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The grasshopper is often hard to see because it blends in with its surroundings. Some are striped or spotted, and tropical species are often brightly colored. There are 10,000 different species of grasshopper throughout the world. Often confused with their close relatives, the crickets, grasshoppers can be identified by their thick antennae which are always shorter than their bodies.
Habitat: Grasshoppers are found throughout the vegetated areas of the world. But they are not restricted to grasslands as their name would suggest. Some grasshopper species live in desert habitats, but the most attractive and brightly colored species are found in tropical rainforests. Many grasshopper species are wingless and must hop or walk to get around. But those that do have wings are strong fliers. Locusts, a winged variety, swarm in huge numbers, destroying all vegetation in their path.
Food and Feeding: Grasshoppers feed on the leaves and flowers of plants. They chew them with their powerful jaws, called mandibles, which move side to side. A relatively few species feed mainly or solely on grass, but most grasshoppers feed on an enormous variety of herbs, shrubs, and trees. Some even feed on dung. Some of the vegetation eaten by grasshoppers contains toxic or unpleasant tasting chemicals. Rather than causing ill effects in the grasshoppers, the chemicals are absorbed into their systems and used as a means of defense that repels would be predators by producing an unpleasant taste.
Breeding: The male grasshopper perches on the female’s back when mating, which can last several hours. The female immediately lays her eggs in the soil. Her abdomen is highly flexible and can be extended like a telescope to more than double its normal length, allowing her to deposit the eggs as deep in the soil as possible. The eggs are wrapped in a spongy material, known as an ootheca. In spite of this protection, the eggs may be detected and preyed on by a variety of parasites, which lay their own eggs inside the grasshoppers’ eggs. When grasshoppers first hatch, they resemble tiny worms. They soon molt to become nymphs. Several more molts then follow, and the nymphs grow larger as each skin is cast off and they become fully mature. Wings do not develop fully until this adult stage.
Defenses: Many grasshoppers have brilliant, contrasting colors that serve as warnings to would be predators. These grasshoppers produce an awful tasting foam when they are bothered. Other species, which do not have such defenses, often camouflage themselves to blend in with an inedible part of their surroundings, such as stones, twigs, or leaves. Many European grasshopper species are sandy colored to blend in with their dull environments, but when disturbed or threatened they burst into flight, briefly exposing bright red or blue wings that disappear as soon as they land. This kind of “flash coloration” is meant to confuse predators.
Length: From ½ -8 in.
Coloration: Varies with species.
Wings: Some have no wings. Winged forms have 2 pairs.
Mating season: Year round in the tropics; summer elsewhere.
No. of eggs: 3-100
Hatching time: Depends on temperature and rainfall, but can be many months.
Diet: Mainly green leaves of plants and grasses.
Sound production: By rubbing back legs against wings.
Related Species: Various species of cricket.
Distribution: Found widely throughout vegetated areas worldwide as well as in more arid regions.
Conervation: Species are in danger only in areas where loss of habitat is occurring, such as in tropical rainforests. Elsewhere, grasshoppers have survived determined attempts at extermination by man.
Features of the Grasshopper: A characteristic feature of the grasshopper is its powerful and extremely elongated back legs, which enable it to hop or jump from place to place. Although all grasshoppers have such legs, not all use them to hop. Antennae can be short and thick or long and threadlike.
Special Adaptations: The grasshopper produces its “song,” or stridulation, by rubbing the prominent veins of its rear legs against a corresponding ridge of veins on its forewings. Some females can stridulate, but it is mostly a male sound, used to establish and maintain territory and to attract females with whom to mate.
Did You Know:
The song of every species of grasshopper is different, and females can recognize the sound of males of their own species. It is also possible for people to identify different species in this way.
Some species of grasshopper can cover up to twenty times their body length in a single leap.
One of the world’s largest grasshoppers, Costa Rica’s Tropidacris cristatus, was once mistaken for a bird and shot by an ornithologist, who was collecting skins for a natural history museum.
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