Differential Grasshopper: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

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Differential grasshoppers are fascinating insects known for their unique features and behaviors. They can vary in color from green to brownish-green or olive green, making them easily adaptable to different environments. These insects have hind legs with black herringbone patterns and yellow tibias, featuring saw-toothed black spikes, which provide them with excellent jumping abilities source.

An intriguing aspect of their life cycle is their mobility, which is evident in both nymphal and adult stages. Nymphs typically hatch from eggs concentrated in field borders and roadsides, then move into fields of barley, wheat, and alfalfa by crawling and hopping, forming cohesive bands in the process source. In some geographical locations, the differential grasshopper has been known to reach significant population densities, causing potential damage to rangeland and crops source.

Differential Grasshopper: Basics

Classification and Identification

The Differential Grasshopper belongs to the Insecta class and the Orthoptera order, specifically under the Melanoplus genus. Here’s how to identify this grasshopper:

  • Size: Adult grasshoppers are 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 inches long
  • Color: Brown to olive green with yellow variations, melanistic (black) individuals also exist
  • Hind legs: Enlarged for jumping, marked with chevron-like black markings 1

Size and Appearance

Differential Grasshoppers have a distinct look with the following features:

  • Enlarged hind legs for jumping
  • Chevron-like black markings on hind femora
  • Body length of 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 inches
  • Brown to olive green coloration, with some melanistic individuals 2

Range and Habitat

The Differential Grasshopper is commonly found in the United States. They typically inhabit fields and adjacent weedy borders, moving into crops like barley, wheat, and alfalfa for food 3. Here are some key habitat facts:

  • Fields, roadsides, and field borders
  • Prefer barley, wheat, and alfalfa crops
  • Migration involves crawling and hopping
  • Band together as a cohesive group 4

Life Cycle and Seasons

Nymphs to Adulthood

The life cycle of the differential grasshopper begins as nymphs hatch from eggs in field borders and roadsides. Nymphs then progress through multiple instars before becoming adults. While growing, they move to barley, wheat, and alfalfa fields to feed.

  • Nymphs are mobile
  • Growth occurs through instars

Mating and Reproduction

As adults, differential grasshoppers mate and reproduce by laying eggs in the soil. The timing of these activities constitutes their seasonal cycles.

  • Mating in adults
  • Reproduction through egg-laying

Diapause and Migratory Patterns

Differential grasshoppers go through a period of diapause, a sort of dormancy, as eggs. These eggs overwinter, awaiting suitable conditions to hatch. Migratory patterns may vary among grasshopper species.

  • Diapause occurs in eggs
  • Migratory habits differ between species
Stage Key Characteristics Example
Nymphs to Adulthood – Mobile
– Growth through instars
Feeding in wheat fields
Mating and Reproduction – Occurs in adult stage
– Eggs laid in soil
Reproductive seasonal cycles
Diapause and Migratory Patterns – Diapause in eggs
– Varying patterns among species
Overwintering egg stage

Food Habits and Diet

Polyphagous Feeders

Differential grasshoppers are polyphagous feeders, meaning they consume a wide variety of plants. Some features of their feeding habits include:

  • Preference for certain plants over others
  • Adaptability to numerous food sources

Common Food Sources

Differential grasshoppers feed on several plants, such as:

  • Grasses
  • Giant ragweed
  • Prickly lettuce
  • Common sunflower

Impact on Agriculture

These grasshoppers have a significant impact on agriculture, causing damage to several important crops:

  • Small grains
  • Corn
  • Alfalfa
  • Soybeans
  • Cotton
  • Various vegetables
  • Deciduous fruit trees

Damage comparison table:

Crop Damage severity
Small grains High
Corn High
Alfalfa High
Soybeans High
Cotton Moderate
Vegetables Moderate
Fruit trees Moderate

Impact on Ecosystem

Role in Grasslands

Differential grasshoppers play a vital role in grassland ecosystems. They contribute to nutrient cycling by consuming plants and being part of the food chain. These insects can graze on various crops, including barley, wheat, and alfalfa, and are known for their mobility in both nymphal and adult stages1.

Predators and Prey

Differential grasshoppers serve as an important food source for various wildlife species, maintaining the balance of the ecosystem2. Their natural predators include:

  • Birds
  • Rodents
  • Spiders
  • Other insects

Pest Management and Control

Detection and Monitoring

To effectively manage differential grasshoppers, it is crucial to monitor their activity. A common practice is to observe their presence and abundance in the field during daytime, as these grasshoppers are inactive at night 1. Monitoring becomes crucial during spring (April-June) when their eggs hatch 4.

