Wild Files: It’s our Nature

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On March 17, several people worldwide will don different shades of green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Let’s shine a light on grasshoppers, a group of insects that belong to the suborder Caelifera. These fascinating insects sport hues of green throughout the year, as well as shades of brown and yellow. This camouflage is vital for their survival. According to scientists who study Acridology (study of grasshoppers) there are over 11,000 species of grasshoppers across the globe. 

Sixty of those species spring through the grasses of the unceded territories of the Secwépemc, and Ktunaxa Peoples, and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples of British Columbia (B.C.).  Grasshoppers are medium- to large-sized insects, with most adult species ranging from one to seven centimetres (cm) in length. Like most insects, they are comprised of a head, thorax, and abdomen. The world’s largest grasshopper is the hedge grasshopper, native to Australia, which are typically nine cm in length.

The ancestors of the modern-day grasshoppers date back around 250 million years to the early Triassic period, when the first reptiles roamed the earth. The typical lifespan of these plant-eating insects is one year. Fun fact: grasshoppers and locusts are the same creature, but the latter’s name has a bad rep due to the plaguing stories of them in biblical times. Truth be told, some species have been known to destroy crops over wide areas. In 1954 a swarm destroyed over 200 square kilometres (km) of wild and cultivated plants in Kenya.

While an adage suggests that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, for grasshoppers it’s their ears. A grasshopper’s ears or rather, their auditory organ called a tympanal organ, are located on either side of their first abdominal segment tucked under their wings. These wings allow them to fly at altitudes of 280 metres (m). Grasshoppers have membranes that respond to sound waves and their simple eardrum which allows them to hear all nearby sounds.

Their most impressive feature is their strong hind legs which function like miniature catapults allowing them to escape predators including birds, mice, gophers and badgers. Grasshoppers’ hind legs allow them to jump 20 times their body length and, depending on the species, can range anywhere from 20 to 180 cm. When a grasshopper is ready to leap it relaxes its hind leg muscles, allowing them to release their energy, springing them through the air at 10 feet per second.

There’s the Rub

When it comes to aspiring musicians of the insect world grasshoppers have a leg up over the rest. Simply by rubbing their hind leg up against their forewing, grasshoppers make music called stridulating. Special pegs on the inside of their hind legs act as percussion. Each species of grasshopper creates its own unique rhythm which is crucial in courting, enabling males and females to find each other. They also make snapping melodies with their wings as they fly.

The Cloud

A group of grasshoppers is called either a swarm or a cloud. Females are slightly larger than males and mating occurs as summer changes to autumn. The male will mount the female and deposit a package of sperm called a spermatophore. Mating can last anywhere from 45 minutes to just over a day. Females can lay over 300 eggs in one cluster. It is these clusters that become the following summer’s cloud of grasshoppers. The life stage of grasshoppers goes from egg to nymph, to adulthood. Newly-hatched grasshoppers (nymphs) resemble adult grasshoppers but are born wingless.

Jiminy Crickets

Crickets and grasshoppers are cousins with two main differences. Crickets have longer antennae than grasshoppers, and while grasshoppers make music by rubbing their leg on their forewing, crickets do so by rubbing their wings together. 

Weather Whisperers

In some Indigenous cultures it was said that grasshoppers could not only predict but also had power over the weather and changes in it.  Grasshoppers symbolize many things such as abundance, intuition, achievement, and just in time to celebrate the Irish inspired St. Patrick’s Day, they also represent good luck and fortune.