Insects leave observers hopping about their identity


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Spinning tales about the grasshopper and similar insects. Grasshoppers are commonly misidentified with other insects. Similarities in body structure, camouflage coloration, antennae for touch or smell, behavior, singing calls (often by the male) or other attributes might bewilder the observer. What insect is it?

The grasshopper is basically green. With some exceptions, grasshoppers sing by rubbing a hind leg against the forewing to produce calls. Daytime activity is typical. Swarming never or rarely occurs. For leaping, powerful rear legs catapult this insect 20 times the length of the body. Flight is mostly short distance. If handled, it defensively spits out brown liquid — called tobacco juice.  Relatives are katydids and crickets.

The locust, a species of the short-horned grasshopper, displays green when solitary and black and brown when gregarious (swarming phase). Some swarms have maintained trillions of insects. Actually, the Year of the Locust in the Great Plains was 1874 and 1875. The now-extinct Rocky Mountain locusts “ate everything but the mortgage.”

The katydid (bush cricket or long-horned grasshopper) is essentially green. The name evolved from the sound of unique forewings rubbing together. Both genders sing.  Antennae might be longer than the body. Ears on the front legs are supposedly the smallest ears of any animal but can detect the ultrasonic click of the bat. Activity is common at night. It ordinarily does not fly but might travel in swarms. Jumping compares to the grasshopper. This is the “Mormon cricket” which devoured the crops of Utah Mormon pioneers in 1848.

The house cricket is mainly brown and the field cricket is mainly black. The name is derived from the sound of rubbing the wings together.  Chirping is faster in hot temperatures. Antennae might be longer than the body. Jumping 30 times the body length is possible with sturdy hind legs. It is mostly nocturnal and is generally found in small groups.  In China, crickets are bred for fighting; some are worth $1,600 each.

The cicada is likely to be black or brown. Gathering in large numbers above ground, it is mistaken for the locust.  Actually, the cicada does not swarm or jump. Particularly during daytime, buzzing is produced by membranes (tymbals) of the abdomen, heard by the female a mile away. This is presumably the loudest insect sound produced and is irritating at times. Cicadas might land on people operating landscaping tools or mowers — confusing the noise with the vibration from male cicadas.

The praying mantis varies from green to brown. This ambush predator, often large, might hold its prominent front legs in a praying pose or use them to capture prey which is eaten live. Grasshoppers are delectable. Activity occurs day or night. Evidently, being the only insect able to turn its head 180 degrees helps entrap victims or avert predators. In addition, it can fly. To some, its body seems to be an exaggerated grasshopper.

The walking stick or stick bug is green, brown or black. It is confused with the mantis due to camouflage and size.  Superbly disguised, the body can resemble a stick or imitate a twig rocking in the wind. Pretending to be dead dissuades predators. If captured, it can detach a leg to flee; amazingly, the limb can regrow, but not in adulthood. Mostly nocturnal, it remains motionless in daytime under plants or leaves. Relatives of the walking stick are the grasshopper, cricket and mantis.

Evidently, insects can be beneficial. The antennae of the walking stick and cricket are researched for insect tactile sense. The walking stick and the mantis are regularly kept as pets. Moreover, some of these high-protein bugs are consumed by various cultures out of necessity. Incidentally, some gourmets savor grasshoppers fried, smoked or toasted — occasionally coated with chocolate. VV