Orthopteran: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide

Orthoptera is an order of insects that includes familiar creatures like grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, and locusts. These insects have likely been around since the middle of the Carboniferous period and are predominantly terrestrial herbivores, with most having modified hind legs adapted for jumping.

Distinct characteristics of the Orthopteran insects are their chewing mouthparts and usually four wings. The front pair of wings are narrow, leathery, and serve as protection for the membranous, fan-shaped hind wings. Many species within this order have the ability to produce and detect sounds, allowing for unique communication patterns among the creatures.

Aside from their common physical traits, Orthopterans are also known for their gradual metamorphosis, progressing from an egg to a nymph and eventually becoming an adult. This order of insects plays an essential role in the natural ecosystem as a food source for various animals, and sometimes as pest species when their populations grow too large.

Overview of Orthopterans

Orthoptera Classification

Orthoptera is an order of insects that includes grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids. These insects are known for their:

  • Strong, jumping hind legs
  • Two pairs of wings
  • Ability to produce and detect sounds

Orthopterans date back to the middle of the Carboniferous period.

Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers are a group of Orthoptera, typically recognized by:

  • Long, jumping hind legs
  • Short antennae
  • Herbivorous diet

Some examples of grasshoppers include locusts and short-horned grasshoppers.

Crickets

Crickets, another group of Orthoptera, can be identified by their:

  • Long antennae
  • Nocturnal habits
  • Chirping sounds, produced by rubbing wings together

Examples of crickets are house crickets and field crickets.

Katydids

Katydids, also part of the Orthoptera order, have characteristics such as:

  • Long antennae
  • Camouflage, often resembling leaves
  • Typically nocturnal habits

Examples of katydids include bush crickets and true katydids.

Comparison Table:

Feature Grasshoppers Crickets Katydids
Jumping Legs :heavy_check_mark: :heavy_check_mark: :heavy_check_mark:
Wings 2 pairs 2 pairs 2 pairs
Diet Herbivorous Omnivorous Herbivorous
Antennae Length Short Long Long
Sound Production Some species Chirping Various
Activity Diurnal/Nocturnal Nocturnal Nocturnal

Physical Characteristics

Antennae

Orthopteran insects have antennae that vary in length and structure. For example, crickets have long, thread-like antennae, while grasshoppers have short and stout antennae.

Wings

Orthopterans typically possess two pairs of wings. The front pair, called tegmina, are leathery and narrow, acting as protective covers for the delicate fan-like hind wings.

Types of forewings in Orthoptera:

  • Tegmina: leathery, narrow front wings
  • Hind wings: fan-like, delicate back wings

Eyes

These insects have compound eyes responsible for detecting light, color, and movement.

Biting Mouthparts

Orthopterans have strong mouthparts adapted for biting and chewing, enabling them to feed on plants.

Enlarged Hind Femurs

Orthoptera are characterized by their modified hind legs, equipped with enlarged femurs for powerful jumping.

Features of Orthoptera:

  • Typically two pairs of wings
  • Antennae: long and thread-like (crickets) or short and stout (grasshoppers)
  • Compound eyes for light detection
  • Biting mouthparts for feeding on plants
  • Enlarged hind femurs for jumping ability

Life Cycle and Habits

Metamorphosis

Orthopterans undergo an incomplete metamorphosis process. The stages include:

  • Egg
  • Nymph
  • Adult

Nymphs resemble smaller adults, without wings. They molt several times before reaching adulthood.

Courtship

Orthopteran species exhibit unique courtship behaviors, often involving sound production. Males attract females through calls or songs.

Stridulation

Stridulation is the act of producing sound by rubbing body parts together. Common in crickets, it plays a vital role in attracting mates and communicating.

Swarming Behavior

Some Orthopterans, like locusts, are known for their swarming behavior. Swarms can cause massive agricultural damage due to their voracious herbivorous feeding habits.

