JULY
1989

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

7-14-89

'Hoppers, 'Hoppers Everywhere

Ah July!  That time of the year when ol' Sol the sun, almost without human notice, begins a seasonal retreat toward the southern horizon, and the days begin to shorten ever so slightly.

To most folks, July signals the onset of, as Nat King Cole immortalized in song, “Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.”  However, the declining minutes of daylight stir within plants and many animals a sense of biological urgency. Plants flower; some animals lay in a winder's food supply; others just add on a layer of fat; and many insects rush to lay eggs.

No insect is more closely associated with the dog days of summer than grasshoppers. If baseball players can lay claim to the title of “Boys of Summer,” ten surely grasshoppers are the “Bugs of Summer”! 

Grasshopper egg masses, oviposited the previous fall in the soil, hatch in June or July. As summer days get drowsier, the grasshopper nymphs—typical teenagers that they are—are eating up a storm.

By August, mature grasshoppers begin the process of mate selection. Many grasshoppers attract mates by producing a sound, appropriately named “calling.”  This sound, called a “song,” is most often produced by males in one of two ways. The short-horned grasshoppers—those wit short antennae—make sounds by rubbing their hind legs across their wing. The long-horned grasshoppers rub one wing against the other.

It is a bit misleading to term these sounds “songs” though, because the sound has no pitch. It sounds a bit like rubbing two pieces of sandpaper together. For most of us, this sound is relegated to the status of background noise, and it is easy to forget or ignore.

Grasshopper songs are one of the most prominent features of late-summer days. At most any time of the day, three or four species of grasshoppers can be heard. They, like birds, can even be identified to species by their calls.

It is probably this singing that prompted Aesop to pen his fable of the grasshopper and the ant. To Aesop, it must have seemed that singing away the last days of summer was a foolish thing for a grasshopper to do, especially compared to the ants, who work industriously to store the winter's food supply. But the singing of the grasshopper should probably stand to remind us that its work is done. The grasshoppers late-summer song is really a last laugh. For in the soil are grasshopper egg masses, just settling in for a long winter's nap in preparation for the next season's feast.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Carol McGrew