Sunday, June 04, 2006

This Gray Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens)

I found a bug. Not just any bug, a big bug. From head to folded wingtip, she measures 2 3/4 inches. If you take in the whole insect, as I did when I spotted her on the ground, from antennae to the hooks on her outstretched rear legs, she measures 4 inches–an impressive insect.

What is it about insects that doesn’t let us see them for what they are, but inclines us to cringe? I like insects. I teach classes to help people understand insects, spiders, and other crawly arthropod creatures so they will appreciate these creatures and look before they simply smash.

Even so, while out hacking back shrubbery in the garden, the prickle of insect legs on the side of my neck makes me wince. “Yeeh.” This morning, I grabbed the creepy critter off my skin and stopped myself mid-squash. The squirming dark brown insect with long transparent wings and an extended squirming head and thorax was a common snakefly (Agulla sp.). It isn’t an attractive bug, but it is beneficial. Adults eat many of the pest insects in my garden–aphids, mites, scale. I knew it was one of the good guys, still I had to resist the instinct to squish.

Now, in my hand, I am holding a large dead grasshopper. I am amazed at her size. I am intrigued by her coloration and markings because I saw the first of her kind at the L.A. Zoo on Monday. There I caught a glimpse of a live male and female sitting side-by-side on a large wide leaf. The females are typically larger than the males and at nearly 3 inches, this gray bird grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens) is one of the largest insects in California.

Why is this lady gray bird dead on my driveway? I’m pretty sure it is the triple digit heat. The thermometer has risen to over 102 degrees F. for the past two days. Usually June eases us into summer with cool overcast mornings. Unfortunately for this magnificent grasshopper the searing heat came too suddenly.

Sure, as a grasshopper she was inclined to nibble the plants in my garden. But the gray bird is not found in swarms, they do minimal damage. Their size however means they are an important food source for other animals–birds, lizards, even the skunk that will soon be followed by little ones as it makes its nightly quests for worms, insects and other arthropods. I hope the grasshopper had the opportunity to complete her circle of life before the heat cut her time short.

Your instinct might be to squash that large grasshopper munching on the green leaf in your garden, but do you know what species it is? Does it belong in your area? Does it play an important role in the lives of other plants and animals? If you want fewer pest insects, make sure you aren’t driving away their predators. Seek balance and your garden will be filled with life - all kinds of life.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Keri Dearborn, I, too live in the Southern Calif. area. You must not have lived here a while if you'/re a grown up (this is not meant as an insult) in California who's only seen the first of the gray bird grasshopper's type a few days before, it's one of the most common insects in the Western United States and Mexico. We have those a lot this time of year..
-Steve Carras, at (cause I forgot my BLOGGER password..)..and I've tried to respond but each and every time my message shows up blank..

Anonymous said...

Hi. My name is Maddison. I live in Southern Saskatchewan and we sometimes have lots of grasshoppers. They come out of the fields and eat everything. I hate Grasshoppers!

Anonymous said...

So... Ya! I also live in southern saskatchewan. Ya Saskatchewan roughriders. They are the best. They won the Grey cup once!!! YAH

Anonymous said...

ya gray bird grasshoppers....... cool i guess

i'm a wierdo!!!!! hahahehehahahehehahahehehahahehehahahehehahahehehahahehe.............. goodbye now

exemployee said...

i just found one of these on my patio. we have lived in arizona for almost 8 years so i'm not surprised if it was the first one you saw in cali. :)

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Southern California my whole life (39 years) and just saw my first gray bird grasshopper today.