Feature Incomplete Metamorphosis Courtship Stridulation Swarming Behavior
Characteristic Gradual development Vocalization Sound production Group movement
Example Grasshoppers Crickets Crickets Locusts
Pros Fewer developmental stages, energy efficient Attracts suitable mates Communication, mate attraction Improved chances of survival
Cons Limited adaptation opportunities, difficult to escape predators Energy-consuming, attracting predators Can be disruptive, noise pollution Agricultural damage, competition for resources

Ecology and Distribution of Orthopterans

Habitats

Orthopterans inhabit a wide range of environments including:

  • Forests
  • Grasslands
  • Deserts
  • Wetlands

For example, some species like crickets live in grassy meadows, while others like katydids can be found in dense forests.

Food and Diet

Orthopterans have diverse diets:

  • Herbivores: Grasshoppers feed primarily on plants.
  • Omnivores: Crickets eat both plants and small invertebrates.
  • Carnivores: Some katydid species are predators that consume other insects.

Range

Orthopterans can be found all around the world, from the tropics to temperate regions. Their distribution varies by species and habitat preferences.

Habitat Examples of Orthopterans Located There
Tropical Rainforest Katydids
Temperate Grasslands Grasshoppers
Desert Some cricket species

Predation

Orthopterans face several predators:

  • Birds
  • Mammals
  • Reptiles
  • Other insects

For example, some insect predators include praying mantises and spiders.

Taxonomy and Evolution

Suborders Caelifera and Ensifera

Orthopterans are insects classified under the order Orthoptera. This order is divided into two suborders:

  • Caelifera: Short-horned grasshoppers, locusts, and pygmy mole crickets.
  • Ensifera: Crickets, katydids, and wetas.

Some features of Caelifera and Ensifera:

Caelifera:

  • Short antennae
  • Tympanal hearing organs on the abdomen
  • Stridulation less common (sound produced by rubbing body parts)

Ensifera:

  • Long antennae
  • Tympanal hearing organs on the front legs
  • Stridulation common (sound produced by rubbing wings)
Feature Caelifera Ensifera
Antennae Short Long
Tympanal organs Abdomen Front legs
Stridulation Less common Common

Phylogeny

The term “Orthoptera” is derived from the New Latin orthos (straight) and pteron (wing). The suborders Caelifera and Ensifera have distinct evolutionary lineages. Their phylogeny shows different methods of sound production and hearing structures. Examples of these diverse traits include:

  • Short-horned grasshoppers produce sounds by rubbing their hind leg against their wings.
  • Crickets create sound by stridulating their wings.

In summary, Orthoptera is an insect order with two suborders, Caelifera and Ensifera, each having unique features and evolutionary lineages.

Orthopterans in Culture and Technology

Scientific Names in Dictionaries

Dictionaries often include scientific names for orthopteran species. For example:

  • Grasshopper: Caelifera
  • Cricket: Gryllidae
  • Katydid: Tettigoniidae

These names help differentiate between similar species and provide a universal language for researchers.

Orthopterans as Food

Edible orthopterans like grasshoppers, crickets, and locusts are popular food sources in various cultures, particularly across sub-Saharan Africa. Their promotion as food ingredients is gaining momentum. Reasons for eating orthopterans include:

  • Rich in protein
  • Sustainable farming practices
  • Low environmental impact

Locusts in Science

Locusts, a type of orthopteran, are often used in scientific research. Studies explore their:

These findings have applications in fields like agriculture and robotics.

Etymology

Orthopteran etymology can be traced to Greek words:

  • ortho (straight)
  • pteron (wing)

This refers to their straight, elongated wings and serves as the basis for their scientific classification.

Comparison between grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids:

Trait Grasshopper Cricket Katydid
Leg shape Short, stout Long, modified for jumping Long, modified for jumping
Wings Short or long Leathery forewings Leaf-like or transparent wings
Sound production Hind legs against wings Scraping forewings Scraping forewings
Activity Diurnal Nocturnal Nocturnal
Habitat Grasslands, fields Soil, shrubs, ground litter Trees, shrubs

Understanding orthopteran characteristics helps us appreciate their role in our culture, science, and environment.

