Are Grasshoppers Herbivores? Uncovering Their Surprising Diet

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Grasshoppers are fascinating insects commonly encountered in a wide range of environments, from lush grasslands to arid deserts.

The question of whether these intriguing creatures primarily consume plants or other types of food has captured the interest of many nature enthusiasts.

The simple answer is that grasshoppers are indeed herbivores, which means they primarily dine on an assortment of vegetation.

As ground-dwelling insects with an impressive ability to jump significant distances, grasshoppers evade predators while foraging for plants to satisfy their appetite.

However, not all grasshoppers are created equal. While most species follow a plant-based diet, some have been known to engage in other behaviors such as scavenging on dead insects or even cannibalism.

These unique habits showcase the diverse nature of grasshoppers and intrigue researchers and nature lovers alike.

Are Grasshoppers Herbivores

Are Grasshoppers Herbivores?

Diet and Feeding Habits

Grasshoppers are insects that mainly feed on plants. As herbivores, their diet consists of various types of vegetation. Here are some key features of their diet:

  • They consume leaves, grass, and stems
  • Can occasionally feed on flowers or soft fruits
  • Highly dependent on plant availability and preferences

Difference Between Omnivores and Herbivores

Grasshoppers, as herbivores, differ from omnivores in what they consume. Here’s a comparison table outlining these differences:

 HerbivoresOmnivores
DietPlant-based dietPlant and animal-based diet
ExamplesGrasshoppers, CaterpillarsHumans, Birds
Food sourcesLeaves, stems, fruitsPlants, insects, meat

Grasshopper Anatomy and Physiology

Adaptations for Herbivory

Grasshoppers are well-adapted to their herbivorous lifestyle. They have:

  • Camouflage: their colors blend well with their environment, like brown, gray, or green to hide from predators[1].
  • Ability to jump: large grasshoppers can jump between 10 and 20 times their body length to evade threats[2].

Mouthparts and Digestive System

Grasshoppers have powerful jaws and sharp teeth, allowing them to chew through tough plant materials. Their mouthparts include:

  • Mandibles: used for cutting and grinding plant matter.
  • Maxillae: assists in holding and manipulating food.
  • Labrum and labium: form “lips” to hold food while chewing.

The grasshopper’s digestive system is divided into three main parts:

  1. Foregut: food is mixed with saliva, containing enzymes that break down carbohydrates.
  2. Midgut: where nutrients are absorbed.
  3. Hindgut: waste is compacted and expelled.

Grasshoppers also have a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms in their gut that help digest cellulose[3].

Table 1: Comparison of Grasshopper and Human mouthparts

AspectGrasshopperHuman
JawsPowerful, adapted for chewing plant matterLess powerful, adapted for chewing a mixed diet
TeethSharp and efficientVaried in shape and function

Grasshopper Impact on Ecosystems

Role as Primary Consumers

Grasshoppers are dominant herbivores in grassland ecosystems worldwide.

  • They feed on various plant species.
  • Some grasshoppers consume toxic plants for protection.

As primary consumers, they play a vital role in transferring energy from plants to higher trophic levels.

Predator-Prey Relationships

Grasshoppers serve as a food source for a variety of predators, including:

  • Birds
  • Rodents
  • Reptiles
  • Insects

The relationship between grasshoppers and their predators helps maintain a balance in the ecosystem. Predators help control grasshopper populations, preventing overconsumption of plant resources.

Pros and Cons of Grasshoppers in the Ecosystem

Pros:

  • Transfer energy from plants to higher trophic levels
  • Serve as a food source for various predators

Cons:

  • Overpopulation may lead to overconsumption of plant resources
  • Some species may harm plants by spreading toxins

Grasshopper Impact on Agriculture

Types of Crops Affected

Grasshoppers are herbivores, causing damage to many crops. Commonly affected crops are:

  • Cereals (wheat, barley, etc.)
  • Vegetables (lettuce, broccoli, etc.)
  • Legumes (beans, peas, etc.)
  • Fruits (apples, pears, etc.)
Reticulate Lubber Grasshopper

Damage

Grasshoppers damage crops by:

  • Skeletonizing leaves
  • Attacking flower buds
  • Chewing on stems
  • Eating away at roots

Their primary impact on agriculture includes:

  • Reduced crop yield
  • Lower quality produce
  • Increased farmer expenses

Control Measures

Here are control measures farmers can take:

  • Chemical control: Insecticides are effective in controlling grasshopper populations. Pros include immediate results, while cons comprise negative environmental impact.
  • Cultural practices: Rotating crops can hinder grasshopper development. Pros are improved soil health and reduced dependence on chemicals. Cons consist of the need for continuous monitoring.

