Gray Bird Grasshopper: Quick and Essential Facts for Curious Minds

The gray bird grasshopper is a fascinating insect, belonging to the bird grasshopper family, known for their impressive size and unique features.

These grasshoppers can be found in various habitats, including grasslands, agricultural lands, and even urban gardens.

As their name suggests, they possess a predominantly gray coloration, helping them blend seamlessly into their surroundings.

These large insects measure between 1.6 to 2.8 inches in length, making them substantially bigger than most other grasshopper species.

Gray Bird Grasshopper
Male Gray Bird Grasshopper on Cannabis

Their slender bodies and strong hind legs enable them to make remarkable leaps and cover large distances quickly.

Additionally, gray bird grasshoppers have a distinctive spur or spine located on the underside of their thorax, just behind their heads.

When it comes to managing gray bird grasshoppers, be aware that they can inflict significant damage to various plant species.

Agriculturists and gardeners alike should closely monitor their presence and take appropriate control measures if needed.

A variety of insecticides and management techniques can be employed to minimize destruction caused by these intriguing creatures.

Gray Bird Grasshopper Overview

Scientific Classification

The Gray Bird Grasshopper, scientifically known as Schistocerca nitens, belongs to the following classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Orthoptera
  • Family: Acrididae
  • Genus: Schistocerca
  • Species: S. nitens

Physical Characteristics

Gray Bird Grasshoppers are known for their distinctive physical features:

  • Size: These insects range between 1.6 to 2.8 inches (40 to 70 mm) in length.
  • Colors: They have a grayish-brown color, which helps them camouflage in their surroundings.

Gray Bird Grasshopper

Identification

To identify Gray Bird Grasshoppers, look for the following characteristics:

  • Spur-like spine: These grasshoppers are closely related to spur-throated grasshoppers, and they share a unique spur or spine on the underside of the thorax, directly behind the head1.
  • Slender body: Gray Bird Grasshoppers have a slender body, which is essential for their long-distance flying capabilities1.

Comparison Table

AttributeGray Bird GrasshoppersOther Grasshoppers
Size1.6 to 2.8 inches (40 to 70 mm)Varies, typically smaller
ColorsGrayish-brownVaries, often more colorful
Physical FeaturesSlender body, spur-like spineVaries, often without the spine

Distribution and Habitat

North America Regions

The Gray Bird Grasshopper can be found throughout various regions of North America, including:

  • Mexico
  • United States
    • California
    • Texas
    • Oklahoma
    • Hawaii
  • Canada

These grasshoppers have a broad distribution, making them prevalent in many habitats across North America.

Environmental Preferences

The Gray Bird Grasshopper thrives in a range of habitats, such as:

  • Forests
  • Grasslands
  • Deserts
  • Urban environments

Here’s a comparison of the Gray Bird Grasshopper’s preferred habitats in various regions:

RegionPreferred Habitat
Southern North AmericaForests, grasslands, deserts
Central AmericaForests, urban environments
CanadaForests, grasslands

The Gray Bird Grasshopper’s ability to adapt to various environments contributes to its widespread distribution throughout North America.

Metamorphosis of a female Gray Bird Grasshopper

Life Cycle and Behavior

Reproduction and Hatching

  • Female gray bird grasshoppers lay eggs in the soil
  • Eggs hatch into nymphs

Gray bird grasshoppers are known for their distinct life cycle, starting with reproduction and hatching.

Female grasshoppers lay their eggs in the soil, typically in areas that provide ample vegetation coverage.

Once hatched, nymphs emerge from the eggs and start their journey towards adulthood.

Gray Bird Grasshopper Nymph

Adult Stage

The transition from nymph to adult grasshopper involves molting, which happens 5-6 times over a period of weeks.

Once they reach adulthood, gray bird grasshoppers have a lifespan of approximately 2-3 months, during which they feed, reproduce, and face various challenges from predators.

Feeding Habits

  • Primarily feed on vegetation
  • Occasionally consume other insects

Feeding habits play a crucial role in the lives of gray bird grasshoppers. They primarily feed on a variety of vegetation, including grasses, leaves, and flowers.

