Grasshoppers vs

Grasshoppers vs. Locusts: What Makes a Swarm?

Grasshoppers are in the news again. Or are they locusts?

Last week we learned locusts were swarming in Ethiopia, wiping out crops vital to the survival of local people.

Now we hear grasshoppers are invading Tooele County, Utah, near Salt Lake City. They’re all over the ground, with people crunching them underfoot. The infestation is “worse than anyone can remember,” AP reports.

What’s the difference between the two bugs?

Green grasshoppers and brown locusts are close cousins, both in the grasshopper family. But while grasshoppers hop like mad and can be abundant and pesky, locusts can fly. More significant, locusts have the unusual ability to be total loners or to enter what scientists euphemistically call “a gregarious state” — this is the flying and swarming stage, the stuff of Biblical proportions.

Desert locusts affect 20 percent of the world’s land surface, scientists say. Vast swarms containing billions of bugs periodically devastated parts of the United States back when the West was being settled. They continue to be a big problem in parts of Africa and China. Last November, swarms nearly 4 miles long (6 km) plagued Australia.

What makes them so, um, gregarious?

An increase in the chemical serotonin (which boosts moods in humans) in certain parts of a locust’s nervous system initiates the swarming behavior, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal Science.

It’s nature’s way of giving wing to a starved creature.

Desert locusts live in barren regions that see rain only rarely. They eke out an existence alone when times are tough. When the rains come, they breed like crazy. Then things dry up, and hoards of locusts are forced to gather around dwindling patches of vegetation.

“The gregarious phase is a strategy born of desperation and driven by hunger, and swarming is a response to find pastures new,” said study team member Steve Rogers of Cambridge University.

Rogers and his colleagues found that in the lab, solitary locusts could be made gregarious within 2 hours simply by tickling their hind legs to simulate the jostling they experience in the wild. Serotonin levels spiked three-fold.

Once on the move, the epic swarms are all but inevitable. Here’s how that works:

Scientists discovered a few years back that at low densities, the insects were unorganized and went their separate ways. But when the group’s density increased, the bugs fell into an orderly line and began to follow the same direction.

Such “collective motion,” which spells doom for a crop, is common also among ants, birds and fish.

The grasshoppers now invading Utah are born in cycles that run 7 to 10 years, scientists say, and the outbreak is nothing unusual for the natural world. What’s really new is that there are more suburbanites to complain about them now.

In The Water Cooler, Imaginova’s Editorial Director Robert Roy Britt looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond. Find more in the archives and on Twitter.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Death Comes For the Grasshopper(s)

Not surprisingly after 3 hot, dry years, there have been a lot of grasshoppers around this summer. Grasshoppers and hot, dry weather go together like bread goes with peanut butter and jelly. I’ve been noticing a few things that bode a little better for next year, though, and I’d like to share them with you.

The beginning of the summer started with literal hordes of grasshoppers, especially newly hatched nymphs. The photo above shows a phalanx of said nymphs on a soon-devoured broccoli leaf. It wasn’t uncommon to have hundreds of tiny grasshoppers flying up with every step through grassy areas.

Now, towards the end of July, there are still a lot of grasshoppers, but the numbers seem to have declined a bit – dozens fly up at every step instead of hundreds. Sometimes only a few fly up. I haven’t sprayed or made any effort to curb their numbers, so what has happened?

First of all, the weather has been cooler and wetter than during the last 3 or 4 summers. Cooler, wetter weather is good for plants, but bad for grasshoppers. Newly hatched grasshoppers can be killed by cool, wet weather. Truthfully, I’m not sure we were cool enough or wet enough for this to happen this year, but I’m mentioning it anyway. However, warm, wet weather can also have a negative effect on grasshopper populations.

During warm, wet weather, there is a naturally occurring fungus, Entomophthora grylli, which infects grasshoppers and causes them to climb to the top of vegetation and grasp the stem with their legs, then die. I’ve been seeing quite a few grasshoppers seemingly mummified like this. The best news is that, as these grasshoppers dry out, the fungal spores spread on the wind to other grasshoppers, infecting them as well.

So not only is there one less grasshopper reproducing for next year, but each one that dies like this has also potentially caused other grasshoppers in the area to die as well! Rather nightmarish. but effective.

Predators have been playing a role in decreasing grasshopper numbers, too. Just in my ramblings with camera in hand, I’ve caught shots of several wheel bugs eating grasshoppers.

I’ve got a large population of wheel bugs this year; after such an abundance of prey, I suspect I’ll have an even larger population next year!

