Grasshoppers are an herbivorous insect in the Orthoptera family. They are usually distinguished from katydids or bush crickets by using the term short-horned. When grasshopper populations are high, they can develop social characteristics and form organized groups which, through mating, will change them into locusts. This is an amazing pest, capable of jumping almost 20 times the entire length of their body. If people could do this, they would jump nearly 40 yards!
However, grasshoppers do not jump. They catapult by using their hind legs and are capable of both flying and jumping. When in flight, a maximum speed of eight miles per hour can be reached. There are approximately 18,000 different species of grasshoppers. Unfortunately, this pest can cause a lot of damage to a garden.
There are two main classifications for grasshoppers, long-horned and short-horned. The division of the species is determined by the antennae length, also referred to as horns or feelers.
Grasshoppers sizes range from medium to large. The size is dependent on the species, with the length of the average adult between one and seven centimeters. The chewing mouthparts are like crickets and katydids. Grasshoppers have two pairs of wings, one flexible and wide, the other narrow and tough, and long hind legs ideal for lengthy jumps. The antennae are short, not reaching most of the body.
Many grasshoppers have big eyes, the coloration is a mixture of green, brown and gray, and blend extremely well into any environment. The males of certain species have brightly colored wings, important for attracting females. Specific species consume toxic plants. The toxins remain in their bodies for protection from predators. The bright colors are a warning to predators the insect will not taste good.
The size of the female grasshoppers is bigger than the males. Sharp points are located where the abdomen ends to make laying eggs underground easier. Special structures can be found on the wings of the males to make sounds when rubbing the hind legs together. This pest can be found all over the world except for colder areas close to the South and North poles.
Grasshopper Life Cycle
Most grasshoppers are found in the fall, with some appearing during the spring and summer months. In order to mate, sperm is deposited by the male into the vagina of the female. The sperm travels through canals referred to as micropyles to reach the eggs. There are three stages in the life cycle of the insect, the egg, nymph and adult. The lifespan is generally one year.
The first stage of the lifecycle is the egg. The fertilized eggs are laid by the mother during midsummer. The eggs stay about one inch beneath the leaf litter or sand until hatched. A semisolid, sticky substance is sprinkled on the eggs by the female for the formation of an egg pod. There are between 15 and 150 eggs in each pod, with the specific number dependent on the species.
Female grasshoppers can lay a maximum of 25 pods. The eggs remain in place during the fall and winter for about 10 months prior to hatching into the nymph stage. This occurs during the spring or the very beginning of summer. The nymph is the second stage of the grasshopper’s life cycle. This is when the insect sees the outside world for the first time. The appearance of a nymph is much like an adult.
Nymphs are sometimes referred to as molts, but they do not have reproductive organs or wings. There are five developmental stages during this time called instars. Upon completion, the nymph becomes an adult. During each instar stage, the insect sheds the cuticle skin, while gradually growing wings. Their survival is dependent on soft and succulent plant foliage just one day after the egg has hatched.
The grasshopper remains in this stage for five to six weeks, then matures into an adult. During the nymph stage, molting occurs. This is when the exoskeleton is shed prior to growing into an adult. The entire body of the nymph is covered with an exoskeleton to provide protection from injury. Due to the rigidity, growth is inhibited because the insect does not have room to expand.
Growth is impossible until all these stages are completed. Five or six molts are necessary for structural changes prior to becoming an adult. The final stage is the adult. The wings require approximately one month to become completely developed. Once mature, the adult grasshopper has more mobility than a nymph. Mobility is necessary for hunting and fleeing from predators.
Eggs can now be laid by the females because the reproductive organs are completely grown. The eggs are then fertilized by the males. The female insect will not lay eggs until reaching the age of one to two weeks. This period is necessary for the female to gain weight. At this point in the life cycle, the female will keep laying eggs about every three to four days. This cycle continues until the female dies.
What Does Grasshopper Damage Look Like?
The damage most frequently observed includes:
- Ragged holes in plant stems, leaves, flower petals and fruits
- Loss of entire crops or fields
- Young plants chewed to the ground
Since grasshoppers are an herbivore, they consume plant leaves and stems and grass. The resulting damage looks like damage caused by gnawing insects. Ragged holes appear in flowers, fruits, stems and leaves. When there are enough of these pests, they will attack entire gardens and farms. You need to learn how to keep grasshoppers out of gardens (and greenhouses) or the damage and plant loss can be severe.
