Grasshopper Nymph – probably Melanoplus

2014 July 23

On July 18, 2013, the girls found this little grasshopper nymph that had gotten into the house. So, I perched it on a blossom of one of Sandy’s house orchids for photos.

This was no more than half-grown, there aren’t even any noticeable wing buds yet.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: identifying immature insects can be very difficult. A lot of the time, they don’t develop features that you can use to distinguish between species until they are adults[1]. It’s likely to be something in the Melanoplus genus, as these have nymphs with very similar build and sometimes similar coloring.

One feature of grasshopper nymphs is that their heads are much bigger relative to their bodies than in the adults. This is likely because they tend to eat the tougher plants (grasses and the like), and so they need strong chewing muscles to do it. So, the head has to be big to support the large muscles[2]. Eventually, the body catches up in size.

[1] It actually makes sense that immature forms would be less distinguishable to species. The definition of species is basically “a group of organisms capable of exchanging genetic information by breeding”, which means that a feature that makes it impossible (or at least unlikely) for some individuals to breed with other individuals, will tend to cause the development of two groups that will ultimately form separate species. So the difference only has to be there at breeding time in order to cause speciation.

[2] The “big head” thing applies to a lot of herbivorous animals. Mammals that eat grass (like cows, horses, and guinea pigs) have really big heads and massive chewing muscles relative to their body size, at least compared to carnivores and omnivorse like cats and monkeys. This breaks down a bit when you start looking at things like birds, crocodiles, and dinosaurs, but that’s partly because they moved their “chewing” function to their gizzards, and so their heads are larger or smaller for other reasons, independent of how hard their food is to chew.

2 Responses
  1. Katbird permalink
    July 23, 2014

    It’s still cute as heck whatever it is. Very interesting information as always with your great photos.

  2. July 24, 2014

    I’m with you, Katbird. It has a childish look to it.

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