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A.O. Kime Articles:

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Betrayal
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Identifying and Controlling Grasshoppers

picture of flying bug

General information plus a brief review of the four most destructive grasshoppers

There are roughly 10,000 species of grasshoppers identified worldwide, of these some 400 have been found in 17 western states although the number of species within each state varies. At any one time, only a few might pose a significant threat however… depending of their predominance. Any one state may have up to a hundred or more grasshoppers competing for that distinction. Kansas, for example, has 115 species.

In light of the number of species, the following information is of a generalized nature. Specific information and photographs of 60 selected species can be found on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website.

The differential and twostriped grasshoppers concerns most gardeners and vegetable growers and are noted for their unusually large size (1½ to 2") although the migratory and redlegged grasshoppers are also known to pose a threat depending on the region and other factors. It has been estimated that these four species alone cause 90% of the damage to cultivated crops... whereas 25 pose a danger to pastures and grasslands.

a typical grasshopper egg pod plus a few loose eggs

reverse arrow a typical grasshopper egg pod plus a few loose eggs

While there are some differences in the seasonal characteristics of grasshoppers, that is, the timing of the egg hatch and the time it takes to complete their growth development, all grasshoppers commonly have three life stages… it begins with the hatching from an egg, then they go through 5-6 nymph stages ultimately to become a winged adult (a process of development called an ‘incomplete metamorphosis’). The nymphs, like the adults, are active feeders and the stages of nymph development occur over a 35-50 day period. In addition, practically all grasshoppers over-winter underground in the egg stage. In the fall, a typical female will lay a cluster of 20-100 eggs at a time on 8-25 different occasions and each cluster is called a 'pod' (egg case). A grasshopper egg pod is pictured on the left. This pod is actually just soil particles surrounding the egg mass due to a glue-like secretion by the female. It apparently serves as a protective shield. These banana-shaped pods, about 1 inch long, are the result of eggs having been laid in the soil about ½ to 2" deep. The eggs will begin developing in the spring when temperatures reach 50-55° F… although, depending on the species, it could be anytime from early spring to early summer. Late summer hatches are 2nd generation hatches but not all grasshoppers have two generations within a single season.

Upon emerging from the egg, these first instar nymphs (and successive instar nymphs) will resemble adults except for being smaller. Their growth occurs in a series of episodes called molting, the shedding of skin whereupon after each incidence the grasshopper becomes bigger. Each progressive stage of nymph development is referred to as an 'instar' (i.e. 2nd instar grasshopper, 4th instar grasshopper). The final molting will result in a full-size adult with wings.

The activities of a grasshopper are determined by temperatures to a large extent and they can be active feeders even on warm nights. Adult grasshoppers are known for being able to adapt to all types of weather conditions to protect themselves. On hot days, they might remain in the shade and, for warmth, will seek shelter during the night. On cool mornings they might bask in the sunshine a few hours to warm up. It is the immature grasshoppers which are most vulnerable to weather, pesticides, predators and parasites… therefore grasshoppers can more easily be controlled before they become full-grown adults.

While grasshoppers are known to feed on just about any type of vegetation, they are also known as being somewhat particular and will target a certain type of plant among other plants. They are noted to have a preference for grass, which would include small grains such as wheat, barley and oats, but also have a tendency to attack legumes and vegetables, more specifically alfalfa, beans, corn, lettuce and potatoes. Grasshoppers can be found anytime during the spring and summer but are most numerous in the fall. Depending on their numbers, damage can be significant as entire plants can be stripped of vegetation. Grasshoppers prefer the younger plants, the most tender of leaves generally, but will also feed on stems, blossoms and fruit. Winged adults will migrate in search of a new food source when necessary. Grasshoppers have a season-long lifespan and will continue to feed until cold temperatures eventually kill them. Some species can produce a 2nd generation within a season which can pose a threat to fall-planted winter wheat.

Control measures should be undertaken when the grasshopper population reaches 8-14 per square yard in a crop… any more would be considered a severe infestation. The edges of the field (or garden) should also be observed and treated if the count reaches 20-40. No recommendations of pesticides are made here however due to the unknown variables and legal ramifications… consult with your local pesticide supplier, university extension agent or nursery.

The predators which prey on grasshoppers do so without regard to species, they include bats, blister beetles, ground beetles, parasitic flies, frogs, lizards, praying mantis, raccoons, rodents (chipmunks/squirrels), snakes and birds (crows, mockingbirds and sparrows). The younger grasshopper nymphs may also have to contend with ants, centipedes, crickets, dragonflies, spiders and yellow jackets. Parasitic flies and praying mantis (also referred to as praying mantid) can be purchased commercially. In lieu of an adequate number of predators, or in lieu of using pesticides, covering seedlings with netting or cheesecloth will protect them. Working the soil in the winter or early spring will expose any grasshopper eggs to the elements although they are generally known to lay their eggs in untilled ground. A dry winter could indicate a heavy infestation will occur the following spring since it is wet weather which reduces their survival rate. This is due to their susceptibility to fungal diseases which wet soil will harbor. In most years, both climatic conditions and natural occurring predators will reduce the populations of grasshoppers to non-threatening levels. Most plants can tolerate minor grasshopper feeding.

