American Bird Grasshopper: Essential Facts and Tips

The American bird grasshopper is a fascinating species with unique features that set them apart from other grasshoppers.

These intriguing insects have a distinct appearance, with their main color being tan, and sometimes displaying an olive or pinkish hue.

Not all grasshoppers can fly adeptly, but the American bird grasshopper is known for its large wings and graceful flying capabilities, which help them evade danger and settle up on trees.

American Bird Grasshopper:

Belonging to the genus Schistocerca, American bird grasshoppers are related to other bird grasshoppers found in Missouri and Oklahoma.

They are considered larger than other spur-throated grasshoppers, with adult sizes ranging from 1.6 to 2.8 inches (40 to 70 mm) in length.

Their slender build, impressive size, and striking markings make them easy to identify among other grasshopper species.

Female American bird grasshoppers lay their eggs in the soil using their ovipositor, depositing them about 2 to 3 cm below the surface.

Typically, a frothy polymer-like substance secreted by the female is used to bind together a cluster of 60 to 80 eggs.

They tend to prefer areas with some ground cover, offering a better environment for their offspring to hatch and grow.

Overview of the American Bird Grasshopper

Identification and Quick Facts

The American Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca americana) is a large, red to orange-brown grasshopper, easily identified by its yellow dorsal line and various dark spots and white lines.

Adult grasshoppers of this species vary in length from 1.2 to 2.8 inches (30mm to 70mm) 1.

They belong to the arthropod family Acrididae and the order Orthoptera 2. Here are some quick facts about the American Bird Grasshopper:

  • Main color: Tan, sometimes with olive or pinkish cast
  • Length: 1.2 to 2.8 inches (30mm to 70mm)
  • Habitat: Areas with ground cover
  • Similar to crickets in appearance
  • Known for long bodies, large wings, and the ability to fly gracefully

American Bird Grasshopper Taxonomy

The taxonomy of the American Bird Grasshopper is as follows:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Orthoptera
  • Family: Acrididae
  • Genus: Schistocerca
  • Species: Schistocerca americana

The American Bird Grasshopper is closely related to spur-throated grasshoppers and also has a spur/spine on the underside of its thorax, just behind its head3.

They are larger and more slender than many other grasshoppers in their order, Orthoptera, which includes other common insects like crickets and grasshoppers in the suborder Caelifera4.

Although they are related to other grasshoppers, the American Bird Grasshopper has distinct features, making it easy to identify and understand them.

Physical Attributes of American Bird Grasshopper

Size and Appearance

The American bird grasshopper is known for its large size and ornate markings. Its main color is tan, sometimes with an olive or pinkish cast.

They are long-bodied with large wings, which enable them to fly gracefully. Adults of this species can range in size between 1.6 to 2.8 inches (40 to 70 mm) long.

Hind Legs and Jumping Abilities

  • Long, strong hind legs
  • Adapted for jumping
  • Adult grasshoppers are good fliers for short distances

The American bird grasshopper’s hind legs are well adapted for jumping. These powerful legs also enable the adult grasshoppers to be good fliers over short distances.

Male vs Female

FeatureMaleFemale
SizeSmallerLarger
Egg-layingNot applicableDepositing eggs in the soil
Coloration & AppearanceSimilar to femaleSimilar to male

The physical appearances of male and female American bird grasshoppers are quite similar. However, females tend to be larger in size.

One key difference between the male and female grasshoppers is related to reproduction: only females lay eggs, depositing them into the soil.

Distribution and Habitat

Geographical Range

The American bird grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura) is found mainly in the southeastern region of the United States, such as Florida and North Carolina.

Its range extends from the eastern coastal regions of the United States to the central parts. In some cases, the grasshopper has been found as far north as Canada.

Habitat Preferences

The American bird grasshopper prefers living in various habitats like:

  • Open grasslands
  • Woodlands
  • Agricultural fields

These grasshoppers are adaptable and can thrive in different environments. For example, they are commonly found in Florida, where the habitat varies from sandy soils to pine flatwoods.

Comparison of American Bird Grasshopper and Schistocerca Grasshopper Habitats:

HabitatAmerican Bird GrasshopperSchistocerca Grasshoppers
GrasslandsYesYes
WoodlandsYesYes
AgriculturalYesYes

American bird grasshoppers share their habitat preferences with other Schistocerca grasshoppers.

However, each species might have specific environmental factors that affect their distribution.

Overall, the American bird grasshopper is a resilient species that can easily adapt to different environments across the United States and Canada.

