Two-Striped Grasshopper

2008 October 25

Getting by with a little help from my friends.

We have something a bit different this week, a most excellent picture of a grasshopper:

What is different about this? Well, while it is in fact a local grasshopper specimen that was found near our property, this is the first case where I didn’t take the picture. There are two reasons for this:

1 . Even though we’ve got grasshoppers like this one all over the place, I’ve never managed to get a picture of one. They jump, you see.

2. Our friend Michelle, who took the picture, is a much better photographer than I am. She not only actually knows how to use her equipment properly, she is also much better at creeping up on small critters in their natural habitat. For other examples of this, check out her gallery of prints available for purchase, or her 2009 Calendar.

Michelle took this picture up on Whealkate Bluff[1], a very substantial hill just a bit over a mile to the southwest of our place. After going through “Orthoptera of Michigan”, I think it looks like the Two-Striped Grasshopper, Melanoplus bivittatus. Given that it’s a hefty specimen and the abdomen is longer than the wings, I’m inclined to think it is female, since the females are larger than the males. There are a number of good pictures on Bug Guide, but not too much description, so browsing around . . . ah, here we go:

The twostriped grasshopper is a major crop pest causing much damage to small grains, alfalfa, and corn. During outbreaks, it may completely destroy crops. A population of 10 adults per square yard in a corn field will defoliate the crop.

Hoo, boy.

It goes on from there. It sounds like these guys are the next best thing to locusts, and if our conditions around here were a bit different we’d be looking at periodic devastating plagues of them. Luckily, it looks like they only really get nasty in agricultural areas and in hot weather. They lay eggs in soft soil around the margins of fields, where they overwinter. When they hatch out in the spring, hundreds of the nymphs grow up eating weeds that grow in profusion in the hedgerows bordering fields. Then, once they get big and the temperatures get above about 75 F, they move out . . . and it’s goodby, crops. They are found all over most of North America (except for the far south and the arctic regions), and overall seem to be pretty successful. They eat almost any plant, so no crops are really safe from them. I think we are mostly saved by the fact that our summers don’t get very hot, so their migratory behavior evidently doesn’t get triggered.

The fact that they make plagues suggests that they are one of the kinds that are numerous enough to collect for food. I’ve seen a couple of amusing methods suggested for catching large numbers of grasshoppers like this one. One is for two people to take opposite ends of a big, wooly blanket and run through a field with it, then pick off the hoppers that get caught in the wool. Another is to find a big field, dig a pit about 4 feet deep in it, then have a bunch of people start at the edges of the field and spiral in towards the pit . This drives the hoppers in, until you end up with a pit filled with grasshoppers that you just kind of shovel into bags. Then it’s just a question of pulling off the long hind legs (which can get caught in your throat because of the spines), and preparing using your favorite recipe[2].

[1] Or “Brain Hill“, as some of us call it. It’s very high (at one point, it was evidently believed to be the highest point in the state, at least until Mt. Curwood and Mt. Arvon were surveyed), and has one of the more excellent views in the area. And it is surprisingly poorly-known locally.

[2] No, I don’t have a favorite recipe. We haven’t got around to trying to catch enough for human consumption yet[3]. Although our tarantula seems to like them.

[3] Locusts are kosher[4], by the way. Probably because, in the Middle East, there’s nothing much left to eat after the locust swarms come through. So, in the bad old days it was pretty much eat the locusts that just ate your crops, or starve. They probably keep pretty well, come to think of it. They’d dry up nice in the middle eastern sun.

[4] Or, at any rate, some locusts are kosher. There is evidently a problem, though: while several kinds of locust are specifically listed as being allowable food in Leviticus, they are only identified by their common names from several thousand years ago. And now, nobody is quite certain which actual locust species are being referred to. Since all insects other than those few locusts are emphatically not kosher, the general consensus among people who care about such things is that locusts should not be eaten. The curse of common names strikes again.

5 Responses
  1. October 26, 2008

    Imagine yourself a farmer in the 1800s. You’d be coming up with every conceivable way of killing off these pests. When my father was a boy, growing up in the farm country of Wisconsin, he was paid 5 cents for every pair of gopher ears he brought in. He became quite the little gopher hunter.

  2. October 26, 2008

    Thanks for posting that link to Michelle’s site. It’s wonderful. I’ll send that link to my 16 year old son who wants to pursue a career in film. I don’t think that’s a great career choice and Michelle shows how you can mix a beloved hobby with a paying career with a future. Fantastic.

  3. Michelle permalink
    October 26, 2008

    Thanks for checking out my site K T Cat, and thanks for passing it along.

  4. November 9, 2008

    Grasshoppers apparently go well with juneberries, which you should have somewhere nearby – I snagged a recipe in my annual juneberry roundup

    a find from The Food Insects Newsletter v7n3

    describing the “Mormon Cricket” Anabrus simplex and the harvest method involving a series of trenches and fire to drive the bugs in the right direction. The recipe runs something like this:

    “Edwin Bryant15 (circa 1848) provided one of the few assessments of grasshopper palatability by a white. following an encounter with Utah Indians, an occasion when three women appeared, “bringing baskets containing a substance, which, upon examination, we ascertained to be service-berries, crushed to a jam and mixed with pulverized grasshoppers. This composition being dried in the sun until it becomes hard, is what may be called the ‘fruitcake’ of these poor children of the desert.”

  5. November 10, 2008

    Hmm. Yes, we do have juneberries nearby, there are a whole bunch of them just out back. I’ll have to give this a try. . . And thanks for the link to the Food Insects Newsletter site.

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