Comparison Table:

Control MeasureProsCons
Chemical controlImmediate resultsNegative environmental impact, potential resistance to development
Cultural practicesImproved soil health, reduced dependence on chemicalsRequires continuous monitoring, may not provide complete protection

Taking appropriate control measures helps mitigate the damage caused by grasshoppers on agriculture, safeguarding crop yield and quality for farmers.

Section Extent of Herbivory in Insects

Other Insect Herbivores

  • Butterflies: They primarily feed on nectar from flowers.
  • Caterpillars: Mostly consume plant tissue (leaves, stems).
  • Leaf miners: Eat plant tissue from inside, between the leaf surfaces.

These insect herbivores consume different types of vegetation, leading to diverse effects on plant life.

Comparison to Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers also belong to the group of insect herbivores, feeding on a wide range of plants.

The primary difference between grasshoppers and other insect herbivores lies in their feeding habits and the level of damage they cause to vegetation.

Insect HerbivoresFeeding HabitsImpact on Vegetation
GrasshoppersChew on various plants (leaves, stems, flowers)Can cause widespread damage to plant communities
ButterfliesSip nectar from flowersLimited impact on the plant itself
CaterpillarsChew plant tissue (leaves, stems)Can cause significant damage in large infestations

Insect herbivores vary in their feeding preferences and the extent of their impact on vegetation.

Grasshoppers tend to cause more widespread damage compared to other herbivores like butterflies that have a more specific and gentle way of feeding.

Conclusion

In summary, grasshoppers are herbivores with a diverse diet of plants. While the majority predominantly consume vegetation some show intriguing behaviors like scavenging and even cannibalism.

They play a crucial role in ecosystems and agriculture, but their impact can be both beneficial and challenging. These insects can damage a range of crops, leading to reduced yields and lower produce quality.

Understanding their feeding habits and adaptations offers insights into their significance and management.

As our understanding of grasshoppers continues to grow, we can come up with new and better conservation efforts, especially for endangered species with unique characteristics.

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – And a picture of a 20th-floor grasshopper


Hi Bugman,
Any ideas what this pretty looking caterpillar might be? I spotted him in south central Texas, and haven’t had any luck identifying him. I sent it to you a while ago but it probably got lost in the mix.

For fun, here is a picture of a grasshopper I discovered hanging out 20 stories up. He spent a couple days hanging around my window, but finally got tired of staring at me and left.
Thanks bugman! Love your site!
Emily Heimerman
San Antonio, Texas

Sorry for the delay Emily,
We do not have an exact identification on your caterpillar. We suspect it is immature and often caterpillar photos are of the final instar before pupation. It is very common for caterpillars to change colors and markings between molts.

We really love your image of the Highrise Grasshopper, which appears to be a member of the genus Schistocerca, which includes migratory locusts.

Letter 2 – Another South African Gaudy Grasshopper

Can you identify this for me?
Hi
Please could you identify this grasshopper for me (JPEG attached). I photographed this in the Kruger, South Africa last November. Thanks
Nigel

Hi Nigel,
This is a Gaudy Grasshopper in the family Pyrgomorphidae. According to a site we found online: “Pyrgomorphids are usually very colourful grasshoppers, the bright colours warning predators that they are poisonous (called aposematic colouration).”

They are sometimes called Milkweed Grasshoppers. It will take someone more qualified than we to properly identify the exact species.

Letter 3 – Another Unknown Grasshopper from Israel

Dinosaur grasshopper?
April 12, 2010
Hi WTB,
On my hiking trip to Eastern Samaria (north-east of Jerusalem, Israel) on April 9-10, 2010 I saw this large grasshopper nymph. It looks like something from a Spielberg movie with that ridge on its back.
Hoping you’ll help me identify it!
Ben
Eastern Samaria, Israel

Unknown Grasshopper

Hi again Ben,
Like your other unknown Grasshopper, we are going to contact Piotr Naskrecki for assistance.

Update:  November 29, 2014:  Female Prionosthenus galericulatus
A comment from Daria clued us in to the identity of this unusual Grasshopper and we confirmed its identity on BioLib.

Letter 4 – Barber Pole Grasshopper

what Is It?
Location:  Hereford, AZ
September 16, 2010 9:17 pm
Hello,
While working in my garden, I came across this insect. At first I thought it was a juvenile horse lubber grasshopper but it does not match the pictures I’ve seen of the nympths. Can you identify this critter?
Signature:  Curious in Hereford

Barber Pole Grasshopper

Dear Curious,
Of all the names associated with
Dactylotum bicolor, commonly called the Painted Grasshopper or the Rainbow Grasshopper, our favorite is Barber Pole Grasshopper.  It also goes by the names Uncle Sam and Pictured Grasshopper.