Spiders, too, eat grasshoppers. This photo of a black and yellow garden spider eating a grasshopper was actually taken last October, but I’m sure that the spiders I’m seeing this summer are taking out quite a few grasshoppers as well. (My garden spiders aren’t this big yet, but they will be!)

Birds, not surprisingly, eat grasshoppers as well, although I haven’t been lucky enough to get any photos of that happening. Bluebirds, quail, pheasant, meadowlarks, lark sparrows, and lots of other birds are known to eat grasshoppers.

I occasionally see great golden digger wasps around the yard, as in this rather out-of-focus photo from about a week ago, hunting (in this case) on Bradbury beebalm. If these beautiful, big wasps aren’t feeding themselves with nectar and pollen on flowers, they are actively prowling for grasshoppers to sting and paralyze. Once the grasshopper is paralyzed, the female wasp takes it back to her nests as baby food to lay her eggs on.

The long and the short of it is that grasshoppers are grazers on plants, and a lot of animals eat them. With bison no longer freely roaming the prairie, I understand that grasshoppers are actually the primary herbivore for this important ecosystem! Because grasshoppers are so mobile, it’s hard to kill them with insecticides. Ironically, it’s much easier to kill the insects that prey on grasshoppers – so any time you spray an insecticide, even an organic one, you are probably helping to increase grasshopper populations, in the long run, by decreasing their predators.

Speaking of spraying insecticides and accidentally killing off insect predators, the last grasshopper predator I’m going to show you today fell victim to some actions Greg and I took several years ago before we knew any better. While we didn’t actually spray, we did kill enough of these predators that their population declined around our yard and gardens for a few years, so we’ve actually had more grasshoppers than we would have had if we hadn’t tried to solve a “problem” we were sure we had.

The first summer or two that we lived and gardened here, we started our vegetable garden. Despite the tall grass that we encouraged to grow on much of the property, we didn’t see a large number of grasshoppers. Some, yes, but not enough to cause noticeable damage. Generally, our garden plants did superbly, although the tomatoes, in particular, attracted large numbers of black blister beetles. A few grey blister beetles came too. Not only were these insects a little creepy looking, but they ate the tomato leaves and made the tomato plants look really ugly. I still harvested more tomatoes than I could possibly use and there weren’t enough blister beetles to defoliate the plants, but definitely there were enough to make the plants look ratty. So I started to handpick the blister beetles, dropping them in soapy water to kill them. Each morning I would do this, and it wasn’t unusual for me to dispatch 50 or 100 each day. It definitely lessened their populations over the course of the summer.

Even after I learned that blister beetle larvae ate grasshopper eggs, I continued to handpick the blister beetles, reasoning that I was seeing plenty of blister beetles, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

In June, 2011, we came back from a trip to San Antonio to find several masses of hundreds of striped blister beetles writhing on our front lawn, presumably in an ecstasy of mating. Our only thought was how to dispatch them as quickly as possible before they, too, started to eat the leaves of our tomatoes and other plants! So we put soapy water in our shop vac and vacuumed most of them up. Problem solved.

By later that same summer, I was seeing very few blister beetles. but hordes of grasshoppers. As you may remember, the summer of 2011 was horribly hot and dry. We had 53 days over 100 degrees F. and almost no rain. By late July of that year, our althea had been defoliated by the grasshopper hordes.

For every adult blister beetle you see, an average of 27 grasshoppers don’t get born. What had we done?

For several years now, we’ve had so many grasshoppers that by early summer most of our vegetable garden is gone. Once the grasshoppers hatch out, they devour the spinach, kale, broccoli and cauliflower within days. Then the onion and garlic go. The asparagus stalks become dried brown sticks with all the green gnawed off. Over the course of the summer, all the iris leaves get whittled down to nubs. Thankfully, 2011 was the only year our althea were entirely defoliated, but their leaves have been severely chewed each summer since then.

This year I’m finally seeing black blister beetles on the tomatoes and a few other plants again. Mind you, I’m not seeing them in huge numbers, but they are there and they are reasonably common. This year I’m NOT picking them off and killing them. I’ll share my tomato leaves so that, hopefully, the black blister beetle larvae will be feasting on grasshopper eggs over the winter!

The more I learn, the more I realize that I don’t know very much. A blog post I read over the weekend was talking about tangleveined flies as a grasshopper predator. That’s a new species I don’t recognize, so now I want to learn more about them and see if I have any of those grasshopper predators in the yard.

