There Will be Grasshoppers Next Year!

Ghopper3I was walking through the garden this weekend and caught two grasshoppers “in the act.” I wasn’t sure how long their mating process would last but I was glad to see that they were still on the sunflower when I returned with a camera.

These appear to be spur-throat grasshoppers (Melanoplus ponderosus), the most common grasshopper in the US. I’ve always thought these were interesting insects but the pictures led me to realize that these are some beautiful insects (at least to me!) with interesting markings and textures.

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Having taken a picture of them mating, I spent a little time learning about the mating process of these insects. When mating, the male grasshopper (smaller than the female) inserts a package of sperm called a spermatophore into the ovipositor of the female grasshopper. The sperm then fertilizes the female’s eggs. After fertilization, the female uses her ovipositor to deposit the eggs 1-2 inches underground. Here in Pennsylvania and other temperate climates, the eggs enter into a phase called diapause, a sort of suspended animation, until after winter. In the spring, the eggs incubate, the nymphs emerge and a whole new generation of grasshoppers starts its life cycle.

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I find that I don’t notice grasshoppers until late summer. Part of the reason for this is that a grasshopper goes through 6 instars or developmental stages before it reaches sexual maturity. The grasshopper looks like a grasshopper during all of these stages but they’re very small in the beginning, increasing in size after each molt. You see, while I don’t notice the grasshoppers until they’re large, they’re there, eating, growing, molting and waiting to be able to pass on their DNA to another generation.

These two adults have reached the goal of their short life – the species will continue and there will be grasshoppers again next year!




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