Prevention Methods

Preventing grasshopper outbreaks often involves habitat management strategies. Some examples of these strategies include:

  • Encouraging natural enemies like predators and parasites
  • Maintaining a diverse plant community to reduce the overall impact of grasshoppers on a single plant species
  • Rotating grazing livestock to prevent overgrazing, which can lead to grasshopper population booms

Control Strategies

When local outbreaks occur, grasshopper control usually involves using insecticides or baits 3. Here’s a comparison of insecticides recommended for grasshopper control:

Insecticide Pros Cons
Group 1B Effective against grasshoppers, spider mites, and soybean aphids May have environmental and health risks
Group 3A Generally effective against grasshoppers Can increase spider mite populations
Bifenthrin Controls grasshoppers and spider mites Consult product labels for specific rates

To determine the most suitable insecticide, it is essential to consider factors like environmental impact and side effects on other pests and insects. Remember, grasshoppers are a natural component of grassland ecosystems and can provide benefits like nutrient cycling and food supply for wildlife [^5^]. Therefore, the control strategy must strike a balance between controlling the pest and preserving the natural ecosystem. 1:https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/30320505/grasshopper/Extras/PDFs/Species%20Fact%20Sheets/Differen.pdf[^4^]:https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/grasshopper-control-in-gardens-and-landscapes.html[^3^]:https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/grasshopper-control-in-gardens-small-acreages-5-536/[^5^]:https://www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/sidney-mt/northern-plains-agricultural-research-laboratory/pest-management-research/pmru-docs/grasshopper-ecologymanagement/

Interesting Facts and Features

Grasshopper Swarm Behavior

Differential grasshoppers, like many other grasshopper species, can exhibit swarm behavior. These swarms are formed when nymphs—third instars and older—often move into fields of barley, wheat, and alfalfa by crawling and hopping, following the same direction as a cohesive band 1. Such swarming can lead to damage in crops.

Anatomy and Unique Attributes

Differential grasshoppers display interesting anatomical features. They are:

  • Brown to olive-green in color, with some melanistic (black) individuals 2
  • Up to 1-3/4 inches long
  • Equipped with enlarged hind legs (femora) for jumping, marked with chevron-like black markings
  • Short antennae compared to the long antennae of other grasshoppers
Attribute Differential Grasshopper
Color Brown to olive-green, some melanistic (black)
Size Up to 1-3/4 inches long
Hind leg markings Chevron-like black markings
Antennae length Short

Moreover, the egg masses of these grasshoppers are laid in pods containing 8-30 eggs, deposited in the soil during fall.

To sum up, differential grasshoppers showcase a unique anatomy and swarm behavior, having short antennae, brownish to olive-green color, and laying egg masses in pods.

Footnotes

  1. Texas A&M University – Differential Grasshopper 2 3 4 5

  2. USDA ARS – Differential Grasshopper 2 3

  3. University of Wyoming – Differential Grasshopper 2

  4. Utah State University Extension – Grasshopper Control 2

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Differential Grasshopper

 

Differential Grasshopper?
Just inches from the milkweed bugs… sunning itself on a brick wall…. I have tentatively ID’d as a differential grasshopper? I couldn’t find a close match on your website so I searched Bugguide. I’m assuming I am wrong, as I live in a Chicago suburb and there are no crops nearby… yet we already have drought, so maybe another plague has arrived?
Jill A

Hi Jill,
Nice research job. BugGuide is great. We agree with your assessment that this is a Differential Grasshopper, Melanoplus differentialis. They are found throughout the U.S. in grasslands and open woods. They feed on grasses which I’m sure you have in the suburbs, and they will also damage crops and even eat fruit. They do not migrate, unlike locusts, but they can still be very destructive.

Letter 2 – Differential Grasshopper

 

Grasshopper?
Location: 38.855751,-77.363756 (Northern VA)
August 9, 2011 8:53 pm
This giant bug landed on my hand today (giant = approx the size of a finger). It decided to hang out in my third floor balcony garden for awhile, so I took some pictures. What kind of bug is this?
Signature: -Heather

Differential Grasshopper

Hi Heather,
We were having a difficult time finding a matching image for your Grasshopper in the Short Horned Grasshopper family Acrididae on BugGuide, and we finally located a matching image that was not identified on the Discover Life website, until we realized that the abbreviation “diffhopper” probably referred to the Differential Grasshopper,
Melanoplus differentialis.  We then confirmed that identification on Bugguide where it is described as:  “Forewings, pronotum uniform, without distinctive marks. Black herringbone markings on outer face of hind femora. Yellow hind tibiae.”  Your individual has those characteristics.