However, they may also consume other insects on rare occasions, showcasing their adaptability as an omnivorous species.

Their feeding habits make them both an essential part of their ecosystem and, at times, a concern for gardeners and farmers due to potential crop damage.

Female Gray Bird Grasshopper

Ecological Impact

Pest Status

The gray bird grasshopper (genus Schistocerca) is a member of the order Orthoptera and family Acrididae.

It is known to negatively impact plants, including ornamental and crop plants, due to its tendency to consume large quantities of plant material.

As a pest, grasshoppers can cause significant damage to agricultural crops and gardens.

For example, the differential grasshopper (one of over 100 species of grasshoppers in Colorado) often targets soybeans, corn, and alfalfa.

Invasive Species

Gray bird grasshoppers have the potential to become invasive species in certain areas, leading to considerable damage to the native ecosystems.

Invasive grasshopper species can disrupt the balance in their new environment and outcompete native species for food and other resources.

To keep their populations in check, it is crucial to implement proper management and control measures like sprays or baits.

Conservation

Although grasshoppers are often considered pests, they also hold a significant role in the conservation status of ecosystems.

They serve as important food sources for various wildlife species and play a part in nutrient cycling.

In addition, certain grasshopper species act as keystone species, providing invaluable ecosystem services like biological control of pests and serving as bio-indicators of healthy streams and habitats.

Flight and Movement

Flight Capabilities

The Gray Bird Grasshopper is a species known for its impressive flight capabilities.

This grasshopper is a strong flier and can cover considerable distances in search of food and suitable habitats.

A particularly noteworthy aspect of the Gray Bird Grasshopper is its ability to fly in a variety of weather conditions.

However, these grasshoppers tend to be more active during warmer weather.

Mating Gray Bird Grasshoppers

Resting and Mobility

Interestingly, the Gray Bird Grasshopper is also skilled in resting.

Despite being strong fliers, they know when and how to conserve their energy. Some resting characteristics include:

  • Camouflage with the environment
  • Ability to rest on various surfaces like branches, leaves, and even on ornamental plants

When it comes to mobility, the Gray Bird Grasshopper is no slouch.

From jumping to climbing, this grasshopper displays a range of mobility skills.

Schistocerca Species Comparison

Vagrant Grasshopper

The Vagrant Grasshopper, also known as Schistocerca americana, is a common bird grasshopper found in North America. Some characteristics include:

  • Size:1.6 to 2.8 inches (40 to 70 mm) long
  • Appearance: Slender grasshoppers with a spur/spine on the underside of the thorax, directly behind their head
  • Habitat: Various environments, including forests, grasslands, and urban areas

Desert Locust

The Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is one of the most well-known locust species due to its impact on agriculture.

  • Size: 40 to 50 mm long
  • Appearance: Pale yellow to dark brown, with a broad, dark band on the hind wings
  • Behavior: Swarm-forming, highly migratory, and can devastate large areas of crops

Nihua Grasshopper

The Nihua Grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura) is a Central American species of grasshopper.

  • Size: Around 2 inches (50 mm) long
  • Appearance: Brownish-yellow with dark bands on the hind wings and a spur on the underside of the thorax
  • Habitat: Found in various habitats, ranging from grasslands to forests

Gray Bird Grasshopper

Damnifica Grasshopper

The Damnifica Grasshopper (Schistocerca damnifica) is another bird grasshopper species found in North America.

  • Size: Around 1.8 to 2.5 inches (45 to 65 mm) long
  • Appearance: Light to dark green with banded wings and a spur on the underside of the thorax
  • Habitat: Prefers open grasslands and meadows
SpeciesSize (inches)AppearanceHabitat
Vagrant Grasshopper1.6 to 2.8Slender, spur/spine on underside, various colorationsForests, grasslands, urban
Desert Locust1.6 to 2.0Pale yellow to dark brown, dark band on hind wingsArid and semi-arid regions
Nihua Grasshopper2.0Brownish-yellow, dark bands on hind wings, spurGrasslands, forests
Damnifica Grasshopper1.8 to 2.5Light to dark green, banded wings, spurOpen grasslands, meadows

Conclusion

The gray bird grasshopper, a member of the bird grasshopper family, is notable for its impressive size and unique features.

