Grasshoppers: The Family Acrididae

Characteristics of various types of 'hoppers, from descriptions to diets

Most grasshoppers belong to the family Acrididae.
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Most grasshoppers that we find in our gardens, along roadsides, and on meadow walks belong to the family Acrididae. The group is subdivided into several subfamilies and includes slant-faced grasshoppers, stridulating grasshoppers, band-winged grasshoppers, and some of the better-known locusts.

Description

If you find a grasshopper in your lawn or garden, it's likely a member of the family Acrididae.

Most species are medium to large in size, but members of this huge family vary greatly, ranging from less than half an inch to more than 3 inches in length. Many are gray or brown in color, camouflaged well among the plants where they live.

In the Acrididae family, the "ears," or auditory organs, are located on the sides of the first abdominal segments and are covered by the wings (when present). Their antennae are short, typically extending less than half the grasshopper's body length. The pronotum, a plate-like structure, covers just the thorax, or chest, of grasshoppers, never extending beyond the base of the wings. The tarsi, or back legs, have three segments.

Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Orthoptera
  • Family: Acrididae

Diet

Grasshoppers commonly feed on plant foliage, with a particular fondness for grasses and spurges. When grasshopper populations become large, swarms of them can defoliate grasslands and agricultural crops over large areas.

Life Cycle

Grasshoppers, like all members of the order Orthoptera, undergo simple or incomplete metamorphosis with three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. In most species, the eggs are laid in the soil as the overwintering stage.

Interesting Behaviors

  • Many male grasshoppers in the family Acrididae use courtship calls to attract mates. Most of them use a form of stridulation, in which they rub pegs on the inside of their hind legs against a thickened edge of the wing.
  • Band-winged grasshoppers snap their wings while in flight, making an audible crackle.
  • In some species, the male may continue to guard the female after mating. He will ride around on her back for a day or more to discourage her from copulating with other males.

Range and Distribution:

Most Acridid grasshoppers inhabit grasslands, although some live in forests or even aquatic vegetation. More than 8,000 species have been described worldwide, with more than 600 of them living in North America.

Grasshoppers in Human Culture

  • Grasshoppers are eaten as human food in many countries, including Mexico, China, and nations in Africa and the Middle East.
  • The ancient Greek storyteller Aesop is credited with "The Ant and the Grasshopper," a tale in which an ant works hard preparing for winter while the grasshopper plays. When winter comes, the grasshopper asks for shelter and food from the ant, who refuses, leaving the grasshopper to starve.
  • In the 1998 movie" A Bug's Life," ants are the heroes and grasshoppers are the villains. In the end, the head grasshopper is eaten by a bird.

Sources:

  • Borror and DeLong's Introduction to the Study of Insects, 7th Edition, by Charles A. Triplehorn and Norman F. Johnson