Threats and Conservation

Orthopterans, such as grasshoppers, crickets and katydids, play important roles in ecosystems. However, they also face threats affecting their populations. Human activities contribute to these threats. We need to address these issues to conserve diverse Orthopteran species.

One major threat is habitat fragmentation and loss, caused by urbanization and agriculture. This interrupts the natural habitats of these insects. Chemical pollution, such as pesticides, also affects Orthopteran populations.

Invasive species can damage native Orthopteran species by predation or competition for resources. Climate change is another factor, which can alter habitat conditions and disrupt the breeding cycles of these insects.

Conservation efforts are crucial to protect Orthopteran species and maintain biodiversity. Here are some techniques to support Orthopterans:

  • Establishing protected areas to preserve habitats
  • Implementing habitat restoration projects
  • Monitoring populations to detect changes
  • Regulating pesticide use to reduce impacts

By taking these steps, we can contribute to conserving Orthopterans and preserving the balance of ecosystems.

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 – Orthopteran from South Africa

 

Subject: What insect is this?
Location: Mpumalanga
March 8, 2013 12:51 am
Hi there
I came across this insect while holidaying in Marloth Park – Mpumalanga Dec 2012.
Signature: unsure

Orthopteran
Orthopteran

Dear unsure,
This is some species in the order Orthoptera that contains Katydids, Crickets and Grasshoppers.  We are unsure of its identity.  A head on view is not the ideal vantage for trying to identify an unknown creature.  A lateral view would be highly preferred.  It also appears that this is a Longhorned Orthopteran in the suborder Ensifera.  We were unsure of your location, but we now know that Marloth Park and Mpumalanga are in South Africa.

Letter 2 – Orthopteran Nymph

 

Unknown Tiny Grasshopper
Great Smoky Mountains, TN
First Full Day of Spring
Hi Daniel,
I went for a walk in the woods earlier today, and found this tiny grasshopper sunning itself on an Oak leaf, and then it was gone.  I have been unable to identify it, so far.  Can you help?
Of course, I’ve been wrong so many times before…Cricket?  ;-D
I didn’t crop the photo so that you could see just how tiny it is.
Thanx for being there,
R.G. Marion

Orthopteran Nymph

Hi R.G.,
We are too late to try to research this at the moment.  The antennae seem too long for a grasshopper nymph, so we suspect it is in the suborder Ensifera, the Long-Horned Orthoptera.

Letter 3 – Unknown Drowned Orthopteran from California

 

Subject:  Drowned cricket
Geographic location of the bug:  California Central Coast, USA
Date: 12/14/2018
Time: 01:27 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Bugman,
I am a huge fan of this site and have used it to help ID several species of insects. I finally found a bug that doesn’t quite fit into any category I can find. This poor unfortunate soul was pulled from the pool during our swim team practice. On approach I thought it was a Jerusalem cricket based on size, but then when I picked it up I saw that it’s abdomen was much more narrow and down-curved. I thought maybe it was some sort of mole or cave cricket, but it’s features don’t quite fit to make it as either of those. We just had our first rains of the season, which drive many critters out on the pool deck. I’d love to know what suicidal bug this is to satisfy my curiosity and to inform those terrified swimmers who suffer from bugphobia and nightmares.
How you want your letter signed:  Coach Jackie

Drowned Orthopteran

Dear Coach Jackie,
Thank you for your kind words about our site.  Alas, we are not able to provide you with a conclusive identification at this time, but we are nonetheless posting your image of this drowned Orthopteran while we continue to research its identity.  We are also appealing to our readership for assistance.  Like you, we acknowledge its resemblance to Camel Crickets or Cave Crickets in the family Rhaphidophoridae which is pictured on BugGuide, but we are not convinced this individual is a member of that family.

Thank you, Daniel! Now I’m bummed I didn’t save it–didn’t think it would preserve well after being soaked. I’ll be looking forward to what you discover!

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.

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  • 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.

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