Feeding and Impact on Agriculture

Diet and Feeding Habits

The American grasshopper, also known as the Schistocerca americana, is a type of short-horned grasshopper often found in North America. They mainly feed on :

  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Stems

They can consume a wide variety of plant species and often defoliate crops like citrus, causing significant agricultural damage.

Agricultural Pest

American grasshoppers are considered an agricultural pest due to their high reproductive rates and feeding habits. They have been known to cause damage in several states, such as Texas and Wisconsin. The main crops affected include:

  • Citrus
  • Alfalfa
  • Wheat

Control Measures

Effective control measures for the American grasshopper involve both natural and chemical methods. Some examples are:

  • Natural predators: Encouraging the presence of birds, insects, and arachnids that feed on grasshoppers.

  • Cultural practices: Keeping fields and gardens weed-free can help reduce the grasshopper population.

  • Insecticides: Using chemical insecticides like carbaryl, malathion, and permethrin can help control their numbers, but they should be used sparingly to minimize environmental impact.

Comparison: Natural vs. Chemical Control

ProsNatural ControlChemical Control
 Environmentally friendlyFast-acting
 Promotes biodiversityEffective against large populations
ConsSlow to show resultsPotential harm to non-target species
 Might not be effective in severe infestationsCan negatively impact the ecosystem

You can deploy a combination of these methods to efficiently tackle grasshopper issues in agricultural settings.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Eggs and Adults

The life cycle of the American bird grasshopper, Schistocerca americana, consists of three main stages: egg, nymph, and adult.

The females lay their eggs in the soil, usually in groups called pods. After 3-4 weeks, nymphs hatch from the eggs and work their way to the surface2. They undergo five or six instars before becoming adults3.

Female grasshoppers lay eggs only when they are 1 week old or older4.

Two Generations per Year

It takes about two months for a grasshopper to complete its life cycle from egg to adult5. In areas with warmer climates, this can result in two generations per year.

Temperature and Density Impact

  • Depending on temperature and density levels, the grasshopper’s behavior may change.
  • High density and warmer temperatures may result in swarming or migratory behavior.
  • Lower density and cooler temperatures often lead to more solitary lifestyles.

Comparison table: Solitary vs. Swarming

ConditionSolitarySwarming
TemperatureCoolerWarmer
DensityLowerHigher

Predators and Interactions with Other Species

Birds and Other Predators

The American bird grasshopper, like other grasshoppers, has a variety of predators in its ecosystem. Some examples of these predators include:

  • Birds: Birds such as sparrows and crows frequently feast on grasshoppers
  • Spiders: Various species of spiders prey on grasshoppers
  • Arthropods: Insects like mantises and predatory beetles consume grasshoppers

Attracting Beneficial Insects

Encouraging the presence of beneficial insects in your garden can help control the population of grasshoppers and related insects such as katydids. Here are some ways to attract these helpful allies:

  • Plant flowers that provide nectar and pollen for beneficial insects
  • Provide a source of water for thirsty insects
  • Create a suitable habitat for insects to lay eggs and complete their life cycles
 Beneficial InsectPrey
Example 1:Green lacewingsAphids, Whiteflies
Example 2:LadybugsAphids, Mealybugs
Example 3:Parasitic waspsCaterpillars

Attracting these beneficial insects helps maintain balance within the ecosystem, ensuring that grasshoppers and other pests do not overrun your garden or landscape.

Fun Facts and More

  • The American bird grasshopper can jump impressive distances, thanks to its powerful hind legs.
  • With these legs, they can jump and fly rather gracefully to escape danger, like up into trees 1.
  • A combination of muscle strength and energy storage allows these grasshoppers to achieve great jumping distances.

Here’s a brief comparison between the American bird grasshopper and other hexapods:

HexapodJumping DistanceEnergy Storage (Approx.)
American Bird GrasshopperHighHigh
Other Grasshopper SpeciesMediumMedium
Ensifera (Crickets, etc.)LowLow

Conclusion

The American bird grasshopper is a fascinating species with distinctive features. From its tan color and large wings to its graceful flight and preference for ground cover, it stands out among grasshoppers. Understanding its life cycle, habitat, feeding habits, and control measures is crucial for managing its impact on agriculture.

Footnotes

  1. Grasshoppers of the Choctaw Nation in Southeast Oklahoma 2 3

  2. American Grasshopper, Schistocerca americana authDomain 2

  3. Oklahoma’s Bird Grasshoppers 2

  4. American grasshopper – Schistocerca americana (Drury) 2

  5. https://study.com/academy/lesson/lifecycle-of-a-grasshopper-lesson-for-kids.html

Readers’ Mail

Over the years, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some beautiful images asking us about these grasshoppers. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Immature Gray Bird Grasshopper

Location:  Los Angeles, CA
August 26, 2011
While working in the garden yesterday, we couldn’t help but to notice this strikingly bright yellow Bird Grasshopper Nymph. 

