By Peg Craft, MDC
Grasshopper calls are the elevator music of summer. As their rasping drones on, we soon tune it out.
Grasshoppers create songs that are repeated without a musical pitch. The songs aren’t whistles or trills. Instead, they sound like two pieces of sandpaper scratching together. It’s a sort of insect rhythm section.
A grasshopper makes its coarse tune by rubbing a series of small spines on its hind leg across a scraper on its wing, like sliding a thumbnail along the teeth of a comb. Each species has its own call to attract mates, just as birds do. Usually, only males take to music, attracting females with their calls. They mate, and the female lays eggs. Tiny nymphs hatch from the eggs the following spring. By late summer, the nymphs have grown through about five molts to become adults with a song.
Try tuning in to the grasshoppers when you go outside. Listen for their different calls, especially during the day, along roadsides and in woods and fields.
Differential grasshoppers are a favorite bait for anglers, and are an important component in the food chain for many animals, including foxes, raccoons, squirrels, amphibians, snakes, birds, turtles, and bats. At times, differential grasshoppers occur in large enough populations to cause severe damage to agricultural crops.