Hubbard Fellowship Post – Ashley’s Admiration of Grasshoppers

Ashley Oblander, one of this year’s Hubbard Fellows, has really dived into photography during her time with us. I think you’ll agree she’s doing quite well… It’s just one of her many strong skills. Anyone need an experienced and thoughtful land manager who can write, lead, photograph, and think strategically (among many other strengths)? She’s getting her resume polished up now… Here’s Ashley’s latest post:

My first distinct memory of a grasshopper was the moment I realized that they had wings and could move pretty long distances instead of just hopping around. Other than that memory, grasshoppers have kind of blended into the background for me. I figured they all looked like the tan ones that I saw in my backyard growing up. During my time as a Hubbard Fellow I’ve realized how wrong I was.

Through this past year, I’ve become interested in macrophotography (How could you not when a great photographer like Chris Helzer is your supervisor?). Through that lens, I started seeing a whole little world in the prairie that I hadn’t fully appreciated before. A great illustration of that discovery is grasshoppers.

Sometimes it feels like they’re checking me out just as much as I am them. Photo by Ashley Oblander.

The diversity in this group of insects is crazy. Did you know that there are 108 species of grasshoppers just in Nebraska? One that shocked me the most is a flightless species that can grow up to more than two inches long: the plains lubber. I had no idea that grasshoppers around here could get that big, and wow! They’re impressive, and like so many other species they are beautiful and detailed once you take a closer look.

This is the plains lubber mentioned above. This one let me take lots of photos of it, but that isn’t always the case. Photo by Ashley Oblander.

Another fun thing I’ve learned about grasshoppers is that they can be tricky to take photos of. I can’t even remember how many times I got everything set up how I wanted it to have the grasshopper move to the other side of a stem or leaf to hide from me or fly away completely. It can be frustrating, but it also makes it even more gratifying when I get a good shot.

Here’s one hanging out on a milkweed seed pod. Editing photos from this day led to a fun discovery! Photo by Ashley Oblander.

I didn’t notice the small structure above this grasshopper’s eye in the above photo until I was editing. I was intrigued because I wasn’t sure what it was so I did some research. Turns out it is one of its simple eyes! Grasshoppers have two compound eyes, the big and noticeable ones, in addition to three simple eyes, also called ocelli!  I may have learned that at one point but had totally forgotten. They use these simple eyes to differentiate between light and dark.

Speaking of eyes, who knew grasshoppers’ could be this pretty?! Photo by Ashley Oblander.

Learning about their different types of eyes prompted me to look up other grasshopper facts, and I figured I would share some of my favorites. The grasshopper’s auditory organs are found on the abdomen instead of the head. A grasshopper can eat half its body weight per day (this is impressive, but also why they are considered a pest on crops). If humans could jump as far as grasshoppers, relative to size, we could cover more than the length of a football field in a single jump. Needless to say, they’re fascinating.

One more shot just because they’re interesting to look at. This one was extra exciting to capture because it can be difficult to capture both subject’s eyes sharply. Photo by Ashley Oblander.

My motivation for writing this post was mostly to share my newfound admiration for grasshoppers, but it also serves as a nice reminder for myself. As I work in different places, I won’t discount something because it’s small or I think I’ve seen it before. Slowing down and appreciating the small things that make the world go round can be refreshing, enlightening, and humbling. I encourage you to do the same.

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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.

9 thoughts on “Hubbard Fellowship Post – Ashley’s Admiration of Grasshoppers

  1. Thanks Ashley. Great photos! Amazing looking creatures. Curious if those are teeth in the shot of the grasshopper on the milkweed pod?!

    • Hi Marsha! I think what you’re seeing that look like teeth are actually their palps. From reading a bit, they are mouth parts used for both sensation and manipulation of food.

  2. Excellent photos!
    What I really like about grasshoppers is that it’s possible to know what species it is from listening to the specific sound it makes during stridulation.
    And of course, species with colored wings are really nice to watch when in flight.

  3. These are phenomenal photos. I’m curious about the lenses being used for the macro shots. I’m debating a 85mm F2 Macro that’s launching end of this month on Canon. Curious to know what was used for these.

  4. How did she get them to pose for photos ? For the first time ever since being in pdx, I had grasshoppers on geraniums and they would not stay for me to even check out which hopper they were. True to their name they hopped, no flying — seemed to enjoy the leaves as that is where i found evidence of eating. Anyone have ideas?

    • I wish I could tell you that I have a secret for making them pose for photos. Unfortunately, the majority of the grasshoppers that I approach hop or fly away. Chris may have additional pointers to give, but I’ve found that if you move slowly, smoothly, and lower to the ground, your chances of success are higher. It can also help to go out in the morning when it is still a bit chilly and they are less active.

  5. I enjoyed the article and photos. By being able to enlarge the picture this is the first time I’ve ever really “looked” at them. If possible, keep us posted on your next location – it would be superb to check out future articles and pix.
    You can tell Chris was an inspirational instructor ;D

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