It has finally cooled off enough to lure you outside for an evening walk. As you walk past woods or unmanicured areas of your neighborhood, have you noticed the insects popping and crackling as they escape your footfalls?
Referred to as crepitations, all that racket is courtesy of grasshoppers. Snapping their wings as they fly off, the taut popping sounds like a loud rattle. Grasshoppers also rub their legs against their abdomen or forewings to make a variety of sounds. Some species even have sound amplifying structures to ensure they are heard by their mates.
Found throughout the United States and belonging to the same biological family, grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids can be seen nearly everywhere. The diversity is enormous with hundreds of different types divided up into groups such as band-winged, short-horned, spur-throated and locusts. Omnivorous, grasshoppers will eat plants as well as their own kind and other dead insects. Voracious, they have been cursed for their ability to historically destroy crops one munching wave at a time.
While they may decimate food crops, grasshoppers also serve as a crunchy meal for many other species. From lizards to birds, other insects, and mammals, they are nourishment on the move. Because of this, grasshoppers are well adapted to escaping and hiding. If a predator or person is strolling by, the hopping, flying, and darting ensures an erratic escape and better chances of survival.
Hatching from eggs, grasshoppers go through simple metamorphosis. Young look like miniature adults as they grow through a series of stages referred to as an instar. They molt or shed their outer skin after it splits, allowing the grasshopper to climb out and complete each stage. As they do, a remarkable thing occurs. Missing limbs-such as a leg picked off by a predator-are replaced.
Shed skins are not commonly seen, likely due to the exacting camouflage on these wary critters.
Colorations and patterns vary widely between grasshoppers and ensure the insect can blend into its surroundings regardless of the habitat where it lives. To make identification even more challenging, several types of Florida grasshoppers have multiple adult color phases which helps to provide additional protection from predators. With over 75 species in Florida alone, the variety of grasshoppers out there is more than enough to keep one engaged in discovery.
Katydids and crickets are part of this insect order and are likely the source of most of the singing you hear in the woods both day and night. Katydids have long, impressive antennae and typically are colored bright green or brownish. Step outside one evening and listen to the song of the woods. There is a whole other world out there just waiting for you to notice.