Do you have large patches of your garden plants that mysteriously go missing overnight? Did you check everywhere for caterpillars and frass (caterpillar poopies) to no avail? Can’t find the leaf-chomping culprit anywhere? It might be a grasshopper!
I don’t know about you, but the last month or two I’ve been finding some very large chunks missing from a number of my garden plants. At first I blamed caterpillars, as they are frequently a problem in my garden, but usually you can find caterpillars if you thoroughly search your plants. Caterpillars often leave behind a trail of little (or big depending on the size of your caterpillar) brownish pellets or turds – commonly referred to as “frass” in bug nerd community. However, when you search and search and find no caterpillars to blame the damage on, you may be facing a much trickier garden foe – the flighty grasshopper.
Now, I have found a number of different grasshoppers flitting and jumping around my yard (did you know grasshoppers frequently take short flights and often get confused with butterflies?!), but the one that is currently raising my ire is the Differential Grasshopper, Melanoplus differentialis (family Acrididae). Also known as the Herringbone Grasshopper, due to its distinctive black herringbone or chevron leg patterning, the Differential Grasshopper can be very destructive. It eats a wide variety of plants and grasses and there are scientific papers reporting that a single grasshopper of this species can completely defoliate a potted or landscape plant almost overnight. Since most of my plants do still have leaves on them, I guess I should consider myself lucky then, huh?
The Differential Grasshopper is found throughout much of North America, but it didn’t used to be. The Differential Grasshopper is native to South Korea and was only introduced into North America in 2018 (see distribution map here). That’s a lot of range expansion over just three years!
On the bright side, grasshoppers can be quite funny creatures to watch. They have very large eyes and can readily see predators (or photographers) coming at them. If you’ve ever tried to photograph them, you’ve probably observed them quickly scooching around to the other side of whatever they are holding onto, making sure to put something between you and them. Since they are herbivores (aka plant eaters) and not predators, being able to see things that might want to eat them is pretty important. Good for the grasshopper, not so good for the photographer. You move around to get a better shot – they scooch. You move again, they scooch again. A game of “peek-a-boo” if you will lol. It may take awhile to get them to stop scooching away from you….
Grasshoppers, including the Differential Grasshopper, aren’t completely defenseless though. Besides the powerful jumping capabilities they have, grasshoppers can also ‘spit’ (more like drooling in my opinion) tobacco when they get scared! Of course its not really tobacco (although it looks a lot like it), it’s actually regurgitated digestive fluids from whatever they’ve been eating. As you might imagine, this tobacco juice doesn’t really taste great to birds and other things that might want to eat a tasty grasshopper. It also makes drooling grasshoppers a fun toy to chase the other kids around with… Wait, I know I couldn’t be the only person who did that as a kid?? Right? Not to worry though, grasshopper tobacco doesn’t hurt humans (although I’ve never tried to eat it) - it does create a pretty bad stain if you get it on your clothing though…
To read more about the Differential Grasshopper, check out:
- Animal Diversity Web
- Missouri Department of Conservation
- Impact on Turfgrass and Landscape Plants (scientific paper)
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