Found in diverse habitats like grasslands, agricultural areas, and urban gardens, this insect boasts a gray hue that aids in camouflage.

Measuring between 1.6 to 2.8 inches, it stands out among grasshopper species.

Equipped with strong hind legs, it can leap great distances swiftly. However, its feeding habits can pose challenges for agriculturists and gardeners, as it can damage various plant species.

Despite its potential as a pest, it plays a vital role in ecosystems, serving as food for many wildlife species and contributing to nutrient cycling.

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/oklahomas-bird-grasshoppers.html 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 – Gray Bird Grasshopper, Eggs and Nymphs

CA large grasshopper
We live in Los Angeles, CA. My husband caught this grasshopper for our boys to look at in September. We got more than we bargained for as it layed eggs the first night. Six weeks later they ALL hatched. I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of grasshopper it is, but haven’t found an exact match. I’ve attached a photo of the mother who was close to 4 inches long, as well as the egg sac, and nyphs.
Jenny

Hi Jenny,
What a wonderful letter. We generally try to scan letters that come in on a given day before deciding what to post, but on occasion, there is a letter so special that we just immediately post it. Your grasshopper is a Gray Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca nitens, a common species in the Los Angeles area.

According to Charles Hogue in Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, the adults are generally found in the spring. The large female Gray Bird Grasshoppers are about twice as large as the males. The nymphs are bright green. Both nymphs and adults feed on the leaves of crops and ornamental garden plants.

Letter 2 – Gray Bird Grasshopper

Baby spiders, bee, grasshopper
Hi! Thought you might enjoy these pix of: newly hatched linx spiders (hard to tell on small picture, but when I zoom in they look just like Mom), cute bee (maybe you can ID this one?), and a big grasshopper on a cactus. Thanks for the wonderful site.
Best Wishes,
Donna in San Diego

Hi Donna,
Thanks for the images of the Green Lynx Spiderlings. Your bee is a common Honey Bee, Apis mellifera and your grasshopper is a Gray Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca nitens. The females can grow to 2 1/2 inches in length or larger.

Letter 3 – Gray Bird Grasshopper

Subject: Huge Moth
Location: Glassel Park/Mt Washington, Los Angeles 90065
April 21, 2015 6:41 pm
Hi bugman
I live in Glassell Park (90065) and I have been finding all kinds of creatures here. Last summer two of these (moths?) were in the garden, I havent spotted another one until today. I took a picture. It was about 2-2.5 inches long. See attached. Maybe this isnt very rare? It is to me though.


Im pretty used to the Preying Mantisses, Potato Bugs/Jerusalem Crickets and Scarabs/June Bugs when I lived 2 blocks away. Recently I found 2 legless lizards. But yesterday I saw something that Ive never seen before.

It looked quite a lot like a beetle and had an all black body, but these very red wings and it flew. It was on Future Street between Isabel and Cypress. Unfortunately I didnt have a camera with me. It was pretty big and somewhat scary but incredibly beautiful. Any idea what it could be?
Thanks!
Signature: Ragga

Gray Bird Grasshopper
Gray Bird Grasshopper

Dear Ragga,
We will clarify the confusing geography in your email after we respond to your inquiries.  The insect in your attached image is not a moth, but rather a Gray Bird Grasshopper,
Schistocerca nitens, which according to BugGuide is:  “most often found among rank tall herbage, trees, or shrubbery. Not as tied to damp environments as some related species.”  BugGuide goes on to state:  “Some adults mature in late spring, many in summer and fall. Often adults are very common in late summer and well into autumn. Some adults will survive through winter into the following spring, at which time they still seem healthy and able to reproduce. So, it is possible to see adults of this species at any time of year.”

The large flying beetle-like creature you observed on Future Street might be a Tarantula Hawk, a large wasp with a lumbering flight that is reported to have a very painful sting.  Female Tarantula Hawks prey upon Tarantulas and Trapdoor Spiders, not to eat, but to feed their young, helpless larvae.  We have observed Tarantula Hawks in the nearby Los Angeles River and in Barnsdell Park, and they have been reported on the Corralitas Red Car Property above Riverside Drive.

Now to the confusing geography.  Unless the possible Tarantula Hawk sighting was not at your home, the location you provided of “Future Street between Isabel and Cypress” is not in Glassell Park which is North of Division Street.  Future Street is a small and confusing street that begins on Division as a one-way street that looks like an alley. 

It then crosses Isabel Street, enters Mount Washington, curves up and around and down, crossing Isabel Street a second time before entering Cypress Park, and finally ending at San Fernando Road at an entrance to the Rio de Los Angeles State Park along the Los Angeles River.  Can you please clarify if the sighting of the Gray Bird Grasshopper was Glassell Park, Cypress Park or Mount Washington?

Hi
Thanks for your fast response! I feel quite silly about that grasshopper, I realized after I sent it that of course it wasnt a moth. I was overly excited to try to solve the mystery of two very large moths in my backyard last year (when they flew they reminded me of bats). Thats obviously a grasshopper but I would not have known which kind. Im not really a bug person.
Yes the bug I saw on Future Street looked like that Tarantula Hawk. Beautiful but scary. Does this mean we have Tarantulas?

And yes you are also right, I live in Cypress Park. Many people find the boundaries of the neighborhoods here confusing or theyve heard of Glassell but not Cypress, so Im used to telling them Im in Glassell Park to make things easier. I guess its become a habit.

The location I gave you: Future Street between Isabel and Cypress in 90065 is completely correct and shouldnt be confusing..? I was walking down the block and so I dont have an exact house number for you but I pulled up a map of it for you: https://goo.gl/maps/yLVCf
And here’s the exact location of where the photo of the grasshopper was taken: https://goo.gl/maps/502c0
Again thank you for your help!
Ragga

Hi Ragga,
The reason we knew so much about the neighborhood is that our offices are in Mount Washington, right by Elyria Canyon Park.  Was the Tarantula Hawk in the same location?  We have not heard any reports of Tarantulas in the neighborhood for some time, but California Trapdoor Spiders, which are also preyed upon by Tarantula Hawks, are relatively common.
  We are also quite curious where you found the Legless Lizards.

The first google map link I sent was the location of the Tarantula Hawk, the second google map link was the location of the grasshopper and the legless lizards. I didnt have my camera close by at the time but I got a pretty good look at them. I will send you photos if I come across them again or something else noteworthy.
Thanks!

Letter 4 – Gray Bird Grasshopper

Subject: Bug
Location: Orange California
October 23, 2015 1:58 pm
What is this?
Signature: Tami

Gray Bird Grasshopper
Gray Bird Grasshopper

Dear Tami,
As you can see by comparing your image to this image on BugGuide, you have a Gray Bird Grasshopper,
Schistocerca nitens.  Female Gray Bird Grasshoppers can get quite large.  According to BugGuide

“A strong flier, can fly great distances, but tends to fly lower and look more clumsy in flight than most other Schistocerca species (a deceiving impression, as it is far from clumsy in reality).  Will often come to lights at night, sometimes in great numbers.” 

Letter 5 – Gray Bird Grasshopper Nymph on “Woody Plant”

Subject:  What’s Eating my Woody Plant?
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, CA
July 8, 2017 6:47 PM
I have several woody plants in my garden and I am very concerned with them being eaten by insects.  What is this on my plant?
Signature:  Constant Gardener

Gray Bird Grasshopper Nymph

Dear Constant Gardener,
This is a very young Grasshopper nymph and considering your location, we suspect it is a hatchling Gray Bird Grasshopper.  Though this nymph is quite small, adult Gray Bird Grasshoppers get quite large, with a wingspan well over four inches.  According to BugGuide, they feed upon: 

“Apparently a wide variety of plants” and “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 (?).”  There appears to be a notch chewed off the leaf upon which this little Grasshopper is resting, which is a good indication it is feeding off your “Woody Plant”.  Since Gray Bird Grasshoppers are not limited to a single plant species as food, you can probably safely relocate this individual if you are concerned about your “Woody Plant” being eaten.

Gray Bird Grasshopper Nymph

Facebook Comment from Jennifer
LOL…. all I see is pot! lol
oh wait… now I see it! lol

Facebook Comment from Michael
I know, they keep saying that. I’m like, damn, just grow some balls and say marijuana.

Letter 6 – Gray Bird Grasshopper in Mount Washington

Subject:  Gray Bird Grasshopper
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
April 5, 2016
Though the image is not the greatest, we did get a quick shot of this impressive Gray Bird Grasshopper before it flew from the paloverde to the pine tree.

Gray Bird Grasshopper
Gray Bird Grasshopper

Letter 7 – Gray Bird Grasshopper Nymph

Subject: Grasshopper
Location: Bakersfield, Ca
April 24, 2017 4:14 pm
What type of grasshopper is this??
Signature: with your name

Gray Bird Grasshopper Nymph

We believe this is the nymph of a Gray Bird Grasshopper, Schitocerca nitens.  Here is a BugGuide image for comparison.

Letter 8 – Gray Bird Grasshopper Nymph may eat buds as well as leaves

Subject:  Will this Grasshopper eat my buds?
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
July 19, 2017
Thanks Bugman, for identifying my young Gray Bird Grasshopper.  It is still living on my woody plant and it is growing larger, but now I am worried that it might eat the buds forming on my plant.  Do grasshoppers just eat leaves or will they eat other parts of the plants?
Signed:  Constant Gardener

Immature Gray Bird Grasshopper

Dear Constant Gardener,
According to BugGuide, the Gray Bird Grasshopper,
Schistocerca nitens, will eat “Apparently a wide variety of plants.”  We also looked at what BugGuide has to say about the genus and we learned: 

“The locust of the biblical plagues (well-known and dreaded throughout the Middle East and Europe in ancient times) is the only Old World member of this genus, Schistocerca gregaria (Song, 2004). North American species are much less prone to swarming behavior.”  According to Charles Hogue in Insects of the Los Angeles Basin:  “The light green nymphs attain noticeable size in late summer.  Both stages feed on various garden crops and ornamentals.” 

We are relatively confident that a Grasshopper feeding on leaves may continue to eat if presented with buds.  If you are concerned about the flower production of this plant, as we stated in an earlier posting, you should consider relocating this young nymph.  Luckily you do not need to worry about a plague of locusts descending on your crops, but a large Gray Bird Grasshopper might noticeably affect your yield.

Letter 9 – Gray Bird Grasshoppers on Cannabis

Subject:  Gray Bird Grasshoppers on Cannabis
Geographic location of the bug:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
Date: 09/25/2021
Time: 01:36 PM PDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Bugman,
This past weekend I observed this male Gray Bird Grasshopper just sitting on a AI Cannabis plant and I marvelled at how my gardening style towards Grasshoppers has changed recently.  As I watched this guy just relaxing on the plant, sprawled across one of the smaller leaves and I realized that I have never witnessed Grasshoppers eating my buds. 

I find leaf damage but never damage to the buds other than that caused by dreaded Budworms.  The decision I made after realizing this is that, especially later in the season, there is no longer a need to relocate the Grasshoppers.  Earlier in the summer I relocated 6-8 immature Gray Bird Grasshoppers I found on my plants to a native willow trees about 30 feet away. 

Relocating nymphs might still be a good idea because when the plants are younger, the leaves are needed to supply strength to the woody plant as it is growing.  Once the leaves begin to yellow they no longer positively contribute to the health of the plant, so it is the prefect time to allow the Grasshoppers to munch on the leaves.
How you want your letter signed:  Constant Gardener

Male Gray Bird Grasshopper on Cannabis

Dear Constant Gardener,
Thanks for your wonderful posting and images.  We loved hearing about your growth in the area of gardening.

