JUNE
1998

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

06-11-98

Hoppers, Hoppers Everywhere

Very few groups of insects have caused more problems for humankind than grasshoppers. The destructive nature of these insects has been vividly described in the Bible. The Old Testament chronicles several instances of damage by grasshoppers, including Joel 2:3, "...the land is as the Garden of Eden before them and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.”

So common was grasshopper damage in ancient times that the Hebrew Bible includes at least nine words for these insects. The words might have represented different stages, or even different species, but clearly describe the insects we know as grasshoppers.

The eighth of the 10 plagues visited upon Egypt preceding the Exodus was a great mass of locusts. Locust is the term used worldwide for the migratory grasshoppers common in northern Africa.

As a general rule, grasshopper populations and levels of destruction are higher in regions with limited rainfall - thus the high incidence in parts of Africa. Also, there are more grasshopper problems in the drier western states of the United States than in the east.

Years that lack rainfall sometimes are remembered by farmers as "grasshopper years.” Such was the case in the 1930s. During this decade, most areas of the United States experienced high grasshopper populations and destruction. The extreme numbers of hoppers and lack of food resulted in unusual damage at times. Stories of these insects eating the handles out of pitchforks and severely damaging straw hats left outside are common.

While grass is in their name, grasshoppers will readily feed on most kinds of plants. For that reason, these insects can be pests to farmers and gardeners alike. Grasshopper damage is normally not evident until the middle part of the growing season. For instance, corn almost never shows damage until it is at least waist high.

The onset of grasshopper damage is related to how grasshoppers overwinter. Most grasshoppers spend the winter in the egg stage. A female grasshopper uses her abdomen to deposit an egg mass in the soil. Each egg mass contains from 20 to 120 eggs. These eggs hatch in late spring and early summer. The newly hatched nymphs are very small, have small appetites and largely are unnoticed by most people.

As the grasshopper nymphs grow, they will go through four to five molts before adulthood. Increased size means an increased appetite. Consequently, in a month to six weeks after hatching, the young hoppers are chewing up a lot of plant tissue. Once they become adults they continue to eat, so by August in much of the United States, grasshoppers are doing maximum damage to plants.

The adults mate and the females begin to lay eggs in August and September. Each female will deposit up to 25 egg masses destined to become next year's hoppers.

So if this is a hopper year for you, be thankful that not all of the 600 or so grasshopper species in the United States are in your backyard. Or you can do as folks, including John the Baptist, did in biblical times and eat the hoppers. I hear dry roasted they taste a little bit like chicken!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann