The Acrobatic Grasshopper
Have you ever tried to catch a grasshopper? If so, you know how cunning you have to be, for there is nothing more expert than a grasshopper at springing away when you come anywhere near it.
Tess and Chris often catch them, just for the fun of it, and to have a good look at them, but it's never an easy matter, especially as they are so careful not to hurt the 'hoppers' delicate feet, legs and feelers.
Next time you have a chance, look carefully at a grasshopper, and see how beautifully Nature has built him for all the jumping and springing around that he does. Look at his hind legs-ever so long, and broad with muscles up towards the top. These muscles, of course, give him the strength to spring with. And his feet have tiny cushiony pads on them, so that when he lands from a huge jump, he won't be badly jolted. Nature never forgets anything, it seems.
Then, as well as jumping, many grasshoppers can also fly. They have lovely big, gauzy wings that fold away like fans when not being used, underneath the top wings, which are narrower and tougher.
But grasshoppers do not all have wings - and even those that do have them when they are grown-up, do not have them while they are nymphs, or youngsters. So it's often a bit puzzling to know what's what about them. When you find a grasshopper without wings, it might really be a wingless kind, or it might be a nymph of a winged kind-for nymphs and adults look very much alike.
And right from babyhood a grasshopper is an excellent jumper.
When you find one with a long pointy tail, like this, you know that it is a lady 'hopper, and that the "tail" is what she uses to dig burrows and deposit eggs with. She digs these burrows in the earth, and places her eggs neatly inside them, where they are well protected until they hatch. Of course, some lady 'hoppers do not have these long pointed "egg placers", but they dig burrows quite well just the same, with the ends of their bodies.
If all the baby 'hoppers that hatched out of their eggs lived and grew, there wouldn't be much room on Earth for anything else.
But they have so many enemies among birds and insects that they are killed off in great numbers. The race of man has also declared war on grasshoppers, for they do a lot of damage to his crops and pastures- and when a plague of them comes swarming over the landscape in thousands of millions, they eat everything in sight.
Have you ever seen such a swarm? Tess and Chris haven't, but I have. There were so many of them that, as they flew towards us, they looked like a huge, dark, moving cloud. For a while they blotted out the sun and, although it was only midday, it looked as if night was coming. Then they settled--one great seething, crawling, chewing mass-and a few hours later, when they rose into the air again and traveled farther on, there was no living thing left except people and animals-not a sign of a plant anywhere, except the bare branches of a few trees.
These plague grasshoppers have short feelers, but there are others with extremely long feelers. Sometimes they come into the house, and they'll bite if you're not careful. But you don't have to worry about this, as they have no poison.
Some long-feelered grasshoppers live in trees, and their wings look so much like leaves that you can be right next to one of them, and not realize that you are looking at an insect.
Have you ever wondered about a grasshopper's song? The short-feelered kind keeps his "musical instrument" on the inside of his hind leg. It's a row of little pegs which make a rattling, rasping sound when he rubs them against a hard vein in his wings.
The long-feelered kind makes his music by scraping one of his front wings over the other, where he has a sharp file. But wherever his song comes from, it is meant as a call to the lady grasshoppers a sort of proposal of marriage. And the ladies hear it with "ears" which are little holes either in their front legs, or at the base of their hind ones. Insects keep things in funny places, don't they?
Of course, as with most other insects, there are many different kinds of grasshoppers-some very large, and others so small that they can live happily in ant nests. Some are brown and others green, and while most of them have squat faces, there's one kind with a long pointy one.
This fellow lives in grassy fields, and he himself is so much like a grassblade in shape and color that it's very hard to find him unless he moves. Then if you disturb him, he flies off quickly, on the prettiest light-green wings.
One day last summer, Chris and Tess had some friends in to play. Suddenly they were deafened with noise. It sounded as if hundreds of cicadas were "singing" all at once. One little girl said, "Heavens! Those locusts!" And Chris said, "That's where you're wrong. They're not locusts-they're cicadas."
"Well, then, what are locusts?" the little girl wanted to know.
"Locusts are grasshoppers," he told her.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Of course I'm sure," he said. "They're grasshoppers, all right."
But he told only part of the story. Actually, it's the long-feelered grasshoppers that are locusts, yet nearly everybody calls the plague grasshoppers "locusts", and these have short feelers. So the name "locust" seems to be given to the wrong insect nearly always.
We needn't do that, need we? We can all be clever enough to give the name "locust" only to grasshoppers with long feelers. And we would never, never dream of giving it to a cicada.