Gray Bird Grasshopper nymph on AI
Gray Bird Grasshopper nymph relocated to Willow

Letter 10 – Immature Bird Grasshopper

Grass Hopper?
Hi,
I found this little guy in my sunflowers! I live in Soutern CA in the Mojave desert. It was kind enough to ket me photograph it before hopping away 🙂 I have never seen a red grass hopper, but that is whar t this lloks like to me…It was only about 3 inches long.
Jill Odice

Hi Jill,
Though your question contains numerous words we don’t recognize, we believe you want this grasshopper identified. Though we are not positive, we believe this to be an immature Carolina Locust, that despite its name, ranges over much of North America. There is a cinnamon-brown color variation that is not as common as the grayish tan coloration. We would gladly welcome anyone who can provide a conclusive identification.

Hi Daniel,
Jeez, I must have been so excited about my little grasshopper that I didn’t even ck my spelling 🙂 Thanks for getting back to me with the interesting information! I love your website…I could spend hours just looking at all those bugs! Being here in the Mojave desert, I see all kinds of strange looking critters, so your site is great for figuring out what they are!

How do I get to have my photos on your site? Just curious…I always have my camera with me, and try and catch anything new in the bug world with it when I can! Keep up the great work! I attached another photo of that worm that ate my tomato plants for you.
Jill Odice

Correction (08/28/2007) red grasshopper
I would say the picture of the red grasshopper is a nymph of one of the Schistocerca species. I believe Eric Eaton identified an adult red grasshopper as Schistocerca in the past. Not that all red grasshoppers are bird grasshoppers, but this one does look like a candidate. Just my $.02.
Chad Lensbower

14 thoughts on “Gray Bird Grasshopper: Quick and Essential Facts for Curious Minds”

  1. Hi, bnew here, been looking at this site a number of but never really noticed the comment function. Anyway, Daniel, Lise, whoever, you are right. I too, be common in the Los Angeles area..:) [see some of those every other day]…C.L.Hogue was part right, two generations a year, with adults usually appearing in the spring and fall, though I’ve seen summer adults as well. Even saw one of those at Disneyland, where I usually don’t see many hoppers [real ones]..flying..like big birds. Hogue points out these are immensely large [YouTube has a number of videos, usually without naming the species..Grasshopper freakout, chihuahua and hoppers] , the females especially, and they are like big birds when they fly [cue Nelly Furtado.].BTW I too notice the mothl;y slip a new moths I mean months I mean minutes ago. And I like the name of the site, too.

    Reply
  2. Large grasshopper. I live in Whiuttier, Calif.and saw a smaller, of those bird hoppers.
    The legless lizards I wasn’t really familiar with..the bug Ragga also linked to was really impressive..that hopper’s OBVIOUSLY a female by the shape of front and the length….

    Reply
  3. Large grasshopper. I live in Whiuttier, Calif.and saw a smaller, of those bird hoppers.
    The legless lizards I wasn’t really familiar with..the bug Ragga also linked to was really impressive..that hopper’s OBVIOUSLY a female by the shape of front and the length….

    Reply
    • What’s That Bug? is committed to helping all gardeners identify what they find on their plants, whether those plants are woody or not. We are happy we amused you.

      Reply
  4. I have a number of these guys in my back yard ( Tucson ,Az). My wife, our son and I have a good time watching these guys grow and shed. But lately we are noticing a disturbing feature. We are finding hanging from branches, turned yellow with maggots inside of them. What is laying these maggots? At first we thought they had died and then they were laid but now we know this isn’t the case, we just found one and that we saw yesterday looking a little pale yellow and now dead today.

    Reply
    • We are not sure if there is a Tachinid Fly or other parasitoid fly that uses Grasshoppers as a host. We will attempt to research this matter.

      Reply
  5. PS There was a dead, drowned obviously with this rain, considerably smaller, one, and I faced fears and picked it up, and thre it in the thrah(my mother had showed it to me,.) fun time there..surprsingly!

    Reply
  6. I found a what I believe a gray grasshopper in 9b Florida, I never seen them before are they destructive ? It was huge and also we have a lobber grasshopper problem here is this related?

    Reply

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