Letter 3 – Differential Grasshopper

 

Grasshopper at Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve
Location: Gardena, California
October 9, 2011 9:53 pm
Hi,
We went over to the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve today for their first annual ”bug hunt” – not real bugs, just toys set out for the kids. It was part of their second Sunday of the month walk of this very interesting wetlands that is owned by the City of Gardena. This was our first time there and my husband Marty discovered this grasshopper. There was a local entomologist there named Emile Fiesler, but we got a bit ahead of him in the walk as he was mainly there to educate the young children who came for the bug hunt. Can you identify this grasshopper for us?
Signature: Thanks, Anna Carreon

Differential Grasshopper

Hi Anna,
The herringbone pattern on the hind femur is a distinguishing characteristic of the Differential Grasshopper,
Melanoplus differentialis, which BugGuide describes as:  “Forewings, pronotum uniform, without distinctive marks. Black herringbone markings on outer face of hind femora. Yellow hind tibiae.”  BugGuide also notes that the Differential Grasshopper is a “Significant crop pest in the Midwest.”

Hi Daniel,
Thanks so much and we will see you at the Lummis Home this Saturday.  Mom, Marty and I definitely plan to attend and hope that nephew Robby will also be there.  He has an assignment for one of his classes at Cal State Northridge that requires him to be at Madame Tussauds Hollywood this weekend, so he may not be able to be there.  He thinks his Aunt Anna is very quirky and seems to like to come along on as many of my planned outings possible so he can get a few giggles in here and there.  I do have him convinced that I pet bees . . .
Anna

Wonderful Anna.  Please introduce yourself.  Quite a few of your images will be featured in the presentation.

Letter 4 – Differential Grasshopper

 

Subject: They’re agricultural pests, but…
Location: Naperville, IL
September 22, 2012 10:58 am
Hi Daniel!
Happy first day of autumn! I believe (from its outer hind leg markings) that this is a female (a good 2 1/2” long) Melanoplus differentialis – differential grasshopper. And although they’re considered garden pests, they are amazingly intricate creatures.
All the best,
Signature: -Dori Eldridge

Differential Grasshopper

Hi Dori,
Thanks so much for submitting your image of a Differential Grasshopper.  According to BugGuide, the distinguishing features are:  “Forewings, pronotum uniform, without distinctive marks. Black herringbone markings on outer face of hind femora. Yellow hind tibiae.”

Differential Grasshopper

Letter 5 – Differential Grasshoppers Mating

 

Bug Love – Grasshoppers
I know they’re "just" grasshoppers, but this image is so clear I wanted to share it with you. Note the voyeur.
from Lynne in York, PA

Hi Lynne,
We are somewhat behind in our mail, but we wanted you to know we love your photo of mating Differential Grasshoppers and a spectator. We have archived it on the Bug Love 2 page.

Letter 6 – Differential Grasshoppers Mating and Laying Eggs

 

differential grasshopper laying eggs, mating
Thanks for reading my email! I didn’t see any pictures of grasshoppers laying eggs on your website, so we were very excited to find the latest captive in my daughter’s bugcatcher laying eggs! I’m also including some grasshopper pictures from earlier in the summer, the extreme closeup was taken when they were mating on my camera strap! I was bending down in the bushes trying to get pictures of an orb weaver, stood up to find the hoppers coming with me!

Mating Differential Grasshoppers Differential Grasshopper Laying Eggs

I don’t know what the "fuzzy" grasshoppers are. We found them in an area near a pond with lots of milkweed and sunflowers. Their skin isn’t smooth like the other grasshoppers and actually appeared fuzzy. We live near St. Louis, MO.
Angie and her junior entomologist Miranda who is very sad that the bugs are going away for the winter….

Hi Angie and Miranda,
We are thrilled to get your Mating and Egg Laying Differential Grasshopper images. We will need additional time to get you a species on the fuzzy grasshoppers. We will try to enlist the help of Eric Eaton.

Letter 7 – Differential Grasshoppers Mating and Laying Eggs

 

differential grasshopper laying eggs, mating
Thanks for reading my email! I didn’t see any pictures of grasshoppers laying eggs on your website, so we were very excited to find the latest captive in my daughter’s bugcatcher laying eggs! I’m also including some grasshopper pictures from earlier in the summer, the extreme closeup was taken when they were mating on my camera strap! I was bending down in the bushes trying to get pictures of an orb weaver, stood up to find the hoppers coming with me!

Mating Differential Grasshoppers Differential Grasshopper Laying Eggs

I don’t know what the “fuzzy” grasshoppers are. We found them in an area near a pond with lots of milkweed and sunflowers. Their skin isn’t smooth like the other grasshoppers and actually appeared fuzzy. We live near St. Louis, MO.
Angie and her junior entomologist Miranda who is very sad that the bugs are going away for the winter….

Hi Angie and Miranda,
We are thrilled to get your Mating and Egg Laying Differential Grasshopper images. We will need additional time to get you a species on the fuzzy grasshoppers. We will try to enlist the help of Eric Eaton.

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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