Photo of the Week – October 26, 2012

The plains lubber (Brachystola magna) is Nebraska’s largest grasshopper.  At about 2 1/4 inches long, and brightly colored, it’s hard to mistake for other species.  In fact, of the 108 grasshopper species in Nebraska, the plains lubber is the only one that is not in the family Acrididae.  Truly a unique individual.

The plains lubber grasshopper. The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.

Grasshoppers tend to have a bad reputation among many farmers and ranchers because they’re seen as competitors to livestock or as damaging feeders on crops.  In truth, only a handful of grasshopper species cause any significant “damage” to agricultural crops or pastures.  You’d think that a grasshopper the size of a lubber would eat an awful lot of grass, but in fact, the lubber primarily eats the leaves of wildflowers many people would consider weeds – especially annual sunflowers, but also kochia, hoary vervain, and prickly lettuce.  Hardly a pest, if you’re a rancher, though I hear it can sometimes be hard on cotton crops down south.

Lubbers are mostly found in the western portion of Nebraska, in mixed-grass and shortgrass prairie.  Because they have very short wings, they’re unable to fly, but are sometimes seen “migrating” on foot in large numbers.

The information I used for this post came mostly from The Grasshoppers of Nebraska, by Matthew Brust, Wyatt Hoback, and Robert Wright.It’s 

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
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2 Responses to Photo of the Week – October 26, 2012

  1. Brodie says:

    Driving through Kansas on U.S. highway 36, I always see large fields of sunflowers. If this ‘hopper species likes sunflower leaves, might it be a pest to farmers who cultivate sunflowers as a cash crop? Just wondering. (I had no idea Nebraska had 108 species of grasshoppers! (My farmer dad wouldn’t have thanked me for the information.))

  2. Dena says:

    Coming from the South, I can attest to the destruction of our Eastern Lubber. They also emit a toxin that can make predators sick. Once they’re on your crops, even just in a simple backyard garden, it’s a fight to the death. This past Spring, I’m happy to say I won.

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