Grasshopper Mystery Solved

Posted on June 28, 2011


Remember those little, black grasshoppers I wrote about a while back?

Tiny grasshopper party

Well, they have been growing and changing!  In the photo below you can see a little more of their distinct markings that include a single yellow stripe down their back, along with fine red lines that accent their head and front legs (not visible in photo) while being predominantly black.

In gathering information about these grasshoppers, I thought it was coincidental and funny that these little guys have been described as “gregarious” which validated my feeling that they were having a little grasshopper party.  At this stage in their life they are called nymphs.  As nymphs, they tend to hang out in groups, and you will see them in clusters in your yard.  Here they are being “gregarious” on a sweet william plant

You have to look closely....See all those black specks and the little antennae in the upper left?

As they get older, they become larger in size and develop more distinct colors.

I'm getting bigger...

However, suddenly you will start to see very large, much more colorful grasshoppers in your yard, and will then notice that the small black ones are simply not around any more.  Where did they go? And who are these robust, colorful ones?  Well, as it turns out they are the same species.  They are called Romalea Microptera (Beauvois) aka Eastern Lubber grasshoppers. Well hello!

My how you’ve changed!  Turns out their bright red, orange and yellow colors indicate that they are poisonous to predators, and will hiss and secrete a bad-smelling foam if provoked.  But because of their toxicity, they don’t have to worry much about the quick get away, so nature made them bumbly critters – slow moving and awkward jumpers.  In fact, I’ve noticed they usually don’t stick the landing when they do jump.  They tend to take a second to pull themselves back together again before taking another leap. Although they have wings, they are flightless, and their wings are really instruments of sound. By rubbing their small, brightly colored wings together, they create their cricket-like songs. I love those sounds.  They are part of the insect symphony sounds of summer time.

I don’t know how they do it, but they can swarm areas of vegetation, even though they do not fly.  I have noticed that once they reach adulthood, they don’t seem to socialize like they used to as nymphs – or  rather, I don’t find them in large groups.  I usually find a single individual chowing down on some yummy leafy plant matter.  They especially like broad leafed plants like amaryllis.  I caught this guy snacking on one before I took his/her photo…you can see an area on the large leaf that has been munched on.

These critters fascinate me.  It’s fun to see them as small nymphs just coming into the world and being so sociable.  And then as adults, they grow to be so big and colorful. Their size is impressive.  The way they fumble around makes them endearing characters to me.  I just wish I could watch them as they rub their wings together and play their songs.