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Life with Grasshoppers

Summer work 238Have you ever gotten down on a grasshopper’s level and look it full in the face? They are such crazy looking creatures. They seem to have character and personality as they peer at you with their very large, compound eyes which take up most of their face. Antennae stick out from their forehead. From the right angle and looking closely, a grasshopper’s mandible is intimidating as it is adapted for chewing and biting. Their elongate body is not quite cylindrical, almost more like a rectangle. Its thorax looks like a shield or saddle depending on the angle. Body segments ring the underside of the abdomen. The body shape is very distinctive and easily recognizable, all who see any of the members of this order, Orthoptera, knows they are looking at a grasshopper or something similar. Each of the three sets of legs looks slightly different. Legs are also segmented. The most recognizable feature is their incredibly large hind legs used for jumping great distances. Their little tarsi, or feet cling to objects very cutely. Wings, attached at the thorax, are folded over the abdomen. When a grasshopper flies, its wings spread out like a moth’s. Vibrant, often dark colors on the wings normally unseen are displayed. Grasshoppers have acute hearing; auditory stimuli are significant in courtship. Their loud hum fills a late summer day as they rub their hind femora against their forewings. It is predominately the males who sing so loudly, as they attempt to draw females to them.

Garden Club 110The loud hum pierces my ears as it becomes a loud trill, filling my head with a resounding buzz that creeps into my very being, the grasshopper hum seems to become a part of me as I work alongside the noisy creatures in the month of August. Despite grasshoppers being considered a pest due to their love of plants, I find grasshoppers are rather friendly and photogenic; I never tire of taking photos of grasshoppers. Being herbivores, they love to feed on garden plants. Grasshoppers are a constant part of our daily lives throughout the summer on our farm. I enjoy my nephew and nieces’ reactions to them.

Hordes of grasshoppers jumped up like popcorn, bouncing to the next blade of grass, escaping my feet. The grasshoppers have been thick the past two years, almost everywhere one walks, there are a handful that spring away, staying a little ahead of your feet. Greenhouse A was host to so many grasshoppers you couldn’t move without disturbing four or five. Malachi caught a bunch of them to feed to our dog, Spencer. Spencer seemed to think they were a special treat.

Summer work 301Mom told me a grasshopper story of her childhood.  She was walking in the basement of the house. There was a huge grasshopper on the wall. She was terrified. She was young enough that she had no memory of ever seeing a grasshopper before. She froze wondering what it was and if it would jump on her and bite her. She remembered it being bright green and monstrous. She can’t remember if someone helped her or if she finally got up the courage to run past, but her first memory of a grasshopper hasn’t faded.

When Malachi was only four, shortly after we moved to this farm, he found a dead grasshopper in the window of the house. Having a sensitive heart for all creatures, he took it outside to bury it in a flower garden next to the house, thinking that was the perfect place for a grasshopper to rest.

GH Planting 083Alexis, who is five, is caught between being scared and fascinated by grasshoppers. Her eyes glow when she talks about them. Her voice carries a bit of laughter as she tells me about a grasshopper landing on her foot. A few weeks ago, Alexis found a grasshopper on a bean leaf. It was large. At first she was scared. I reassured her. Then she made a game out of chasing the grasshopper onto another leaf and into the Swiss chard. We noticed the grasshopper was missing a hind leg. Even with just one large leg for hopping, it was able to jump superbly well. At the time, we weren’t sure how and why the grasshopper had only one hind leg.

Summer work 302Curious about what more I could learn about grasshoppers, I pulled out my entomology text book. The first paragraph was an unreadable description of what an Orthoptera insect looks like. Persevering through, I finally got to more interesting facts about grasshoppers, an explanation for our grasshopper with a missing leg.  A grasshopper has the ability to loose its hind leg if it is caught by a predator, allowing the large insect to hop away free. After reading that, I was eager to share the information with my family, particularly the kids and especially Lexie. A week passed before I could share with her, enough time to nearly forget I had something to tell her. Then on the same day, she was telling me about the grasshopper landing on her foot, the opportunity was there. Carefully, I explained the reason behind the missing leg. She listened intently with great interest. “Isn’t that cool?” She answers, again with the laughter in her voice, “yeah,” a smile spreading across her face. She thinks further on it. Looking up at me with those big brown, inquisitive eyes, she asks how the grasshopper can live with only the one hind leg. I didn’t have a good answer. But then she said maybe it was because they still had lots of other legs. I was tickled by her thought process and delighted by her interest and awe.

GH Planting 081Isabel, a delightfully funny three year old, is still more frightened by grasshoppers than curious, though spending more of the summer outside on the farm, she is gradually coming around. A grasshopper had collided with her shoulder on a sunny day in the beginning of August. With her deep husky voice, Isabel told me of the grasshopper landing on her. Lips slightly puckered she told the tale. She touched her shoulder as she said, “a grasshopper landed on my shoulder right here”. Her voice betrayed a little bit of worry and fear. Yesterday, as she helped in the greenhouse, we saw a large grasshopper. She seemed awed by the size of it. She asked me where grasshoppers live. They live on the ground and on plants. Joyfully, I try to teach the dear children in my life about the creatures we come in contact with, instilling a love for all living things inside each child.

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