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 the mid western part of North America, but has now been introduced to South America and even South Korea in 2018 (see distribution map here and here). That’s a lot of range expansion over the 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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Vince Jul 7, 2022, 12:11 AM
I recently read your post on the differential grasshopper linked below. Do you have a source for the statement that these grasshoppers are native to South Korea and were introduced to North America in 2018? I believe the inverse is true, but I don’t have an academic source. I can say firsthand that I grew up in Nebraska and these were very common in the 80’s and 90’s.
Thanks for the blog,
Bug News Jul 7, 2022, 9:33 AM
Oh, my goodness. Thank you for pointing this out! I originally pulled the information about this species and Korea from BugGuide, but looking back at the page clearly misread/mistyped the information. You are absolutely correct - Melanoplus differentialis is originally from North America and invaded South Korea in 2018. I have now fixed this in the above story - thank you and apologies to all readers for the error!
Regarding the primary literature though, it is a struggle to find a specific reference to the grasshopper's range expansion. It may require some real digging and not just a morning of quick Google Scholar searches. However, it appears M. differentialis may have first been reported as entering South Korea in a report published in the Korean Journal of Applied Entomology in 2018. That does not record its establishment - just a specimen intercepted at the border... In BugGuide, where I originally read the reference to the South Korea introduction in 2018, the only citation they gave was to the Field Guide To Grasshoppers, Katydids, And Crickets Of The United States. However, that was published in 2004 and best I can tell, doesn't say anything about the species expanding beyond North America. A free pdf of the book can be downloaded from vdoc.pub (although I needed to convert it to a readable pdf from the .djvu format). There is a lot more digging that could be done on this topic for sure, but I'll leave it at that for now :)
Thanks again for bringing this to my attention!
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