Photo of the Week – July 7, 2016

I bet you won’t be surprised to learn that this particular grasshopper feeds primarily on this particular plant…

Hypo

A cudweed grasshopper stares at me as I slowly edge toward it with my camera.  The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

The coloring of the cudweed grasshopper (Hypochlora alba – aka sagebrush grasshopper, greenish-white grasshopper, mugwort grasshopper) could not be more perfect as camouflage when it sits on cudweed sagewort (Artemisia ludoviciana – aka white sage, Louisiana sagewort).  This small flightless grasshopper is known to feed on other plants, but primarily eats cudweed sagewort, a plant that has relatively few other herbivores.

I’ve been seeing this grasshopper for years, but had never been able to photograph it until last week at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.  For some reason, I’ve always seen them when I didn’t have a camera, was busy doing something else, or when the light wasn’t right for photography.  Last weekend, everything finally came together, including a grasshopper that was patient enough to allow me to stick a camera in its face without hopping away.  (This was not the first one I attempted to photograph…)

Grasshopper

A side view of a Hypochlora alba female.

This might be the most impressive camouflage I’ve seen in an invertebrate, but it’s far from the only example of little creatures matching its environment well.  Here are a few other posts I’ve done on well-camouflaged bugs.

https://prairieecologist.com/2013/04/28/a-dandy-little-predator/

https://prairieecologist.com/2010/11/22/an-inchworm-in-disguise/

https://prairieecologist.com/2014/11/28/photo-of-the-week-november-28-2014/

Photo of the Week – August 13, 2015

Nebraska has 108 species of grasshoppers.  They come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, and generally speaking, the further west you go in the state, the more species you can find.  While on a short trip to the Nebraska Sandhills last week, I was fortunate to see two of the most beautiful of Nebraska’s grasshopper species.

Lubber grasshopper. Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, Nebraska.

Plains lubber grasshopper (Brachystola magna). Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, Nebraska.

I saw several plains lubber grasshoppers (aka homesteaders) in the prairie.  These huge flightless grasshoppers are about the size of mice (more than two inches long, and very thick).  They feed primarily on wildflowers, including sunflowers and hoary vervain (Verbena stricta).  According to Grasshoppers of Nebraska, they are not crop pests but in years when their population soars, they can present a hazard to drivers because their bodies can make roads slick.  Think of that!

Lubber grasshopper. Cherry county ranch of Jim VanWinkle, Nebraska.

Here is a plains lubber on its favorite (according to some sources) food – an annual sunflower (Helianthus petiolaris).  Cherry County, Nebraska.

I also enjoyed the chance to see a painted grasshopper (Dactylotum bicolor), a species I first noticed last year on a trip to western Kansas.  This gorgeous creature might be the easiest grasshopper in Nebraska to identify – as far as I know, there isn’t anything else in the state that looks remotely like it.  Like the lubber, the painted grasshopper eats primarily wildflowers, particularly false boneset (Brickellia eupatorioides).  It likes habitat with lots of exposed soil, which is convenient for those of us trying to find and photograph them.

Painted grasshopper at the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Nebraska.

A painted grasshopper at the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Nebraska.  The colors and patterns on this species make it impossible to confuse with others.

Grasshoppers, and katydids, which look like grasshoppers but have much longer antennae, are a fascinating group of insects.  They have interesting and complex communication strategies and each species has its own set of dietary preferences – some are specialists on just a few plant species and others are generalists.  Only a very few are considered to be pest species, and most of those are simply native species that have adapted well to the abundant food humans provide in the form of monoculture row crops.

Perhaps most of all, the sheer abundance and biomass of grasshoppers make them ecologically important in grasslands.  If you collected all the grasshoppers from a prairie, their biomass would equal that of the bison or cattle in the same prairie.  As such, they are a major food source for many other species, including many birds, and major herbivores that influence plant communities in complex ways.

Grasshoppers are also very visually appealing if you take the time to look closely at them.  The plains lubber and painted grasshopper are particularly pretty, but every grasshopper species has its own beautiful combination of colors and patterns.  Go out and find your favorite today!