Generally the nymphs we see are bright green, but a comment from David J. Ferguson on BugGuideindicates:  “The nymphs of Schistocerca can be very difficult, because the colors vary so much in the same species, and different species can look very similar.”

Gray Bird Grasshopper Nymph

Letter 2 – Bird Grasshopper

Alutacea Bird Grasshopper
Love your site!!!!
I just wanted to share a photo I took of an Alutacea Bird Grasshopper in Houston TX this week. He posed of several shots for nearly 30 minutes – lots of personality. Thanks for the bug site.
Barbara Franken

Hi Barbara,
Grasshoppers in the genus Schistocerca are known as Bird Grasshoppers, according to the Audubon Guide, because they can fly rapidly over great distances. This is also the genus that contains the locust mentioned in biblical accounts.

While we agree that your grasshopper is a Bird Grasshopper, we do not believe it is the Alutacea Bird Grasshopper, but rather the Obscure Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca obscura. We are basing this on images posted to BugGuide.

Letter 3 – Bird Grasshopper

Subject: West Texas Grasshopper
Location: El Paso, Texas
October 27, 2014 4:05 pm
Greetings bugman!
I am a Park Ranger for Texas Parks & Wildlife in El Paso, Texas. The other day I was walking through our park and found this beauty.

I thought it might be some species of short-horned grasshopper, but I will admit that my entomology knowledge isn’t what it should be.
This specimen is roughly 3-4 inches long and was hanging out in a semi-marshy/overgrown area. Any idea what it is?
Thank you for your time!
Signature: Entomology Challenged Park Ranger

Bird Grasshopper
Bird Grasshopper

Dear Entomology Challenged Park Ranger,
We believe your Bird Grasshopper in the genus
Schistocerca is most likely an American Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca americana, based on this image posted to BugGuideAccording to BugGuide

“Large, usually has creamy strip extending from head to forewings. Characteristically flies up and into trees when disturbed, behavior quite different from most other grasshoppers.”  Do you have an additional image from above that shows the top of the head?  We could confirm its identity if the “creamy strip” is visible.

Letter 4 – Bird Grasshopper, we believe

Subject: Praying Mantis???
Location: Carlsbad, CA
March 30, 2017 10:45 am
Found this on our window today. What is this?
Signature: Interested bug watcher

Possibly Bird Grasshopper

Dear Interested bug watcher,
This is a plant eating Grasshopper, not a predatory Preying Mantis.  We believe it is a Bird Grasshopper in the genus
Schistocerca.

Letter 5 – Bird Grasshopper from South Africa

Subject:  grashopper
Geographic location of the bug:  Kruger national park,location Letaba
Date: 07/20/2018
Time: 05:34 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Please can you help me to determine this grashopper.
Karel Gallas Czech republic
How you want your letter signed:  Karel Gallas

Bird Grasshopper

Dear Karel,
We located this image on FlickR of a Bird Grasshopper,
Ornithacris cyanea, also from Kruger National Park, and it looks very similar to your individual so we suspect that if they are not the same species, they are most likely in the same genus. 

There are some beautiful “studio” images of this genus on The Incorrigible Entomologist and Sunday News covers the nutritional value of eating these locusts.

Letter 6 – Bug of the Month April 2021: Gray Bird Grasshopper

Subject:  Gray Bird Grasshopper
Date: 03/29/2021
Time: 4:00 PM PDT
Geographic location of the bug:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
Dear Gentle Readers,
For some time, Daniel has tried to educate the curious about the interconnectivity of all things on our planet, and since the pandemic, Daniel has retreated from the internet (but for work related duties like teaching online) and stopped posting to WTB? on a regular basis. 

During that time, Daniel has spent most of his time in the garden during lockdown, and more and more the philosophy of interconnectivity has permeated his life.  The complex relationships between plants and animals in the garden is daunting.  Recently while gardening, this large female Gray Bird Grasshopper was startled into flying by the hose. 

According to Charles Hogue in his marvelous book Insects of the Los Angeles Basin:  “I have noticed adults only in the spring; they are gray or brownish in general color, and the hind wings are uniformly transparent olive-green.  The light green nymphs attain noticeable size in the late summer.  Both stages feed on various garden crops and ornamentals.” 