Letter 5 – Blistered Grasshopper from Australia

Insect found in Katherine, Australia
July 3, 2010
Am trying to classify my fauna and flora pics from Oz but can’t find the name of this insect. Is this a kind of hopper?
Thank you for your help
DucatiGirl
Katherine, Australia

Blistered Grasshopper

Dear DucatiGirl,
In 2008, we identified this species as a Blistered Grasshopper,
Monistria pustulifera, also known as an Inland Painted Grasshopper from the family Pyrgomorphidae. The Australian Insects website has some information.

Letter 6 – Blue Two-Striped Grasshopper from Arizona

What Is This Large Blue Grasshopper Called
Hi, I know you are busy, so whenever you get to it, will you please tell me what species of grasshopper this is? I have attached two photos of the same bug. My husband and I visited the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona near the New Mexico

Letter 7 – Carolina Locust

Reddish Grasshopper
Hi WTB,
The site is awesome. I have learned alot about the insects and spiders I have been photographing lately from WTB but I am stumped on this one. This 2 1/2″ grasshopper was on the backdoor of my lake house in early September. The location is North Central Florida.

It’s hilly and sandy with alot of lakes. The town is Keystone Heights Florida. It’s about 25 miles from Gainesville. The reason for all the location info is that I know some insects can be specific to an area. If you could help me with this species, I would appreciate it.

Also, I have some really cool shots of some Green Lynx Spiders feeding on Bees and Skippers on wild flowers. Let me know if you want to see them. From what I understand, they are your favorites.
Thanks,
Adam Hartmann

Hi Adam,
You couldn’t find your Carolina Locust, Dissosteira carolina, on our site since yours is the first photo we have received. This cinnamon brown locust matches the color of dry southern soil. This species is wide ranging despite the state specific name. It is nowhere near as destructive as other locusts.

Letter 8 – Clip-Wing Grasshopper

Subject: Which Grasshopper?
Location: East-Central Virginia
February 6, 2014 6:04 am
Hey Bugman!
When I snapped this shot, I didn’t think I’d have a hard time identifying, but so far, no luck. What do you think?
Signature: Pine River

Clip-Wing Grasshopper
Clip-Wing Grasshopper

Dear Pine River,
We quickly identified your Clip-Wing Grasshopper,
Metaleptea brevicornis, on BugGuide.  Interestingly, the brown back and green sides on your individual is one color variation of this species. 

There are many more individuals on BugGuide with the reverse coloration:  green backs and brown sides.  According to BugGuide, “Both males and females come to lights at night” and “

This species is nearly unique among North American Slant-faced Grasshoppers in that it crepitates, producing a sharp clicking sound when it flies.”

Letter 9 – Colorful Grasshopper from Costa Rica: Taeniophora valleana

Subject:  Curious big-eyed cricket
Geographic location of the bug:  South-West Costa Rica
Date: 07/29/2018
Time: 09:01 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello Mr. Bugman. I am a recently graduated biologist, but insects have never been my strongest part 😛 My father spotted this curious cricket in the SW area of Costa Rica.

As you can see, it has an interesting color pattern. I am deeply intrigued by its eyes.
Any help will be much appreciated
How you want your letter signed:  A Biologist in the Making

Taeniophora valleana

Dear Biologist in the Making,
This is a very colorful Grasshopper, not a Cricket, but both Grasshoppers and Crickets are classified together in the order Orthoptera. 

We believe we have correctly identified your Grasshopper as Taeniophora valleana thanks to this FlickR posting.  Here are additional FlickR images.

Taeniophora valleana

Letter 10 – Crackling Forest Grasshopper

Subject: Grasshopper-A
Location: Sequoia NP, California
November 11, 2013 12:43 pm
Photo of a Grasshopper taken in Sequoia NP, California. September 2013
Signature: GaryT

Crackling Forest Grasshopper
Crackling Forest Grasshopper

Hi GaryT,
Since it is a bit slow right now, we are trying to attend to some unanswered requests, and in doing our research, we found your photo posted to BugGuide and identified as a female Crackling Forest Grasshopper,
Trimerotropis verruculata.  BugGuide notes that it is

“A noisy, usually very dark-colored slender grasshopper of mountains”

Letter 11 – Crackling Locust from Canada

Subject:  assumed cicada, but possibly something else?
Geographic location of the bug:  Brooks, Alberta, Canada (Dinosaur Provincial Park
Date: 03/27/2018
Time: 08:59 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  For overlanding camping/adventure site,  and for accuracy’s sake, would like accurate confirmation of insect. Apologies for the unclear photo. The best guess will be appreciated. 

If it helps, this creature was really loud! This is a “Badlands” site, temps at the time were 39C and higher. Any info will be appreciated.
How you want your letter signed:  Tobi

Crackling Locust

Dear Tobi,
This is a Grasshopper, not a Cicada.  You may visit our Cicada page to see some examples of what a Cicada looks like.  According to Songs of Insects: 

“there is one group, the slant-faced grasshoppers, that are known for their soft and muffled songs. Males of this group ‘fiddle their tunes’ by rubbing pegs on the inner surface of their hind femurs against the edges of their forewings.

Another group, the band-winged grasshoppers, make an entirely different kind of sound. Males, and sometimes females, make loud snapping or crackling sounds with their wings as they fly, especially during courtship flights.

This unique mode of sound production is called ‘crepitation,’ the snapping sounds apparently being produced when the membranes between veins are suddenly popped taut (band-wings also stridulate, but their songs are typically weak and subtle).” 

Our best guess is that this is a Band-Winged Grasshopper from the subfamily Oedipodinae and you can view many species on BugGuide where it states:  “Many make crackling, buzzing, or ticking sounds when they fly (crepitate).” 

There is not enough detail in your image to make a species identification, but based on your location and its name, we suspect this might be a Crackling Locust, Trimerotropis verruculata verruculata, which is pictured on BugGuide.

Letter 12 – “Ghost Grasshopper” from Madagascar

Madagascar grasshopper and a cocoon
Hi,
We recently went to Madagascar on a mission trip where we spent a great deal of time hiking/backpacking in the bush. We went to 2 parts of the island and while in the southern part, we found a couple of these grasshoppers.

I was on your website and I think that it is the same as this one: Phymateus saxosus. The grasshopper had beautiful red wings and was about 4 inches… another one we saw was bigger than 6 inches or so. Our translators called them Valalan-dolo which translates (according to them) Ghost Grasshopper.

And while I’m sending pics… we found this cocoon at a national forest in the north west part of the island. It was huge… at least 8 inches tall… do you know what it is? Thanks,
Nicole Bachman

Hi Nicole,
Thanks for sending your photo of Phymateus saxosus as well as the valuable information on the local name. The cocoon is probably one of the Giant Silk Moths.

Letter 13 – #9993: Ghost Grasshopper from Thailand

What’s this grasshopper from Thailand?
May 12, 2010
On a hike through one of the many national parks in Thailand, i came across this little fellow. I was captivated by his immaculate colors. I stayed and observed him for quite some time and it didn’t seem to bother him at all!

I’d like to know what genus/species (if possible) this grasshopper is. I’m actually considering getting a tattoo of him too! So I’d like to do a bit of background info on him. Thanks!
Heather
Southern province, Thailand.

Ghost Grasshopper

Hi Heather,
We immediately recognized your grasshopper as a member of the family Pyrgomorphidae or Toxic Milkweed Grasshoppers. 

Most of the photos we have received come from South Africa and Madagascar, and we did locate a website called the Flying Kiwi that pictures a specimen from Cambodia that looks remarkably like your specimen. 

You need to scroll down to the bottom of the page.  It is identified as a Ghost Grasshopper in Thailand or the Northern Spotted Grasshopper in Cambodia, but there is no scientific name. 

Here is what the website states:  “This is a northern spotted grasshopper, which I photographed at night along the trail to Chambok waterfall. In Thailand, it’s called a ghost grasshopper.
The bright colors are a warning that the grasshopper is chemically protected, so I’m surprised that it wasn’t active during the daytime.  

I saw a very similar grasshopper during the daytime in Indonesia, though it lacked the white and red coloration on the head, and its legs were blue rather than black. 

The northern spotted grasshopper exudes a toxic foam when it’s attacked, which apparently is a good way of keeping tarantulas and other large spiders at bay.  It’s a type of locust, and at times it can occur in numbers large enough to cause a significant amount of destruction.  

It’s also fairly indiscriminate in the crops it will chew through.   Unlike other locusts, they’re no good for people to eat, though their attractive appearance probably does give some consolation to the people who are starving to death.” 

