The winner of today’s photography challenge is a grasshopper. I noticed this guy hanging out in the flowers of some grass (if I had to wager a bet—it is either switchgrass, or a close family member).
So grasshoppers go through five different molts between hatching from the egg and the adult—but they look like an adult in each stage (just smaller and slightly weirder—as I shared some pictures of the younger nymphs earlier this summer).
This one was just chilling in the flowers, though I’m sure that if I got any closer it would have jumped towards other tall grasses in the area.
A little on the grass (as I’m going to say that I’m pretty sure that it is either switchgrass—or a close family member), it was probably thinking of chomping on. Switchgrass (Panicumvirgatum) is a perennial warm season grass that is native to North America. This is one of the many plants that is being groomed as potential biofuel plants. One of the main reason why it is being looked at: it isn’t part of the food chain for either humans or cattle (or other farm animals).
It can also grow in areas that other plants can’t—such as high salt, and brackish waters. It has a very good root system—so it can also work in erosion control as well. It comes back year after year—and before we started building cities and towns in the middle of the prairie—it was one of the major native grasses.
I actually worked with this grass during graduate school (it was the focus of my dissertation)—and I am always amazed to see how tall it grows in the wild (in the lab—it’s height is limited by either the growth chamber or being trimmed back in the greenhouses)—it can get up to six feet tall pretty quickly in some areas.
The winner of today’s photography challenge is the grasshopper. One thing about the name grasshopper—it refers to a group of insects (which include locusts), and not just a single species. So far this summer I’ve managed to get a picture of a grasshopper in two different molting stages—as they don’t go through a complete metamorphosis, but they as they grow they molt and become more and more like the adult at each stage.
There are five nymph stages between the egg and the adult grasshopper. Grasshoppers are plant eaters (mainly the leaves of the plants), and can be consider pests of crops if they gather in large numbers (especially locusts). They’re considered food in Mexico and Indonesia, and are one of the oldest living groups of insects (they’ve been found in amber dating back to the Triassic era (~250 million years ago)).
The first photograph is of an very young grasshopper nymph—probably within it’s first molt (or just hatched for that matter). It was this tiny little green hopping bug on the table. This little critter will then feed, and go through several more molts until it reaches the adult stage (usually the sixth and final molt).
The second photograph is probably of a fourth or fifth stage molting grasshopper. It is almost adult size, but still seemed to be a bit on the smaller (and bright) side of a grasshopper. I’m use to the adults being a little more of a dark and drab green, and not this bright leaf green.
This guy then moved on to find leaves to feed on so that it could go through it’s final molting stage and emerge as a fully winged adult within the next couple of weeks. They’ll mate, and the females will lay their eggs so that an new round of grasshoppers will hatch in the spring and begin the cycle again.
The life cycle is unique in that eggs will enter a period of diapause (or a period of suspended development, especially during unfavorable environmental conditions) in the fall/winter and then when the temperatures warm back up—they’ll finish developing and hatch as tiny little nymphs.
I know that it is probably too late this year, but next year I want to see if I’m able to get pictures of a grasshopper in all five nymph stages and the adult. This year I managed two.