Photo of the Week – September 12, 2014

It’s grasshopper season!

Vehicles driving through the prairie on a late summer morning are quickly covered with dew, grass pollen, and GRASSHOPPERS.

Vehicles driving through the prairie on a late summer morning are quickly covered with dew, grass pollen, and GRASSHOPPERS.

By the end of summer, most grasshoppers have completed their five or so molts and have become adults – complete with functional wings.   Now, as we walk and drive through our prairies, these fully-formed adult grasshoppers (along with katydids and tree crickets) seem to be everywhere.  They explode from our feet like popcorn – especially in areas of shorter vegetation.  And they’re hungry.  We see them feeding on sunflowers, goldenrod, grasses and almost every other kind of plant in the prairie.  As in other groups of species, the diversity of grasshopper species (108 species in Nebraska) leads to a diversity of feeding habits.  Some feed high in the canopy, others low.  Some feed mainly on grasses, others on forbs.  Some eat from a wide range of species, others from just a few.

This grasshopper was feeding on the pollen of stiff sunflower - an apparent favorite of many adult grasshopper, katydid, and tree cricket species.

This grasshopper was feeding on the pollen of stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) – an apparent favorite of many adult grasshopper, katydid, and tree cricket species.

Another grasshopper species (probably) also feeding on stiff sunflower.

Another grasshopper species (probably) – also feeding on stiff sunflower.

Tree crickets get in on the stiff sunflower pollen feeding frenzy too.

Tree crickets get in on the stiff sunflower pollen feeding frenzy too.

Predators, of course, respond enthusiastically to the profusion of grasshoppers.  Rather than taking over the world, late summer grasshoppers become the targets of any creature that can catch up with them.  This includes birds, mammals, reptiles, and large invertebrate predators, but also tiny parasites and microbes.  To hungry predators, grasshoppers are just tasty machines that convert vegetation into protein-rich food – and they’re EVERYWHERE!

'Hoppers and their kin, but they can also be skilled at keeping themselves hidden when they see a potential predator.  This katydid didn't like me sticking my camera lens in its direction.

‘Hoppers and their kin, but they can also be skilled at keeping themselves hidden when they see a potential predator. This katydid didn’t like me sticking my camera lens in its direction.

The prairie is also a noisy place when grasshoppers, katydids, and tree crickets reach adulthood.  Much of the communication between these species is through sound, and it can be hard to hear the rustling of autumn prairie leaves in the wind over the buzzes and whines of insect courtship.

Besides leading females to males, that incessant insect noise acts as a warning to herbivore and predator alike…

“You’d better eat up now – winter is coming!”

 

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
This entry was posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Photo of the Week – September 12, 2014

  1. Joanne says:

    The one thing I don’t miss about the “hills” however, your photos as usual are truly great.

    • Gisela Fisher says:

      Chris, please don’t stop your blog. It is a delight to read it each time. I so enjoy it and feel like I’m right there with you. And I learn all the time. Love your pictures. They’re priceless. Can you tell me again what size lens you use and what settings? Thank you so much.

  2. Chris Helzer says:

    Thanks Gisela! That’s wonderful to hear. I’m using a Nikon D300s camera with a Nikon 105mm macro for the close-photos you see. I try to use a fairly small aperture (large number, 16 or higher) as much as possible to maximize depth-of-field for those macro shots.

  3. elfinelvin says:

    Thanks for sharing the hiding katydid shot. I really did laugh out loud when I saw it. “Peek a boo?”

  4. Nice shots of the grasshoppers. They’re in fascinating abundance here in Ohio also.

  5. Charlotte Reemts says:

    I read a fascinating book called “Locust” by Jeffrey Lockwood about the apparent extinction of the Rocky Mountain locust that used to swarm across the Great Plains. It is interesting to consider the potential effects that the lack of those swarms could be having on the prairies.

  6. tony says:

    I enjoy this blog

  7. I love this blog and I thank you for many of the great posts. I love the shots of the grasshoppers. The shy katykid is my favorite. As a kid in rural Wyoming I caught grasshoppers all summer long. I would hold them all in a large coffee can, keep them for a couple days feeding them leaves, etc. and then let them go. I was amazed by all the different colors and variations there were. My favorites were the large green variety. I thought that each were varieties from different parts of the world coming to visit one another. Thank you for your site and wish you nothing but the very best.

    Sincerely,
    Benny

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