Back to Nature (Published on - Nov. 11, 2005)
A garden visitor so colorful and bright
Photo by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
The obscure birdwing grasshopper catches a sunbeam and warms the dew upon her back.
We had a visitor to the garden. She was holding on fast to a bright red stalk of flowers. My first thoughts were National Geographic style images of mass infestation and of a once lush landscape that quickly turns into a devastating, lifeless, leafless brown. Biblical visions of Sunday school lessons tweaked my interest over this uninvited guest.

I took a closer look while wondering, are you going to eat my garden? Are you going to destroy the reds, yellows and blues and turn them lifeless brown?

She seemed innocent enough. There was no evidence of destruction nearby. She was just catching a sunbeam, warming the dew upon her back.

Now if I was an old farmer like my father and uncles she would have quickly met with her demise, but to a nature writer she caught my eye. I decided as long as she was living in peace with me, I would live in peace with her. The identity of my unusual guest was later discovered or (for lack of a positive ID) my best guess is: Schistocerca obscura (Fabricius) or more familiarly known as the obscure birdwing grasshopper.

Grasshoppers are found throughout North America. Although we commonly associate all species of grasshoppers with massive damage, this is a misconception. Out of more than 600 species of grasshoppers occurring in the United States, the differential, twostriped, and redlegged grasshoppers are among the most troublesome species that forage.

This problem is almost indigenous to the Midwest. This group of grasshoppers destroys at least $80 million worth of forage crops per year in this country. According to North Carolina Extension Office statistics: An infestation of seven or eight adult grasshoppers per square meter consumes as much forage on a four hectare lot as one cow!

But NCE noted that most grasshopper populations in other areas do not warrant control unless there are populations of five medium to large grasshoppers or eight small grasshoppers found on pasture crops.

Many grasshopper species overwinter their eggs in the soil. The eggs hatch in April, May or June. These nymphs feed and grow from 35 to 50 days molting five to six times during this period. Mature grasshoppers mate and then feed on crop plants.

The grasshopper is quite a lovely insect presenting in many bright colors and patterns. Some have patterned wings, some have stripes. Their bright colors warn predators that they taste terrible. If we didn’t associate this insect with mass devastation and human hunger, we might reconsider it to be among those beauty pageant insects such as, butterflies and dragonflies.

Considering out of 600 species of grasshoppers there are only a couple of species that are devastatingly destructive, perhaps we should put the lowly grasshopper on our “watch” list.

There is a wonderful book, “Grasshoppers of Florida (Invertebrates of Florida),” by John L. Capinera, Clay W. Scherer, Jason M. Squitier. This book will certainly intrigue you, as well, possibly spawn a brand new hobby.

First we had bird watching, then came butterfly watching and dragonfly watching. How about grasshopper watching? My new visitor is welcome. Life is always full of new discoveries when back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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