The Grasshoppers are Coming
Grasshoppers like hot, dry weather. Some of the people who survived the 1930s on the plains have stories of how swarms of hoppers descended on them, eating entire fields and even farm implements and household items. Fields of corn or alfalfa or oats could be destroyed in hours. The grasshoppers would eat anything. The conventional wisdom was that hoppers liked salt, and so they would eat the shirt off your back, or wherever else sweat landed.
Stanley Jensen (left) believes he knows why grasshoppers thrive in dry years. Stan is a plant scientist not an entomologist (insect scientist), but he believes that there are natural fungi that control the grasshopper populations in wet years. In dry years, they thrive.
Walter Schmitt (right) remembers the grasshoppers chewing on the wooden tongues of horse-drawn equipment to get the salt from the sweat that had landed on it. Others remember hoppers chewing on hoe handles.
Elroy Hoffman remembers being hit in the face by grasshoppers when he was working on a tractor. “That would just knock you coo-coo,” Elroy says. Others have told stories of cars squishing so many hoppers that the roads became slick. There were reports that trains couldn’t get up hills because the hoppers’ bodies “greased” the tracks.
Like all insects, grasshoppers go through changes in their life cycles. These changes are called “metamorphosis.” About 12 percent of all insects go through incomplete metamorphosis. Grasshoppers are in this category. Basically, their lives begin when the female lays her eggs. These insect species will hatch into “nymphs” that look like small adults but usually don’t have wings. Nymphs will grow and shed their “exoskeletons” – the hard outer casings of their bodies – four to eight times before becoming adults. Finally, the adults arrive complete with wings and the ability to reproduce. Complete metamorphosis takes place in the other 88 percent of insect species. Here, an egg will hatch into a “larva” that usually looks like a worm rather than the adult insect. Caterpillers, maggots and grubs are all larval stages of insects. A larva molts its skin several times and grows slightly larger. Just before it enters the “pupa” stage, a larva makes a cocoon around itself. During this stage, it doesn’t eat. Instead, it body grows into the adult shape with wings, legs and adult organs. These changes can take from four days to several months. Finally, the “adult” stage emerges from the cocoon. Below is a representation of the “incomplete metamorphosis” of a grasshopper.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.