During their life cycle, a grasshopper infestation can consume or destroy an entire field of crops. In specific areas, as much as 25 percent of every crop is regularly lost because of grasshoppers. The damage is frequently confused with other chewing pests. If you are wondering how to keep grasshoppers out of your garden or greenhouse, the first step is making certain you have identified the correct pest before choosing a control method.
Grasshoppers prefer green growth found on cannabis, annual flowers, grasses and vegetable plants. Understanding how to get rid of grasshoppers is important because if the numbers are too high, the insects can turn into locusts, consuming almost everything in sight. Grasshopper damage includes large holes in flowers and leaves, with young plants often chewed down to the ground.
Once the fruit is attacked, scarring on the surface is often extensive, but damage to the actual fruit is rare. Despite feeding on a wide variety of plants, these insects prefer small grains including alfalfa, cannabis, cotton, grass, corn, soybeans, tobacco, clover and rice. In larger numbers, the grasshoppers also consume lettuce, beans, onions, carrots and sweet corn.
Plants including tomatoes, peas and squash are usually left alone. When enough grasshoppers are present, almost anything will be consumed. The most damage is generally seen in semi-arid, sub-humid areas in the center of the United States including Montana, New Mexico, Minnesota and Texas.
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How to Get Rid of Grasshoppers Naturally
The best options to get rid of grasshoppers include:
- Encouraging natural predators
- Cover plants using cheesecloth
- Set a few chickens loose in your garden
- Make sure greenhouse vents are screened
- Clear the area around your greenhouse
Since grasshoppers are extremely mobile, establishing control is extremely difficult. The best way to decrease the damage is by controlling population growth. A good option for outdoor gardens or crops is encouraging natural predators. Birds including larks, sparrows and swallows are excellent predators. The praying mantis, toads and small snakes will also consume grasshoppers. Cover any vulnerable plants with a crop or cheesecloth for protection.
Raising chickens will significantly decrease the insect population in general. If possible, allow a few chickens access if you have a smaller garden for the control of numerous insects.
Adding screening for vents in your greenhouse will ensure that grasshoppers cannot make their way in the first place. Removing vegetation up to 20 feet around your greenhouse and replacing with stone or gravel will ensure that grasshoppers do not have an area to breed and decrease the population.
How to Prevent Grasshoppers Naturally
Your best options include:
- Use Trifecta Crop Control as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy
- Make sure all greenhouse vents are screened
- Remove vegetation up to 20 feet around your greenhouse. Replace with stone or gravel.
- Place a bird feeder near your garden to attract natural predators
- Purchase toads for your garden
- Include deterring plants in the garden
- Tilling the ground during the summer
Grasshoppers must be identified before determining to ensure the perpetrator is not a different chewing pest. This insect can destroy a garden, or an entire crop within a couple of days. The pest can be controlled naturally in several different ways.
Grasshoppers hate both the taste and smell of garlic, one of the main ingredients in Trifecta Crop Control. Applying Crop Control at a preventative dilution ratio of 1oz per gallon of water once per week will ensure your crops remain free of grasshoppers. Moistening the leaves of the plants will deter not only grasshoppers, but numerous feeding insects.
Ensuring all vents on your greenhouse are screened can help preventing grasshoppers from becoming an in issue. In addition, clearing the area around your greenhouse will ensure there is no vegetation for them to linger and breed in. Remove vegetation up to 20 feet around your green house and replace it with stone or gravel.
Place a bird feeder near gardens to decrease the number of grasshoppers. This will attract natural predators including larks, sparrows and bluebirds. If possible, release small garden snakes, ducks, chickens, and toads. Purchase toad houses to ensure the toads will remain. These houses are not only effective, but a lot of fun!
Deterrent plants in the garden are helpful to keep grasshoppers away including cilantro and calendula. Professional growers often place calendula around the garden’s edges specifically as a deterrent for grasshoppers. Not only is calendula edible, it is also very pretty.
The ground should be tilled during the summer to prevent the grasshoppers from laying eggs by eliminating popular areas. During the winter months, the eggs will remain in the soil prior to hatching with the arrival of spring.
Eggs will be destroyed by tilling the ground late in the fall until the beginning of spring. The eggs from the previous summer will be destroyed. All weeds should be eliminated to help ensure new nymphs are unable to feed.
Remove all vegetation around greenhouses to ensure there is nowhere for grasshoppers to hang out and breed.