A.O. Kime - former Arizona and California agricultural Pest Control Advisor (1970-1992) and family farmer (1973-1998)

an adult diffferential grasshopper (clicking this image will take you to 

the USDA website for a larger picture and more infomation)

differential grasshopper

Melanoplus differentialis

Aside from grasses and small grains, the differential grasshopper is particularly noted for being a plant pest of alfalfa, corn, cotton, soybeans, vegetables (various), and deciduous fruit trees. It is a very large grasshopper (1½ - 2") and is more prominent between the rocky mountains and the Mississippi River. It has been noted as most injurious in the Great Plains, the upper Mississippi Valley and southern states. Typically, they'll move from one crop to another and often competes with the twostriped grasshopper for dominance. One generation per year. For further information and photographs, click the image (external USDA link).

Host weeds: ragweed, sunflowers and prickly lettuce (in lieu of these, likely any available weed)

Predators: (same for all grasshoppers) bats, blister beetles, ground beetles, parasitic flies, frogs, lizards, praying mantis, raccoons, rodents (chipmunks/squirrels), snakes and birds (crows, mockingbirds and sparrows). Preying on the younger grasshopper nymphs could also include ants, centipedes, crickets, dragonflies, spiders and yellow jackets.

an adult twostriped grasshopper (clicking this image will take you to the USDA website for a larger picture and more infomation)

twostriped grasshopper

Melanoplus bivittatus

Aside from grasses, the twostriped grasshopper is most associated with small grains, alfalfa and corn although in urban areas it is noted as a damaging pest of flowers and garden vegetables. It, like the differential grasshopper, is very large (1½ - 2") and is often equally as prominent. In Kentucky, however, they have been noted as being "little more than 1 inch long". They also feed on dry plant parts (litter) on the ground (somewhat unusual for a grasshopper). One generation per year. For further information and photographs, click the image (external USDA link).

Host weeds: mustards, ragweed, sunflower, sowthistle, kochia, prickly lettuce but most any weed growing on ditch banks and along roadsides and crop borders plus they will reside within wet meadows and tall prairie grass.

Predators: (same for all grasshoppers) bats, blister beetles, ground beetles, parasitic flies, frogs, lizards, praying mantis, raccoons, rodents (chipmunks/squirrels), snakes and birds (crows, mockingbirds and sparrows). Preying on the younger grasshopper nymphs could also include ants, centipedes, crickets, dragonflies, spiders and yellow jackets.

an adult migratory grasshopper (clicking this image will take you to the 

USDA website for a larger picture and more infomation)

migratory grasshopper

Melanoplus sanguinipes

The migratory grasshopper is known to commonly inhabit grasslands and meadows, but typically, it also poses a danger to croplands... whatever is available. It is considered, although certainly not unanimously, to be the most destructive of all grasshopper species. Aside from spawning its bad reputation, perhaps the damaging episodes (swarms) during the 1930s and 40s helped promote this belief. Whether it is the most damaging grasshopper is undoubtedly a regional matter. It is most noted for its damage to small grains and rangeland grasses... also fall-planted winter wheat is prone to damage from its 2nd generation hatch. For further information and photographs, click the image (external USDA link).

Host weeds: dandelions, downy brome, Kentucky bluegrass, mustard, pepperweed, ragweed and winter-planted barley and wheat (or volunteer barley and wheat).

Predators: (same for all grasshoppers) bats, blister beetles, ground beetles, parasitic flies, frogs, lizards, praying mantis, raccoons, rodents (chipmunks/squirrels), snakes and birds (crows, mockingbirds and sparrows). Preying on the younger grasshopper nymphs could also include ants, centipedes, crickets, dragonflies, spiders and yellow jackets.

an adult redlegged grasshopper (clicking this image will take you to the 

USDA website for a larger picture and more infomation)

Redlegged Grasshopper

Melanoplus femurrubrum

The redlegged grasshopper is a medium-sized grasshopper and the most prominent species in the eastern United States and Canada. Aside from being damaging to small grains, alfalfa, clover and soybeans, it is known to cause damage in corn, beans, beets, cabbage, potatoes and tobacco. Two generations can occur and a partial third in Florida. For further information and photographs, click the image (external USDA link).

Host weeds: legumes, dandelion, chicory, Canada goldenrod, kochia, ragweed and various grasses which would include ditch bank and roadside weeds.

Predators: (same for all grasshoppers) bats, blister beetles, ground beetles, parasitic flies, frogs, lizards, praying mantis, raccoons, rodents (chipmunks/squirrels), snakes and birds (crows, mockingbirds and sparrows). Preying on the younger grasshopper nymphs could also include ants, centipedes, crickets, dragonflies, spiders and yellow jackets.

Summary: In researching the differences in the above four (4) grasshopper species, there was a common reoccurring theme.... while a particular species of grasshopper may have host preferences, in lieu of those, it will attack most any crop. All grasshoppers, in other words, are opportunists. The effective difference is from the amount of damage caused and that, in turn, is due to their distribution and prevalent numbers. Any grasshopper, in sufficient numbers in a certain location, would likely cause an equal amount of damage as would any other grasshopper equally advantaged. The greatest difference is perhaps their over-wintering survival rates.

Credits: Clicking on any thumbnail image above will take you to the photograph source (another website). The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a thumbnail image is ‘fair use’ provided it contains a hyperlink to the webpage where the full-size photograph was obtained, Nonetheless, if any owner of the copyright objects to our usage, upon notification we will immediately withdraw the thumbnail image.

Last modified: 03/13/16