Friend or Foe?

Grasshopper: Munching Pest or Controlling Invasives?

By Ann M. Mason, Fairfax Master Gardener Intern

red grasshopper

Red-legged grasshopper

In my youth I often heard the tale of ‘Jiminy Cricket’ but not much about ‘Gregory Grasshopper.’ While both crickets, grasshoppers and their locust cousins belong to the Orthoptera order, they belong to different suborders and have different characteristics. Crickets and katydids belong to the suborder, Ensifera, with slender antennae longer than their bodies; grasshoppers and locusts belong to the suborder, Caelifera, distinguished by short, horned antennae. Locusts are a grasshopper species, who for a variety of reasons have left their normal solitary life to enter the swarming phase sometimes caused by drought conditions and followed by robust and rapid vegetative growth.

Let’s look at the physical and behavioral characteristics that set crickets and grasshoppers apart and make identification of these insect cousins easier. Grasshoppers are diurnal and active during the day, while crickets are nocturnal, active at night. Generally, grasshoppers are larger than crickets. They are lighter in color than crickets and are neutral green, grey or light brown. Crickets have bright or dark colors. Both grasshoppers and crickets can jump, and grasshoppers can also fly.

Antennae size and shape are very different for grasshoppers and crickets. Grasshoppers have short, horn-like antennae, while crickets boast longer, slender ones — longer than their body length. Grasshoppers eat plants (herbivorous); crickets are predators and eat plants and other insects (omnivorous). Both male and female grasshoppers produce chirping sounds by rubbing their hind legs with their wings; only male crickets make a chirping sound by rubbing the top of one wing across the teeth at the bottom of the other wing.

Melanoplus differentialis

Melanoplus differentialis

Virtually all of the 28 grasshopper species in the United States are native to North America. Let’s look more closely at a few of the grasshopper species you might see in your Virginia garden. Several grasshoppers are in the Melanoplus species, including the differential gras