Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Carolina Grasshopper

One of the more common grasshoppers in Missouri is the Carolina Grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina). They are one of the largest grasshoppers in North America, with males averaging 1.5 inches in length and a wingspan up to 2.83 inches, females are larger and measure up to 2.29 inches and a wingspan up to 4 inches. You can find them in  wide variety of habitats including agricultural ground, roadsides, open weedy grasslands or anywhere there are open bare grounds. Nearly all 48 of the Continental United States are home to these Orthopteras. The exception is Southern Florida, Gulf Coastal Plains, Southwest Arizona, and the bottom 2/3rds of California.They are not particular in their diet and will feed on a wide variety of grasses, forbs, horsetails, and sedges. 

This is one of the most common grasshoppers found throughout the summer months here in Missouri. If you haven't ran across them, they are very flighty and fast. Photographing them can be a challenge in patience as you sneak up on them quietly, only to have them fly 15 feet away the second you are ready to snap a photo.

They are known by several names including Road Duster, Quaker, and Black-winged Grasshopper. I personally love the name Road Duster and it is a very apt name considering I generally find them along gravel roads in the countryside near where I live. They are often flying back and forth from ditch to ditch. The roadside weeds seem to be a favorite of these hungry little munchers. 

Color varies from tan to gray, and when not in flight they are perfectly camouflaged against the gravel road beds, open ground and old lots where they are found. 
When in flight their wings are brownish-black with yellow edges. Their flight is erratic, and often bobbing, much like a butterfly which they are often mistaken for. Mourning cloak butterflies are the most common butterfly that these grasshoppers are mistaken for, most likely due to the coloring. Mourning Cloaks have black wings edged in yellow, just like the flight wings of these grasshoppers. 

During warm, sunny days the adults frequently fly over bare ground interacting with one another. Males are known for their hovering flight. They rise almost vertically from the ground to heights of 3 to 6 feet, occasionally higher, and hover for 8 to 15 seconds. At the end they flutter down to the ground close to where they started. They may repeat this maneuver as many as five times. Females are attracted to this flight display and will come in to investigate potential mates. The display also attracts males so that a small aggregation of several males and a female may gather on the bare ground beneath the hovering male. 

Once mated the female will use her ovipositor to deposit egg pods within bare spots in the ground. The eggs remain underground all winter and hatch the following spring. The tiny nymphs will emerge from underground and begin feeding. They will reach their adult size by mid to late summer which is when breeding will once again take place. 

With hot summer temperatures these grasshoppers alter their behavior in contrast to ground temperature. When the ground temperature reaches or exceeds 110 degrees they will start climbing blades of grass or stems of plants in what is referred to as "stilting." This gets their body off the hot surface of the ground where it is blistering, and into cooler environs. They will also orient themselves so they face the sun, which reduces the amount of their body coming in contact with the direct rays of the sun, which also keeps them cooler. To say this eludes to intelligence on their part would be a stretch, but it certainly eludes to a protective instinctual behavior that protects them from injury. 

These grasshoppers are an important part of the food chain and are consumed by birds, snakes, frogs, toads, spiders, praying mantids, raccoons, skinks, skunks, mice, squirrels and other predators of insects. Even humans on occasion will consume grasshoppers for protein.