There is an incredibly complex web of plants and animals that will generally keep each other in balance and keep the Earth healthy, if we leave enough of them alone to “do their thing.” We humans, though, get pretty cocksure of ourselves and start killing plants and animals off, thinking we know a lot and can surely manage better than Mother Nature does.

We’re not as smart as we think we are.

Hopefully my yard is getting back into balance a bit better again. Ah, the gardening spirit never fails, does it? Next year will be better.

Where does grasshopper come from death

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A photograph shows a man holding a 3-foot grasshopper.

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For several years, a black-and-white photograph purporting to show a man holding an enormous grasshopper has been widely shared on social media:

The most obvious sign that the image is doctored, of course, is that grasshoppers simply don’t get that big. The average grasshopper is only an inch or two long

Moreover, if the image were real, the grasshopper would cast a shadow on the man’s pants and on the ground, in the same direction as the man’s shadow.

An uncropped version of the photograph shows that it was copyrighted in 1937 to Coles Studio:

Grasshopper shot near Miles City Mont. C. 1937 Coles Studio Glassgow Mont

The use of the copyright and the fact that other variations of this image were attached to various locales (such as North Dakota), indicate that this image may have originally circulated as a postcard. In fact, giant grasshoppers were a recurring theme in exaggerated postcards from the early 20th century. Here’s an image created by photographer Frank D. “Pop” Conard featuring a similarly large (and unreal) grasshoppers:

When a swarm of grasshoppers descended on Garden City in 1935, Frank D. “Pop” Conard had a vision. The photographer made a montage of giant insects with humans and sold the postcards like “hotcakes.” “The idea,” Conard said, “came to me after a flight of grasshoppers swarmed into Garden City attracted by the lights, and it was impossible to fill an automobile gasoline tank at filling stations that night. I went home to sleep, but awoke at 3:00 a.m. and all I could think about was grasshoppers. By morning I had the idea of having fun with the grasshoppers, and took my pictures and superimposed the hoppers with humans. I didn’t do it for adverse impressions of Kansas, but as an exaggerated joke.” A master retoucher, Conard continued to print “hopper whoppers” until his retirement in 1963. Grasshoppers were enlarged to battle a man, fit on the bed of a pickup, and hold up a train.

The picture postcard presented the possibility to inventive photographers to extend the traditional tall-tale to the photographic plate, and what is more, to devise entirely new forms that were possible only through photography. It brought into being visual effects that tall-tale tellers through the centuries had seen only in their fertile imaginations.

“They say pictures don’t lie,” explained Conard, “but from the sale of these postcards-the fastest selling novelty cards on the market it seems that Kansas people like a little funny, untruth.”

Although Conard was the giant grasshopper guru of the 1930s, he did not create the postcard featuring the hunter holding a three-foot grasshopper. However, we found two other examples of the work of Coles Studio:

Instagram user Blake Nass shared an interesting, although unverified, story about the photograph in 2015. Nass claimed to be the grandson of the man in the photograph, Joseph Nass, and said that the picture was taken after an unsuccessful hunt:

I’d be happy to pass along the story. @benshap is pretty close. Grandpa Nass was out shooting prairie dogs/gophers near miles city. Along came a truck loaded with a photographer traveling cross country and asked Mr. Nass to “hold out his left hand like so and his right hand and rifle just the same”. A few exposures were taken and the photographer (presuming to be associated with Cole studio) said “thanks, appreciate your time!” and kept driving along. Grandpa Nass was a little unsure of what had taken place but carried on. A few months later the “doctored” photo appeared in some tabloid literature. Postcards primarily that poked fun at country types. At one time the media gave the photo a run with the story involving an Australian being the one posing with a trophy “hopper”. An original photo held within the family coming soon!!

At least part of Nass’s story is verifiable. In September 1937, the Tomah Moniror-Herald published a story claiming that giant grasshoppers were terrorizing a local farmer’s land. Leland Gregory recounted the story of the hoax in his book Stupid History : Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions Through the Ages:

On September 9, 1937, the front-page headliner of the Tomah Monitor Herald warned people: “Giant Grasshoppers Invade Butts Orchard East of City.” The article explained that grasshoppers had eaten special plant food used on an apple orchard belonging to farmer A.L. Butts and had quickly grown to three feet in length. Accompanying the article were photographs of shotgun-toting hunters tracking down the mutant insects as well as a picture of Farmer Butts holding up a dead grasshopper like a prize fish. The citizens of the town became jumpy and nearly hysterical at the thought of enormous grasshoppers bouncing through the town, destroying their crops, frightening the livestock, and generally wreaking havoc. The article, of course, was a hoax, and the Monitor-Hearld publisher, B.J. Fuller, along with Farmer Butts (yes, there was an actual Farmer Butts,) confessed to making the townsfolk the butt of their elaborate, and pesky, joke.

