roadways and in urban fringe areas. Homeowners can minimize their impact through the use of Nolo Grasshopper Bait™, which is an EPA registered biological control for grasshoppers. Nolo Bait™ contains naturally occurring Nosema locustae spores. These spores are uniformly applied to flaky wheat bran at a rate of at least 1 billion spores per pound of bran which is the bait. The bran is consumed by the grasshoppers and they become infected with the spores. The progression and persistence of this organism provides long-term benefit to the landowner without environmental damage. Nolo Grasshopper Bait™ can be purchased at Olsen’s Grain stores.
Generally only one generation of grasshoppers is produced each year; however cool, dry weather during the spring months and the successive emergences of different grasshopper species can result in a seemingly endless procession of these insects throughout the summer and fall months. Grasshopper eggs are generally laid during the fall and late summer in rural, non-crop landscapes and in weedy areas. Eggs usually hatch the following spring, in June and July. The development of grasshopper nymphs to the adult stage requires 40 to 60 days or more and that timing is right on with all of the grasshoppers that I see while out walking.
We know that grasshoppers are both beloved characters in children’s stories and despised pests that plague our landscapes and are one of the insects we encounter nearly every day and yet we know very little about them.
- Grasshoppers and locusts are the same thing.
Mention grasshoppers, and many people recall pleasant childhood memories of trying to catch them in meadows or backyards. Say the word locusts, however, and most people think of historic plagues of pests, raining down on farm fields and eating every plant in sight. Truth be told, grasshoppers and locusts are one and the same. Yes, we have some species we’ve dubbed grasshoppers, and others we call locusts, but essentially we’re talking about the same jumping herbivores.
- Grasshoppers have ears on their bellies.
In grasshoppers, the auditory organs are in a rather unusual location – on the abdomen. On each side of the first abdominal segment, tucked under the wings, are membranes that vibrate in response to sound waves. This simple eardrum, called a tympana, allows the grasshopper to hear the songs of its fellow grasshoppers.
- Although grasshoppers can hear, they can’t distinguish pitches very well.
The grasshopper’s auditory organs are simple structures. They can detect differences in intensity and rhythm, but not pitch. The male grasshopper’s song isn’t particularly melodic, since females don’t care whether a fellow can carry a tune. Each species produces a characteristic rhythm that distinguishes its song from others, and enables courting males and females of a given species to find each other.
- Grasshoppers make music by stridulating or crepitating.
That sounds complicated, doesn’t it? Most grasshoppers stridulate, which simply means they rub their hind leg against their forewing. Special pegs on the inside of the hind leg act like a percussion instrument of sorts, when they come in contact with the thickened edge of the wing. The band-winged grasshoppers crepitate, or snap their wings loudly as they fly.
- Grasshoppers can fly.
Most grasshoppers are pretty strong flyers, and will make good use of their wings to escape predators. Their jumping ability just gives them a boost into the air.
- Grasshoppers jump by catapulting themselves into the air.
If you’ve ever tried to catch a grasshopper, you know how far they can jump to flee danger. If humans could jump the way grasshoppers do, we would easily leap the length of a football field or more. How do they jump so far? It’s all in those big, back legs. A grasshopper’s hind legs function like miniature catapults. When it wants to jump, the grasshopper contracts its large flexor muscles slowly, bending its hind legs at the knee joint. A special piece of cuticle within the knee acts as a spring, storing up all that potential energy. When the grasshopper is ready to jump, it relaxes the leg muscles, allowing the spring to release its energy and catapulting its body into the air.
- Grasshoppers cause billions of dollars in damage to food crops annually, worldwide.
A lone grasshopper doesn’t do much harm, although it eats about half its body weight in plants per day. But when locusts swarm, their combined feeding habits can completely defoliate a landscape.
- Grasshoppers provide an important source of protein to people in many parts of the world.
From what I’ve heard, grasshoppers are delicious. People have eaten locusts and grasshoppers for centuries. Even John the Baptist ate locusts and honey in the wilderness! In many areas of the world grasshoppers are a regular ingredient of the local diet.
- Grasshoppers existed long before dinosaurs.
The ancestors of our modern day grasshoppers evolved more than 200 million years ago, during the Triassic period, when the first reptiles appeared on Earth.
- Grasshoppers sometimes “spit” brown liquid to defend themselves.
If you’ve handled enough grasshoppers in your day, you’ve probably had a few spit brown liquid on you in protest. Scientists believe this behavior is a means of self-defense, and that the liquid helps them repel predators. Some people say grasshoppers spit “tobacco juice,” probably because grasshoppers have been associated with tobacco crops in the past. Rest assured, though, the grasshoppers aren’t using you for a spittoon.
Sandy Griffis is executive director of the Yavapai County Contractors Association. Email your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-778-0040.