Tis the Season ...

May 27, 2010 | Tag(s): Swarms
By: Lauren, Assistant Manager of Animal Collections at the Insectarium
Lubber Grasshopper

With the oncoming of warmer weather and rain we at the Insectarium look forward to something that most other people probably either don’t notice or try to ward against - Bugs!   Summer is the season of plenty and New Orleans has a richer supply of some species than most. This time of year a lot of our staff goes out on lots of collecting trips to collect various animals for our exhibits as well as the offsite breeding facility we keep so that we have animals over winter. 

Some animals are more rare and harder to find but others can occur in large swarms that can, at times, impress and excite even seasoned bug hunters. One of the swarms consists of Lubber grasshoppers  (Romalea guttata) – cute little black grasshoppers that, during the right seasons, can occur in the thousands . One of our volunteers was kind enough to bring us a couple of milk jugs full of these cute little critters because his back yard has become a hot spot full of the pint sized hoppers. 
Often referred to as “Devil’s horses”,  Lubber Grasshoppers are one of the larger members of the short horned grasshopper family,  Acrididae, They can grow to around 3 inches long and have a robust body with shorter wings. I often refer to them as the cow of the grasshopper species because they are rather clumsy when moving, can’t jump as far as many other grasshoppers and seem content to simply plod along and eat the vegetation in front of them. 
This description might lead you to believe that they would be a tasty snack for passing birds and mammals but the eater should beware because the lubbers, both large and small, contain some nasty toxins that have led to sickness and even death after ingestion. The larger instars can even create a frothy chemical secretion along with a hissing noise from their spiracles (holes on the side of their thorax normally used for breathing). Finally, as with most grasshopper species, when disturbed they can spit up partially digested food mixed with semi-toxic chemicals in the form of a dark liquid that most of us grew up calling “tobacco spit”. Most animals are aware of the dangers of eating these slow moving morsels because of their coloration. The bright lines of colors and the back and sides of the animals are an advertisement  to their nasty taste.
Don’t worry if you see these cute little critters in your backyard though – they are pretty much harmless to humans . They might to a small amount of damage to your garden but contrary to what their size might imply – they don’t eat as much as some of the smaller faster moving grasshoppers. So simply sit back and enjoy your cute little visitors which herald the arrival of a New Orleans summer!