There is also a link to another similar looking grasshopper from Bali on the Flying Kiwi website.  The Thai Bugs website identifies the Ghost Grasshopper as Aularches miliaris.  It is also pictured on the Siam Insect Zoo website

This species appears to be highly variable.  We have read reports of severe toxic reactions occurring if Toxic Milkweed Grasshoppers are ingested.

This is great! Thank you so much for this information. I wonder why the Thai call it the “ghost” grasshopper? I do know that the Thai are deathly afraid of ghosts, so perhaps its attributed to its poisonous characteristics?

Maybe someone cleverly gave it the name to make sure people stayed clear of it (not me, obviously!). I figured it was poisonous due to the apparent warning coloration. Thanks again for this information, what a cool bug!
Heather

Ghost Grasshopper

Letter 14 – Bark Mimicking Grasshopper and Spiderling interaction in Australia

The Grasshopper and the spider
Location: Healesville, Victoria Australia
January 21, 2011 3:55 pm
I had this cute little drama played out the other day and thought you might like to see it. I tiny spider annoying a big grasshopper, I don’t know what kind. Several times it swiped the spider off and each time the spider crawled back up by its web.

Eventually, the grasshopper lowered it down and they went their separate ways.
Signature: Linda in Healesville Australia

Bark Mimicking Grasshopper interacts with Spiderling

Hi Linda,
Your photo is quite amusing, however, we are having a difficult time trying to identify this somewhat distinctive Grasshopper.  We cannot find a match on the Brisbane Insect website nor on the LifeUnseen website

The spider, which we believe may be a newly hatched spiderling, is well beyond our ability to identify, however, we do have a theory to explain the activity you witnessed. 

Newly hatched spiderlings often disperse by ballooning on the wind.  They will climb to a high point and release a strand of silk that catches the wind and then carries the spiderling to a distant location, hopefully, one that will result in a rich food supply. 

This will ensure that the young spiderling will not have to compete with siblings to survive.  We believe the spiderling in your photo has mistaken the Grasshopper’s antenna for a twig and that is the highest elevation point it is able to reach at the moment the photo was taken. 

Perhaps one of our readers will be able to assist in the Grasshopper identification.

Bark Mimicking Grasshopper with Spiderling Hitchhiker

Update:  January 22, 2014
Thank you to Matthew who provided a link to the Bark Mimicking Grasshopper,
 Coryphistes ruricola, on the Brisbane Insect website.

Letter 15 – Bark Mimicking Grasshopper

Long, thin, large, dark-mottled fly
March 12, 2010
Dear What’s That Bug,
I’m a big fan and I believe I’ve written to you before. Tonight I found a sadly deceased large dark mottled fly of some sort. I’ve never seen anything like it before, not anything as big as that. It’s just turned Autumn here in South Australia and it hasn’t been raining or especially cold or unpleasant.

I have in the last week or so cut back a lot of low branches on my pine trees and disturbed the underlying leaf litter but I didn’t see anything like this under there – mostly slaters, stink beetles, and roaches.

I suspect this poor critter is a victim of my cats – perhaps indirectly as I don’t think he would have easily fitted back out through the mesh of my enclosed veranda. I would have saved him/her if I could have, he/she is a real beauty.
Bronwen
Coastal South Australia, Eastern Eyre Peninsula

Bark Mimicking Grasshopper

Hi Bronwen,
We believe this is some species of Grasshopper, though the body has been traumatized and appears to be missing some legs.  We hope someone can assist in this identification.

Bark Mimicking Grasshopper

Piotr Naskrecki identifies Bark Mimicking Grasshopper
Hi Daniel,
This is a bark-mimicking grasshopper (Coryphistes sp.), fam. Catantopidae.
Piotr

I did think it had a face like a grasshopper – but no thick strong jumping legs, and that fooled me; I just checked since I still have it in a jar and yes the back stumps are a bit more robust looking than the remaining legs.

A large grasshopper doesn’t surprise me as much as if it was a large fancy winged fly, but still I’ve not seen one anything like that. We have water restrictions here and there isn’t much grass to be had so I’ve seen a lot more yellow and brown grasshoppers.


Thanks for your quick reply!
Cheers, Bronwen,

Letter 16 – Alutacea Bird Grasshopper

Grasshopper picture
Hello, Whats That Bug?
I was out with my husband enjoying a brandnew camera when I caught sight of this little guy. It was clinging to some plants off one on the nature trails on Fort Gordon, Georgia.I hope it is worthy of your collection. Enjoy!
Ann Smith

Hi Ann,
This is an Alutacea Bird Grasshopper or Leather-Colored Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca alutacea. It has some degree of color variability.

Authors

  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Grasshopper

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