Saturday, August 11, 2007
Gray Bird Grasshopper ?
There is a green grasshopper in the ornamental plum tree. It’s rich velvety green color suggests a gladiator katydid, but binoculars reveal its antennae are more like a creosote grasshopper. No, that’s not right either, there are no markings on the legs.
With its green image seared into my memory I type “green grasshopper” into Google and the hunt begins. Eventually, I’m at BugGuide searching through the taxonomic trees of grasshoppers. I finally come across a photo that matches and the name in the caption surprises me completely.
This green beauty is a nymph or juvenile form of my old friend the gray bird grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens).
The gray bird seems to appear out of the ether in mid-to-late summer, when actually like any good magician it was hiding in plain view. The young gray bird grasshopper looks completely different from the long, hard, gray body it will have in a few months.
Because the grasshopper’s exoskeleton carries its color, new markings or even completely different coloration can appear with each molt of the exoskeleton. As the grasshopper grows it will molt multiple times. It is a typical and successful natural strategy: blend in with the background when you are young and vulnerable, change your appearance with adulthood so you can attract a mate and reproduce. When you are a creature born in an ecosystem that is green in spring and dries to a crackly brown by late summer, its a huge plus if you can change your coloration to fit in.
This year, southern California skipped through its green phase and went directly to parched brown. Irrigated yards are the greatest outpost of green. Perhaps that is why this young gray bird grasshopper appeared. The food possibilities are much greater this year along suburb sidewalks. But this little guy jeopardized invisiablity by chosing to snack on purple foliage. On these leaves, it was definitely not camouflaged.