The adult females are easily the size of a small bird when they fly with their long legs trailing behind them.  I try to relocate adults and large nymphs elsewhere in the garden when I find them on plants I value.  See BugGuide for more information on the Gray Bird Grasshopper.

Female Gray Bird Grasshopper

Letter 7 – Immature Mischievous Bird Grasshopper

Grasshopper
Location: Northeast Florida
August 22, 2011 7:43 pm
I saw this grasshopper in my yard in northeast Florida yesterday and again today. I’ve never seen one like it. It’s tan all over, and has very odd-looking striped eyes.

It doesn’t seem to have wings or at least not fully grown wings. I went through all the grasshopper messages and photos here on WTB but couldn’t find anything that matched it.
Signature: Karen

Mischievous Bird Grasshopper

Hi Karen,
We haven’t decided if we are more amused by the scientific name
Schistocerca damnifica, or the common name Mischievous Bird Grasshopper.  Both are pretty awesome.  You are correct that this immature nymph does not yet have fully developed wings. 

You can read more about this species on BugGuide where it is described as:  “Uniform reddish brown coloration above with no lighter bands, small size and pronotal ridge help distinguish this from other members of the genus.”  We believe it is a new species for our website, unless this unidentified Red Grasshopper posted in 2005 is the same species.

What a name for a grasshopper! Thanks for identifying it for me. I’ve never seen a grasshopper like this before.
Karen

Letter 8 – Mating Gray Bird Grasshoppers on a Woody Plant

Subject:  Orgy on my Lemon Haze plant
Geographic location of the bug:  Mt. Washington, Los Angeles, California
Date: 08/05/2018
Time: 8:05 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Bugman,
Shortly after writing that the predators are controlling my little Grasshoppers, I witnessed this lurid behavior.  When I tried to get a better camera angle, they flew off. 

There was a mating pair of Grasshoppers and a second male was watching from the sidelines.  Was he a voyeur or was he waiting his turn?
How you want your letter signed:  Constant Gardener

Mating Gray Bird Grasshoppers

Dear Constant Gardener,
We really don’t believe insects engage in voyeuristic behavior, nor do we believe Grasshoppers take turns.  We suspect this mature female Gray Bird Grasshopper,
Schistocerca nitens, released pheromones that attracted both males and either the one who arrived first or the more aggressive male got the prize. 

We would have loved to have seen an image of the pair flying off in flagrante delicto.  We hope your crop is not decimated by Locusts because according to BugGuide:  “Apparently overwintering primarily as eggs, hatching over an extended season from spring to late summer (perhaps hatching is related to rainfall events?), and maturing from late spring till late summer or early autumn.

Some adults overwinter, and perhaps nymphs too (?). It is possible that southward there are two broods, but this is not clear. In tropical regions south of the U.S., and perhaps in southernmost Texas and coastal California, all stages can be found at most any time of year.”

Letter 9 – Mating Green Bird Grasshoppers

Bug Love (Grasshoppers, Moriarity, NM)
Hello,
Attached is an image of a couple of amorous grasshoppers taken early October of 2007 near the town of Moriarity, NM; 40 miles east of Albuquerque. I am assuming the larger one is the female. She is almost as large as the index finger of a working man’s hand.

The male had, what appeared to be, a defense behavior of springing its legs backwards if I got too close for its comfort. The broadside image was somewhat difficult to take because the female would rotate about the wire she was hanging on as I tried to position the camera; always positioning her belly toward the camera lens.

I particularly like the bright red, yellow and black coloring of the male’s spiny legs; not to mention the vivid greens of their bodies. These bugs were everywhere and I can only guess they provided a substantial protein source to their natural predators for weathering the coming winter. Hope y’all enjoy. Regards,
Dan

Hi Dan,
The grasshoppers in your wonderful photo are Green Bird Grasshoppers, Schistocerca shoshone, also known as the Green Valley Grasshopper. According to BugGuide, they are found in “streamside (riparian) and desert habitats; also frequently found in cornfields or other tall growing vegetation.”

Letter 10 – Metamorphosis of a Gray Bird Grasshopper

Subject:  Metamorphosis of a Gray Bird Grasshopper
Geographic location of the bug:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, CA
Date: 09/15/2018
Time: 03:30 PM PDT
Daniel glanced at the carrot seeds that are ready to plant and noticed something unusual from a distance.  The backlighting on the wings of this newly metamorphosed Gray Bird Grasshopper caught the light beautifully.  Sure enough, the cast off exuvia was at the base of the plant.  The next day, after its wings had fully hardened, it was gone.

