Green-Striped Grasshopper

2010 May 22

As it turns out, Aesop was wrong[1]

Up until this year, I had been under the impression that grasshoppers all laid their eggs and died in the fall, like the fable says, and the eggs didn’t hatch out until spring. What a fool I was. Because on May 2[2], I found this fully-winged adult grasshopper jumping around in our lawn.

Blends in very well with a mixture of dead grass and green grass, doesn’t it?

Granted, most grasshoppers do overwinter as eggs, but there are some that just have to be different, and this is one of them. Based on the timing, I believe is a female Green-Striped Grasshopper, Chortophagia viridifasciata [3]. I base her femaleness on the shape of the tip of her abdomen, and the fact that she had a lot of green markings – according to Orthoptera of Michigan, this species typically has brown males and green females.

Here’s a close-up of her head. That drop of brown liquid on the far side of her face is the “tobacco juice” that a lot of grasshoppers will spit onto you when you pick them up. It isn’t really tobacco juice, of course (where would a grasshopper in Michigan get tobacco?) but it is a defensive chemical of some sort. I expect it tastes pretty foul. While I don’t explicitly remember tasting it, it seems to me that at some point when I was very small I probably did, because I have the impression that it is extremely bitter.

There is no way that she overwintered as an egg, although she may have been a nearly fully-grown nymph. In fact, she is not the first grasshopper that we found this spring. Back in early March, Sam found this grasshopper nymph hopping around next to the house, where the snow had melted off first:

Identifying grasshopper nymphs isn’t very easy, since a lot of the distinguishing features of a given species don’t become obvious until they grow up. Still, given when we found it, it looks likely that this nymph is the same species as the adult.

Anyway, like other grasshoppers these are rather undiscriminating in their tastes, and will eat most plants. They evidently lay their eggs fairly early on, with the adults dying off around June. The nymphs then hatch out later on, get big enough to make it through the winter, and then wait it out until spring.

[1] Of course, as it turns out, in the original Greek version Aesop was talking about *cicadas* versus ants, not grasshoppers. The fable got changed to grasshoppers when it was translated into English, probably because most kids are much more familiar with grasshoppers. He was still wrong in that case, though, because adult cicadas die of old age shortly after mating and laying eggs, so they never get a *chance* to freeze or starve to death when winter rolls around.

[2] For reference, the last frost around here is generally right around the first of May, so it is still very early spring as far as the local insects and plants are concerned.

[3] As it turns out, this was the easiest grasshopper lookup I’ve had so far. The last grasshopper I had looked up in Orthoptera of Michigan was the Clear-Winged Grasshopper that I posted in January. The book is spiral-ring bound so that it lays flat when opened, and I had left it on the desk, open to that page. When I picked it up this time, the Green-Striped Grasshopper was on the very next page. Oh, I checked a bit more to be certain, but that was it, all right.

3 Responses
  1. Sandy H permalink
    May 22, 2010

    That adult you caught obviously hadn’t quite woken up yet from its winter sleep – look at how droopy its eyelids are.

  2. May 23, 2010

    You would think that popping out as an adult in the Spring would be a competitive advantage over other grasshopper species since you’d be the first to the new, green shoots.

  3. May 23, 2010

    KT: True enough. The downside of overwintering as a near-adult is evidently that it is easier to frost-proof oneself as an egg buried in the ground, than as a hatched-out nymph on the surface. So, some go for overwintering as an egg (giving them good overwintering success but lower-quality food by the time egg-laying time comes around), while others overwinter partially grown (giving them good-quality food to eat for final growth and laying eggs, but with a higher winter mortality). Basically, organisms gradually adapt to take advantage of underexploited niches, until every available niche gets filled.

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