The southeastern lubber is a spectacular grasshopper with a size and coloration demanding attention. From their humble beginnings as a small black grasshopper marked with a yellow or orange-hued racing stripe to their maturation into a boldly patterned adult, this is one hopper that is hard to miss.
Hatching from a pod of some 30-50 eggs the female lays underground, nymphs often group together at night underneath leaves. By day they eat and develop through five to six stages called instars. As they grow, their outer skin will split, allowing a larger grasshopper to emerge. When they first climb out of their former skin their coloration will be a rosy hue until their exoskeleton hardens and turns back to the darker black color.
It is not until they reach adulthood that they become the familiar yellow, red and black giants most are familiar with. This bright coloration serves to warn those looking to dine that they are not a palatable meal. They will also fan their bright pink wings in a defense display. If these actions don’t do the trick, they may engage their chemical defense system. This grasshopper produces toxins internally from some of the plants its eats, like amaryllis, and also produces other toxins within. Mixing these into a potent cocktail it can exude the noxious blend or “spit” it about five or six inches if needed to dissuade an eager bird or curious pet.
That’s an important defense mechanism as unlike most grasshoppers the huge gangly lubber is unable to fly. Reaching up to nearly four inches in length, they only seem bigger to the human eye, especially if your affinity for insects is lacking. While they cause no harm to humans, they do like to dine in gardens or flowerbeds.
If you’re not fond of seeing holes in your plants, you might be tempted to apply chemical agents to kill them off. While there are insecticides which can be used, lubbers are slow to die due to their hard exterior (exoskeleton).
A predatory bird known as the Loggerhead shrike does prey on the adult grasshoppers with a unique twist in the preparation of that meal. The noxious hoppers are impaled onto barbed wire fences or thorny vines until the toxins mellow and they become a suitable meal. Chemical spraying of grasshoppers could impact the birds so its best to just pick the grasshoppers off if they are bothersome rather than risking injury to other forms of wildlife.
Lubbers make great seasonal “pets” for children who enjoy observing insects. Easily kept in a creature box, add a bit of wet sponge for a water source and daily feed and provide this moisture. Properly kept, they will amaze your youngster by growth and molting. Be sure to release when no longer of interest or upon reaching adulthood.