St. Urho’s Day Bonus – Drowned Grasshoppers

2012 March 16

There is a legend that there is a legend [1] that St. Urho once saved the Finnish grape crop[2] by killing a plague of grasshoppers by either striking them dead or driving them into the sea. He is reputed to have attacked them with his pitchfork while crying out, “”Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” which translates literally to “Grasshopper, Grasshopper, go from here to the Devil!” (which has essentially the same meaning as “Grasshopper, Grasshopper, go to Hell!).

(image from

So, since today (March 16) is St. Urho’s Day, I thought it would be a good time to present to you a special bonus post with . . . some drowned grasshoppers![3]

Like a lot of kids, ours have a wading pool that they like to play in on hot summer days. Since the water that comes out of our well is really cold (about 45 degrees F, or 7 deg. C), they like to let the filled pool stand in the sun and warm up for some hours before they hop in. Which gives grasshoppers a lot of opportunity to accidentally hop in, too. And grasshoppers can’t swim worth beans, so they drown. Which certainly makes them easy to catch.

These were fished out of the wading pool on August 12, 2010. They weren’t quite drowned, they were basically lying there gasping and trying to get their breath back. I think the first one is a species I’ve shown before, the Clear-Winged Grasshopper, Camnula pellucida.

The second one is something different, though, with a more reddish-brown coloration and opaque wings.

I really should have spread out the wings so I could see what the hindwings looked like. If they were black with yellow trim, then this is the red color morph of a species I’ve posted before, the Carolina Grasshopper Dissosteira carolina.

But, if its hindwings were yellow with black trim (opposite color order), then it’s probably one of the three Spharagemon species found in northern Michigan.

Anyway, grasshoppers drowning in our pool relates to a method that I once saw described for catching large quantities of grasshoppers (to eat, of course!): First, you find a grassy field or meadow, and dig a hole in the middle of it (or, in this case, plunk down a wading pool with maybe an inch of water in the bottom) to act as a trap. Then, you have several people go to the edges of the field, and everybody starts circling around and spiraling slowly towards the trap in the center. This flushes out the grasshoppers, who generally end up flying towards the middle of the field. By the time everybody reaches the middle, most of the grasshoppers are in the trap, and you can just shovel them out to prepare in any way that tickles your fancy.

[1] That’s not a typo. The legend is itself a legend. As in, the idea that there is a “traditional” medieval story about the fictitious St. Urho is itself a story created in the 1950s. Making it the sort of “meta-story” that people like Douglas Hofstadter might find amusing.

[2] I am as surprised as anyone to find that, currently, there actually are some grape vineyards in extreme southwestern Finland. In general, the climate of Finland is not what I would call particularly conducive to growing grapes. But, some varieties have been developed in the last few decades that can actually handle very cold temperatures and really short growing seasons. We have a couple of such grapevines ourselves that seem to be doing OK in our Finland-like climate. Nevertheless, I have to consider the medieval Finnish vineyards that St. Urho supposedly saved to be as fictitious as St. Urho himself. The Finnish grasshoppers certainly appear to be real enough, though.

[3] Since grasshoppers are known for leaping, I thought about running them on Leap Day. But for these, their leaping days are long past, so today seemed more appropriate (and I went with the jumping spider on Feb. 29 instead). Anyway, since tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day[4], come back again tomorrow at our regularly-scheduled time for something green!

[4] The reason given for creating St. Urho[5] was so that the Finns who make up a big slug of the population in northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and northern Michigan could have their own Saint’s Day one day before the Irish did. That way, they could get a head start on the beer drinking before their Irish neighbors finished it all off. Although, given that St. Urho supposedly saved the grape crop, one would think that they’d be drinking wine. If he’s going to be an excuse for beer drinking, it would have made more sense to have him chase grasshoppers out of the wheat, barley, or rye crop, I think.

[5] St. Urho is also somewhat popular among entomologists (particularly Bug Girl), because he joins the select ranks of the few saints that have a connection to insects or other small arthropods. The others I can find are:

  • St. Ambrose and St. Bernard, who are patron saints of bees and beekeepers, evidently more because of their “honeyed tongues” (that is, their great persuasive abilities), rather than because they actually had anything to do with keeping bees. Personally, I think that Brother Adam would make a much better patron saint of beekeeping, except for the niggling detail that as far as I know, he isn’t considered a candidate for sainthood;
  • St. Felix, who is patron saint of spiders (because spiders once saved his life – long story);
  • St. Mawes, St. Dominic, and St. Finnian, who are patron saints of insect and vermin removal;
  • St. Macarius the Younger, patron saint of those who are tormented by mosquitoes and biting flies (because he spent six months naked in a miserable, bug-infested swamp, to the point where when he came out, he was so disfigured by insect bites that people only recognized him from his voice); and
  • St. Gratius, patron saint of those who are afraid of insects.
  • [later addition] Oh, wait, I forgot one! John the Baptist was known for subsisting on “locusts and honey”, (it says so right there in Matthew 3:4). Although I gather there is some controversy as to whether the particular word used by Matthew really meant “locusts” or something non-insectoid. Personally, I think this “controversy” is probably just something stirred up by people who get squicked out by the idea of eating insects. I say he ate locusts dipped in honey, and liked them. And good for him.
2 Responses
  1. March 18, 2012

    The grasshoppers are not ending up in that wading pool by accident. Check out this wikipedia article ( about the parasitic worm that drives them to drown themselves. Apparently the worms are pretty common. We ran across one in our garden a few years back. They look so much like round worms that we called MSU extension in a mild panic (we market garden so we didn’t want to be selling parasite laden veggies!) and they knew right away what we had. The grasshopper population has been much lower since the worms showed up.

  2. April 20, 2012

    I agree that some of them may be jumping in because of the worms (which we do have living around here), but a lot of them are just doing it by accident. When we walk through the grass at the height of grasshopper season, they jump in all directions at random. And when we are near the pool, that’s where some of them end up.

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