The image showing a man holding a three-foot long grasshopper is not real. This picture was created as a prank in the 1930s and continues to fool viewers today.

European Grasshoppers and Crickets Being Driven to Extinction

10 February 2017 | International Union for Conservation of Nature News Release

Over a quarter of European grasshopper, cricket and bush cricket species are being driven to extinction by unsustainable agricultural practices and the growing frequency of wildfires in Europe, a new IUCN report has found.

The European Red List of Grasshoppers, Crickets and Bush crickets, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), assesses, for the first time, the conservation status of all of Europe’s 1,082 grasshopper, cricket and bush cricket species. It shows that over a quarter of these species are at risk of extinction, making them the most threatened of the insect groups assessed so far in Europe. More than 150 experts participated in the two-year assessment project, which was funded by the European Commission.

“Europe’s rapidly changing landscape is affecting many species, including insects we are so familiar with, such as crickets and grasshoppers,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director, IUCN Global Species Programme. “To bring these species back from the brink of extinction, more needs to be done to protect and restore their habitats. This can be done through sustainable grassland management using traditional agricultural practices for example. If we do not act now, the sound of crickets in European grasslands could soon become a thing of the past.”

Crickets, bush crickets and grasshoppers – a group known as Orthoptera – are an important food source for many of Europe’s birds and reptiles, and their decline could affect entire ecosystems. They are also indicators of ecosystem health and grassland biodiversity.

The intensification of agricultural land use, which leads to the loss, degradation and fragmentation of grassland habitats, has been identified as the main threat to the species. They are particularly affected by overgrazing, the overgrowing of abandoned pastures, the conversion of grassland or shrubland to cropland, the use of fertilisers and heavy machinery, frequent mowing and the use of pesticides. The Adriatic marbled bush cricket (Zeuneriana marmorata), for example, is now classed as Endangered due to the conversion of meadows into crop fields and the intensification of grassland management.

Orthoptera populations are also being decimated by escalating wildfires, particularly in Greece and on the Canary Islands. For instance, the Endangered Gran Canaria green bush cricket (Calliphona alluaudi) has lost about one quarter of its former range due to a large wildfire in 2007. Many coastal species are also affected by tourism development and urbanisation, such as the Endangered knotty sand grasshopper (Sphingonotus nodulosus), threatened by a large development project in Portugal.

Adequate adaptive management and monitoring schemes should be developed to conserve Orthoptera species, such as the Critically Endangered Crau plain grasshopper (Prionotropis rhodanica), which is restricted to the Crau plain in the South of France and has declined dramatically, according to the report. To reverse its decline, a conservation strategy has been developed and is being implemented.

“The results from this IUCN Red List are deeply worrying,” says Luc Bas, Director, IUCN European Regional Office. “Healthy populations of these insects are key to maintaining sustainable ecosystems in Europe, which provide the basis for social and economic well-being. The need for better implementation of the EU Nature Directives has recently been recognised as a priority by the European Commission and will certainly contribute towards improving the status of these species in Europe, especially those found in Natura 2000 sites.”

The report recommends the establishment of a pan-European monitoring programme for cricket, bush cricket and grasshopper species to obtain information on population trends.

“The IUCN Red List has already helped by putting Orthoptera species with a high extinction risk on the conservation agenda,” says Axel Hochkirch, Chair of the IUCN SSC Grasshopper Specialist Group and lead author of the report. “But our knowledge of the population trends of crickets, bush crickets and grasshoppers is still scarce, and almost 10% of species have been assessed as Data Deficient due to lack of data. We urgently need more research and resources to prevent other species from going extinct unnoticed.”

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The Ant and the Grasshopper, or Why Ignoring ROI Is a Death Wish

When I contemplate the content marketing industry’s tumultuous relationship with ROI, I often think back to the last week of college at my alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College—the much-dreaded “Conference Week.”

Sarah Lawrence focuses on writing the same way the Trix Rabbit fixates on brightly colored breakfast cereal: It’s an obsession. There are no finals; instead, you write a 25-page mini-thesis for each class, the result of biweekly meetings with your professors in which you’re given a dozen books to read and ordered to dive into the academic tidal pool of LexisNexis. The idea is that after 12 weeks of hard, methodical work, you produce a brilliant paper that establishes you as the preeminent scholar of your generation.

