Who could be mad at these big beautiful brown eyes?
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.
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.
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.