It happens that in life we are confronted with a misunderstanding, meeting strangers by their clothes, and choosing books by their cover. The same thing happens with the animal kingdom. No, today’s post is not about mimicry – you can read about it here. Today we’ll talk about one of the most underrated and prejudiced insects – the gray grasshopper.
I think many in childhood were engaged in catching insects in the grass. Butterflies and grasshoppers are especially favorite targets for children. And if butterflies attract with their bright colors, then hunting for grasshoppers – with their complexity and special skills. It was especially “honorable” to get a grasshopper right during the jump.
Moreover, there was a gradation of difficulty: small gray and green jumpers who rarely fly and prefer to jump into loose ones – easy prey, loud but cautious crickets – of medium difficulty, and large and, moreover, biting huge green monsters that can fly and perfectly hiding from children’s eyes – reason for pride is almost as honorable as the dragonfly-emperor.
By the way, about the giants!
Both green and gray grasshoppers are very large (on average + -4 cm) and noisy arthropods. But adults are more interested in the practical side. Thus, grasshoppers, as a rule, are not pests, while locusts, on the contrary, being large, similar to a grasshopper insect, are an economically dangerous pest, especially during periods of mass reproduction (once every 8-10 years). During this period, the locust destroys up to 100% of the crop and, in general, all the greenery in its path. So, especially in the south of the country, locusts are not a welcome guest.
However, as well as people remember the appearance of a locust, they just as poorly know the difference between it and a grasshopper. Sometimes, access to the Internet does not bring clarity.
So how can you tell one from the other?
For ease of identification, we will give three signs that everyone can see and notice: the length of the wings, antennae and the presence of an ovipositor. You can talk for a long time about the shape of the saddle (dorsal plate), the position of the legs and segmentation, but for this you will have to catch the insect, and at the same time spend at least a month studying the species differences.
The most important difference is the ovipositor and the well-developed anal appendages (spiny cerci). Some mistakenly believe that the “saber” is a sign of locusts (apparently, the association with danger or the steppe tribes of nomad-ravages is triggered). But no, saber and cerci are what distinguishes females of Orthoptera, in particular, true grasshoppers, from other species.
Meet the gray grasshopper!
The full “address” of the gray grasshopper in the taxonomic system now looks like this:
Kingdom: Animals (Animalia)
Order: Orthoptera (jumping Orthoptera, Orthoptera or Saltatoria)
Suborder: Long-necked Orthoptera
Family: Real grasshoppers
Genus: Grasshoppers (Decticus)
Species: Grasshopper gray or spotted (variegated, Decticus verrucivorus)
So, the gray grasshopper is, as we said above, a very large insect by the standards of its congeners (on average 3 – 4.4 cm). The body is stocky, with relatively short front and medium legs, and long hind legs. The color, as a rule, although darker than the color of the green grasshopper, is very different: green, gray, brown, olive, yellow, and even pink and red, sometimes with different patterns, but more often with stripes. The blacksmith is betrayed by his elytra, for they often bear an average of two to three rows of dark spots, which allows them to better camouflage themselves in thickets of squat vegetation. The body length of the male usually rarely exceeds 3 cm, while the body length of the female, on the contrary, jumps over this boundary by almost 1.5 times. As for the distribution, this grasshopper is widespread. Its range extends from the border of Eurasia with the Arabian Peninsula in the south and reaches the north of Europe and the Novgorod region, covering almost the entire European part of the continent. In warm years, individual grasshoppers can be found in the North-West region (I caught them this summer in St. Petersburg), and even in the Murmansk region. Although grasshoppers use their wings infrequently, they are nevertheless able to travel considerable distances in search of food or a mate.
Like all grasshoppers, grays love to sing. However, unlike the green and singing grasshopper, their voice is not very pleasant and rather quiet. Sometimes, passing by high grass, you can hear a quiet and unobtrusive “Skr-skr, Skr-skr”. This is the “voice” of the gray grasshopper – the rustling of the elytral stridulation apparatus.
Stridulation – a special property of a number of insects, which allows them to make characteristic sounds. The stridulation apparatus of grasshoppers consists of the modified posterior parts of the male elytra. The left elytra always lies on top of the right. On the left elytron there is a stridulation vein with notches, scraping the right elytron with a small mirror – a “window” tightened by a membrane that plays the role of a resonator. The structure of this apparatus is one of the specific features.
The diet of the gray grasshopper also does not correspond to expectations – the basis of its diet is … other insects. And if the locust primarily eats plant food, and only occasionally bites with meat, the gray grasshopper first prefers to hunt aphids, caterpillars and wireworms, and then switches to a garnish in the form of juicy buds and shoots.
It becomes even more insulting for the confusion and extermination of gray grasshoppers – by predation, they reduce the population of pests, including especially dangerous scoops and moths, locusts, thrips, wireworms (clickers larvae), aphids and other small insects, as well as spider mites.
The meaning and fate of the gray grasshopper
The gray grasshopper is an excellent regulator of the abundance of many arthropod populations. In addition, it is a very nutritious food for larger predators – lizards, birds and even cats do not deny themselves the pleasure of catching and eating a fat grasshopper. And although during the years of mass reproduction, grasshoppers can get lost in flocks and harm cultivated plants, the scale of damage and the number of flocks still do not correspond to a small proportion of those in locusts.
However, now gray grasshoppers have recently left their natural habitats, and in some regions it is listed as endangered. Medieval healers and modern alchemists also played an important role in this. The Latin name of the species is verrucivorus – means “warty”. The fact is that in ancient times people believed in the healing properties of grasshoppers. Some squeezed brown drops of digestive fluid from their mouths from the unfortunate ones and applied them to acne and fistulas, others fixed the grasshopper over a wart or wound, waited for the unfortunate insect to eat it. Sometimes after that, the sores were squeezed into place from the abdomen, and sometimes whole lapping was prepared from dried insects. Yes, digestive juices had some antiseptic effect (like human saliva), but in terms of effectiveness and safety they were much inferior even to vinegar poultices, not to mention modern remedies.
And they were eaten long before the spread of myths about Asian cuisine in Europe. The famous expression “honey and acrida” just came from the specific monastic diet, which included grasshoppers fried or baked in honey (the Greek word “acrida” itself meant many insects, but was associated mainly with grasshoppers).
In addition, slash-and-burn agriculture has also made a large contribution to the decline in the number – grasshoppers lay their eggs shallowly in moist soil. And the massive plowing of land in the 20th century, coupled with tons of applied broad-spectrum pesticides, significantly reduced the populations of many insects. Sometimes aiming at locusts, a person takes out the population and the grasshopper without worrying too much about the ethical side of the issue. In addition, there are a number of grasshopper-specific diseases that significantly thin out the number of young individuals. And in general, with abundant offspring, hardly 20% survive to adulthood. Well, let’s not talk about the sad, because for the most part the species is still widespread!
Well, today you learned a little more, and I hope you learned how to distinguish grasshoppers from locusts. Perhaps you will recognize them when you meet and save a couple more individuals.
All the best and don’t get sick!
Zhang, Hong-Li; Huang, Yuan; Lin, Li-Liang; Wang, Xiao-Yang; Zheng, Zhe-Min (2013). “The phylogeny of the Orthoptera (Insecta) as deduced from mitogenomic gene sequences”. Zoological Studies. 52: 37.
“Grasshopper | Description, Features, & Species”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved September 29, 2021.
Brock, Sebastian. “St John the Baptist’s diet – according to some early Eastern Christian sources”. St John’s College, Oxford. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
Smirnova T. P. “Orthoptera of natural and anthropogenic biocenoses of Belarus”. Minsk, 1996