Most of my friends, however, used a different approach. The biweekly meetings with professors were often trials of masterful bullshitting, prepped for with frantic skimming of SparkNotes. This strategy usually worked—even if the professor could smell the bullshit, they wouldn’t always have the energy to call the student out on it—but it was a harrowing ritual nonetheless. On any given day, at least one of my friends would be in the midst of a mild panic attack, certain that their professors would discover their deception. In desperate times, they’d fake being sick or cry, but you could really only play those cards once. After feigning progress the whole semester, everyone would blindly pray to the Adderall gods that they’d somehow pull through.

Though a screwup in many ways, I avoided this hellish routine thanks to my natural Jewish neurosis. The stress of not doing the work would tear a hole in my stomach, so I tended to get my papers in early. I also couldn’t endure the inferno that was “Conference Week”—the seven days leading up to the end of the semester. It was a grizzly, confusing scene: 40 acres of idyllic grounds in high spring, dotted with ivied manors pulled straight out of The Great Gatsby, were suddenly infested with 800 sleep-deprived, hollow-eyed students manically guzzling every stimulant in sight, all in hopes of cranking out 75 pages in a single week.

Usually, after a little bit of research, they’d discover that the thesis they’d been bullshitting about for three months was, in fact, total bullshit. It didn’t make sense, and you couldn’t write a paper on it. So they’d either have to start from scratch or make a bunch of things up so that they could jam their square thesis into a round hole. By the end, they’d look more zombie than human, even if they’d miraculously made it through.

It was a real-life fable, the collegiate version of “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” the famous cautionary tale about preparing for winter. They were grasshoppers, dancing the semester away while the few ants among us toiled steadily at their papers.

The panic in the grasshopper’s eyes when the end of the semester arrived was vivid and real, and I’ve only seen it one other place since: in the pupils of content marketers who have to show their bosses how their work generates ROI at the end of the quarter.

A content marketing fable

I’m going to generalize a lot here, but I think there are two different kinds of content marketers: those who plan like the ant and those who ignore hard work like the grasshopper. (I’ll refrain from making a bad Antman joke here.)

The latter group reminds me of my procrastinating friends from college; they start with a vague idea of what they’d like to accomplish, get it approved, and then do relatively minimal work, generally content to just cover their asses and get by. They fake it, throw up one or two vanity blog posts a week, and pray that no one asks any tough questions about ROI.

The content marketers who prepare, however, have a clear plan and goals in mind, and relentlessly work to reevaluate that plan and make sure it’s on track. They know if their aim is audience growth, SQLs/MQLs, brand building, customer education, or, more likely, a blend of a myriad of metrics. They can see the finish line, and they’re constantly tinkering with their content to get there.

Recently, someone at Contently asked me what’s different about the way our content team works this year versus a year ago, since our monthly audience is twice as big, our content is driving tons of leads, and, to be honest, the stories we publish are a lot better.

There are a lot of factors at play, but the biggest one is that we’ve become much better at thinking like the ant.

At the start of every quarter, we have a big planning meeting where we lay out all the big projects we want to accomplish over the next quarter. We audit our overall content strategy and think about badass new storytelling formats and topics that we think will expand our overall audience. We also map out a series of big reports that we feel will reach the marketing executives who are important to the business side of Contently. During the first half of this year, for example, that meant “The Ultimate Content Strategist Playbooks” series; a half dozen other e-books; a few original studies; two custom spring editions of our print magazine, Contently Quarterly; and consistent improvement and innovation in our daily content.

Since we have clear goals laid out, we’ve been able to benchmark our progress on a weekly and monthly basis—something my former Sarah Lawrence classmates couldn’t do while they were procrastinating and getting lost in the hallways after eating too many mushrooms. When my team at Contently was off the mark and not accomplishing what we needed to, we knew it immediately and could correct our course. This ensured that we didn’t find ourselves scrambling at the end of the quarter to justify to our VP of finance just what the hell we’ve been doing all this time.

When you’re a content marketer with a diligent plan, it’s pretty hard to fail. After all, the great thing about content is that creating it is in your control. If you pay attention to what works and then bust your ass to double down on those strategies, chances are you’ll have enough successes to hit your benchmarks (and, most likely, exceed them).

But if you’re a content marketer who, like the grasshopper, is ignoring the coming winter, not even a week-long Adderall binge will help you when it inevitably arrives. But hey, at least you’ll be too busy obsessively cleaning your kitchen to remember that you no longer have a job.

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