Photo of the Week – October 17, 2014

Who could be mad at these big beautiful brown eyes?

A differential grasshopper (that's its name, not its demeanor) on stiff goldenrod.

A differential grasshopper (that’s its name, not its demeanor) on stiff goldenrod.

As it turns out, lots of people can.

The differential grasshopper is one of a long list of native North American species, headlined by white-tailed deer and raccoons, that have adapted very well to today’s agricultural landscapes.  Whether you call these species adaptable generalists or pests probably depends upon whether or not they’re eating your sweet corn.  Regardless, you have to admire (or at least recognize) the traits that allowed them to thrive under changing habitat conditions that have pushed many other native species to the brink of extinction.

The olive-greenish color and the strong herringbone pattern on its back leg helps distinguish the differential grasshopper from other species.

The olive-greenish color and the strong herringbone pattern on its back leg helps distinguish the adult differential grasshopper from other species.

Peek-a-boo!

Peek-a-boo!  Isn’t she cute?

Before Europeans took over the continent, differential grasshoppers lived mainly in low grasslands, feeding on a wide variety of grasses and wildflowers – but, purportedly, with a particular affinity for giant ragweed.  When the landscape began changing to one dominated by rowcrops, alfalfa, and short-grazed grasslands, it basically created heaven on earth for differential grasshoppers.  Today, they are abundant enough that they can be found almost anywhere across the landscape (at least in Nebraska).  Apparently, they can move as much as 10 miles a day to find food.

One of 108 grasshopper species recognized as native to Nebraska, the differential grasshopper is one of only a small handful that actually cause any economic damage to crops.  All of those grasshopper species – pests or not – are important food sources for birds and many other wildlife species.  In years when differential grasshopper populations are particularly high, they can cause more problems for farmers and gardeners, but also provide even more food for wildlife.

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”

It’s ironic that many traits we admire in people (resilient, adaptable, successful) become indicators of pest-ness when we’re talking about wildlife.  Really, we should give differential grasshoppers some kind of award for their ability to take lemons and make lemonade (that’s just a metaphor, kids).  Hooray for differential grasshoppers!

Unless, of course, they’re eating your sweet corn.

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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.
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15 Responses to Photo of the Week – October 17, 2014

  1. elfinelvin says:

    Should have called this one pin-up of the week. She’d make a great poster. :) Very nice photos!

    • Wesley Miller says:

      Hooray for the grasshopper. They do what they’re supposed to do. If I don’t like their actions it’s likely that I am doing something that I shouldn’t be doing. And they dress finer than just about anyone too.

  2. Roger Wyosnick says:

    How can we not be defferential to one here long, long, long before us and just living its Life with such traits as we admire…not to mention those beguiling brown eyes and winsome antennae!

  3. Danny Staehr says:

    Chris,
    Your insect photos always impress me. Could you give some details about the camera and lenses you use? I’m just starting out with a new DSLR and enjoy taking wildlife photos and would especially like to take more macros of butterflies!

  4. Lance Foster says:

    Chris, still hope to visit with you soon. We are doing some habitat restoration here on the reservation and look for synergy with what you are doing at Rulo Bluffs. Lance Foster, 785-595-3258

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Lance – thanks. Sorry for not being in touch sooner. I am planning a trip down there within the next few weeks (I hope) but haven’t nailed down the date yet. I will call you when I know I’m coming and we’ll see what we can set up for a meeting/tour.

  5. bennysplace says:

    Beautiful shots and each time you post something about grasshoppers, it makes me dislike them less. This year I did nothing to control them and had more birds (and more varieties) come to visit. I would like to think that is due to leaving every single but alone and let nature do its beautiful thing. Thank you for all the great posts!

  6. anastaciast says:

    Seriously? They used to eat giant ragweed? Another reason to loathe monocropping. I would love to see Differentials chowing down on Giant Ragweed!
    Oh, and when I can catch them, I feed them to our Leopard Gecko. :)

  7. Chris Muldoon says:

    When I signed up for your blog, I knew I’d get an education about prairies, but I never expected to see so many great photos of arthropods. (I love “bugs”, even the ones that bite me.) Question: what are those body parts that look like they fold across the grasshopper’s mouth? I would never have noticed those in real life or in other pix.

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