Metamorphosis of a Gray Bird Grasshopper
Exuvia of a Gray Bird Grasshopper

Letter 11 – Mischievous Bird Grasshopper

Mischievous Bird Grasshopper Part 3
Location: Northeast Florida
September 17, 2011 9:22 pm
I submitted a couple of photos of a Mischievous Bird Grasshopper a few weeks ago. This grasshopper still around–there’s only one and it stays in one areas of the yard.

I took a photo of it today and I thought you might like to see the change in it. The color is becoming darker, more reddish brown now.
Signature: Karen

Mischievous Bird Grasshopper

Hi Karen,
Thanks for continuing the documentation of the Mischievous Bird Grasshoppers in your yard.

You’re welcome! And sorry about the typos–I sent the message off quickly without reading it over till now. This grasshopper is still around, and it stays in one area of the yard.
Karen

Hi again Karen,
We do not generally correct the grammar on the submissions we receive, though we do try to make sure our responses are correct.

Letter 12 – Mischievous Bird Grasshopper imago

Update on Mischievous Bird Grasshopper
Location: Northeast Florida
August 25, 2011 7:26 pm
I went outside after work today and saw the Mischievous Bird Grasshopper again. I’m pretty sure it’s the same grasshopper since it’s the only one in that part of the yard, but it’s changed since I saw it a few days ago. Now it seems to have wings, and the color is less yellow. I’m attaching a photo from today.
Signature: Karen

Mischievous Bird Grasshopper

Hi Karen,
It was most thoughtful of you to provide this document of the passage of time.  The photo of the adult or imago of the Mischievous Bird Grasshopper is a nice follow-up to your earlier identification query.

Letter 13 – Obscure Bird Grasshopper

Subject:  Grasshopper?
Geographic location of the bug:  Lake Jackson, Texas
Date: 08/03/2018
Time: 04:25 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This guy is hanging out on my back door. I’m assuming it was attracted to the patio light. I just took this today 8/4/18 and it’s about 3am. I’ve never seen one like it. It’s definitely large, it would take up most of the palm of my hand if I were to hold it. 

Its colors are very vivid. Yellow antennae and strip on the back, forest green body, black strips on legs. It does have wings. I didn’t see any pictures that looked right online.
How you want your letter signed:  T.Tettleton

Obscure Bird Grasshopper

Dear T. Tettleton,
Your Grasshopper is a perfect match to the Obscure Bird Grasshopper,
Schistocerca obscura, pictured on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “top of hindfemur has two black bars; usually has pale yellow dorsal stripe, sometimes lacking in females.”  As with most Grasshoppers, female individuals are considerably larger than males.

Letter 14 – Obscure Bird Grasshoppers Mating


Looking at your photos of grasshoppers mating it struck me that our grasshoppers living on our Hibiscus here in Hilton Head Island, SC, mate in a different way. Not to be indelicate but they are rear to rear and during dinner parties on the deck they make for interesting after- dinner conversations.

I’m not certain what kind of grasshoppers these are but we actually look forward to their arrival in the summer, and yes, they love to dine on new Hibiscus blooms but they have to eat too! Thanks for a wonderful site. I’ve sent many new viewers your way.
Patti Trobaugh

Hi Patti,
Your mating grasshoppers are Obscure Bird Grasshoppers, Schistocerca obscura. We found a photo on BugGuide of a mating pair in Florida that have assumed the position depicted in your photo. We believe Grasshoppers begin mating “piggy back” and then over time change position.

Letter 15 – Obscure Birdwing Grasshopper or American Bird Grasshopper

Grasshopper?
I didn’t see this grasshopper at your site. The photo was taken in Baker County Georgia. Unfortunately I can’t remember the size of the grasshopper. It did fly.
Zaroga Goff

Hi Zaroga,
We are fairly certain that this is an Obscure Birdwing Grasshopper, Schistocerca obscura. It is found in the south, including Georgia and Florida. It is found in fields and open woodlands, according to BugGuide.

The pale yellow dorsal stripe is a distinguishing feature. Eric Eaton also offers this possibility: ” The obscure bird grasshopper is actually more likely to be the American bird grasshopper, Schistocerca americana. The markings are pretty consistent in that species, much less ornate on most of the other Schistocerca. After all that, I’m not saying you aren’t correct already. It is a tough genus.”

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

7 thoughts on “American Bird Grasshopper: Essential Facts and Tips”

  1. Seems to be Shistocerca nitens, the Gray Bird Grasshopper rather than americana. S. americana is more abundant in the eastern US and is more lightly colored and patterned, while S. nitens lives in the southwest and is more darkly colored with fewer contrasting patterns.

    Reply

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