Carolina Grasshopper

2009 September 11

Sam caught this grasshopper in the yard, close to the house. She then brought it inside where she kept picking it up, letting it jump out of her hands, and then laughing uproariously as it flew partway across the room. Then, after it was tired enough that it didn’t bother jumping anymore, she built a “train” out of MegaBlocks, and put the grasshopper onto the first block as the engineer:

It turned out that the MegaBlock was actually a fairly good place for it to sit for photographs. It was a pretty good sized grasshopper, a bit over an inch long.



After looking it up in “Orthoptera of Michigan”, I decided it was most likely the Carolina Grasshopper, Dissosteira carolina. It turns out that the key identification feature is that when they fly, the hindwings are flat black with a yellow border. They are the only grasshoppers in Michigan with this wing coloration, and apparently this is also true for most of North America. As it turns out, quite often the wing coloration is the only thing you get a chance to see. When a person approaches them, they tend to hold tight on the ground, depending on their camouflage to hide them, until the last possible moment. Then they suddenly leap into the air, and fly strongly for maybe 10 or 20 feet, giving a good chance to see the black wings with yellow borders.

Now that I know how to identify them, I realize they are probably our single most common species of large grasshopper. I had thought that there were several different species, because we evidently have a couple of different color phases around here. Some of them are mottled gray like this one, while others are more of a reddish brown color[1], but they all have the same wing coloration. This time of year, when I walk along the driveway or through the lawn I flush one out about every ten feet or so.

These grasshoppers are normally pretty hard to catch, because you don’t see them until they fly, and then they fly far enough away that when they land, their camouflage makes them really hard to spot again. I think the only reason that Sam was able to catch this one, was that it had damaged one of its wings somehow and wasn’t able to fly properly anymore.

They are pretty strong fliers for grasshoppers, and when the males are looking for mates they will often either hover or fly slowly in circles, making a pretty loud “Clack! Clack! Clack! Clack!” noise with their wings. This is referred to as “crepitation”. I’ve watched them hover, clacking madly, for up to a minute or so. Sometimes they also clack when they fly after being flushed up from the driveway or grass[2]. The various insect guides I have read say that they also sing, but fairly quietly.

They eat grasses, certain broadleaf plants, and horsetails, of all things. Not much eats horsetails, they are loaded with silica and are darned near inedible by most things. But that evidently doesn’t stop the grasshoppers.

[1] They can apparently be pink sometimes, although this is probably pretty rare. The coloration of the one I have here is extremely good camouflage on bare dirt and gravel. Since they tend to hang out on bare dirt and gravel, that makes a lot of sense.

[2] This can be pretty startling. Here you are walking along, minding your own business, when suddenly something at your feet goes CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK as this big grasshopper appears seemingly out of nowhere. If they weren’t so common that you get accustomed to them, it would be heart palpitations time.

4 Responses
  1. September 12, 2009

    Popping over here, the first thing I see is a grasshopper perched on Duplos. I laughed.

    What was most interesting to me about the little guy is that even his eyes are camoflaged. That must have an effect on his vision.

  2. September 12, 2009

    I love backyard biology projects – nature scavenger hunts are so much fun.

  3. September 18, 2009

    Just wanted to let you know – the scuttlebutt going around the blogosphere is that OSHA is about to file a lawsuit against you. That grasshopper isn’t rated to be an engineer for a train that size.


  4. meagan permalink
    September 29, 2009

    you know….. it would help _A LOT_ whenteachers assigned projects that didn’t envolve finding out the TOP three species of grasshoppers in michigan… -Petoskey Public Highschool freshmen. :/

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