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Species Spotlight

Madera Canyon Grasshoppers

by Doug Moore

During the fall in Madera Canyon grasshoppers just seem to be everywhere! There can be so many individuals that it is almost impossible to drive up the road without crushing dozens and our fall nature walks often turn into “Grasshopper Fests” for the kids!

Madera Canyon and the Santa Rita Mountains are home to about 70 species of grasshoppers and an additional variety of katydids and crickets. A few species in our area, like the Pallid-winged (Trimerotropis pallidipennis) and Gray Bird (Schistocerca nitens) grasshoppers, are present nearly year-round. The majority of our grasshoppers hatch in response to summer rains from eggs deposited in the soil the previous year. The adults can remain active until the first hard frosts of fall, though many are consumed by other animals or succumb to fungus and parasites.

Most local species reproduce only once per season, but some can produce several generations between the onset of the summer monsoon and late fall.

The most identifiable feature of these insects is their huge hind legs that are enlarged for jumping. Grasshoppers, and the closely related katydids and crickets, move mostly by walking; the powerful muscles of the hind legs are reserved for a few hops when alarmed.

Wings may be present or absent; when present they can vary in length. Short-winged forms are flightless; long-winged forms are often strong fliers. In grasshoppers the forewing is thickened and pigmented for protection and camouflage of the hind wings folded away underneath. The large and fan-shaped hind wings are used for flight. Immature long-winged grasshoppers have short wings; the wings elongate gradually through a series of larval molts.

The most common group of grasshoppers we see in the canyon is the spur-throated grasshoppers (subfamily Cyrtacanthacridinae). The many species often appear very similar, tending to be small to medium sized with yellowish to greenish in color and splotches or stripes of dark brown or black.

Some of the most recognizable Madera Canyon Grasshoppers are:

 Horse Lubber Grasshopper (Taeniopoda eques): Big, shiny black grasshoppers with yellow to orange color on wing veins and along face, “collar”, abdomen and legs. Hind wing is bright red, edged with black. Often seen along paths and roads or prominently perched in vegetation. Females are larger and heavier-bodied than males but there are no color differences.

 Northwestern Red-winged Grasshopper (Arphia pseudonietana): Medium-sized, darkly mottled to solid black grasshoppers with light-colored rings on the hind legs. A member of the band-winged grasshoppers, this species has bright red hind wings edged in a broad black band. Adults click noisily during flight. Females are slightly larger than males and there are no color differences.

 Ebony Grasshopper (Boopedon nubilum): Medium to large grasshoppers with large rounded heads. Males are entirely black; their wings do not reach the end of the abdomen. Females are yellow-brown to brown and marked with cream or ivory and black (occasionally all black). The female’s wings are shorter than the males. The females are usually much larger than the males. The difference in size and coloration originally lead scientists to believe they were two separate species!

 Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis): One of the largest spur-throated grasshoppers, these are medium to large, stocky bodied insects. Their color is variable, the body yellow to olive-green with contrasting black markings. The wings are uniform in color to match the body and they lack distinctive markings. The femur (“thigh”) of the hind legs is distinctively striped with a black herringbone pattern; the lower leg is yellow. Differential grasshoppers often perch on vegetation. Females are larger and heavier-bodied than males with no color differences.

 Obscure Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura): Very large greenish grasshopper with olive-green to orange-brown forewings and a distinctive pale-yellow stripe extending from the front of the head back to the tip of the forewings. Females sometimes lack this stripe and have brownish spots on the forewings and often have black and yellow stripes on the face. The tibia (“lower leg”) of the hind legs is blackish-purple with black-tipped yellow spines. They are often seen perched high in shrubs or trees and they are very strong and able flier. Females are larger than males but there are usually no color differences.

   Several other interesting, but rarer Madera Canyon grasshoppers are Painted Grasshopper (Dactylotum bicolor) that are small to medium sized with bright contrasting colors of red, yellow or white and blue or black; Panther-spotted Grasshopper (Poecilotettix pantherinus) that are medium sized yellow-green with rows of alternating white and black spots and blue hind tibia; and Great-Crested Grasshopper (Tropidolophus formosus) that are large and greenish with a “dinosaur-like” crest on the “collar.”

White-lined Bird Grasshopper - Doug Moore