• Hop to it!
    July 28,2014

    Stefan Hard / Staff Photo A Carolina grasshopper sits on a corn leaf recently in a Chelsea vegetable garden.

    Photos and Text
    by Stefan Hard

    Things are hopping, at least in the meadows.

    Grasshoppers, locust, crickets, and katydids, all related in the family Orthoptera are thriving in Vermont’s tall grasses in high summer’s strong sunshine. They might also show up in your vegetable garden, which might not be a good thing if they start eating your vegetables.

    A close look, if you can get close, reveals a variety of size, shape, texture, and colors, especially among grasshoppers, If they weren’t so dramatically mobile, they would be hard to spot, being masters of camouflage, both in color and sometimes, shape.

    Identification of Orthoptera species can be a challenge, and I’m no expert. There are some general rules to tell the difference between grasshoppers and crickets, for example, but there are exceptions to the rules that can trip you up. In general, crickets have antennae that are as long as their body or even longer. Some crickets, unlike herbivore-only grasshoppers, are predatory and omnivorous. Crickets are more active at night.

    I read a study of aerodynamics in nature that concluded locusts (a version of grasshoppers adapted for migration) may just be the most efficient flyers in the natural world despite their clunky appearance. I would have guessed Canada geese, or the artic tern.

    As visually fascinating creatures as they are, for me, perhaps the best feature of crickets and grasshoppers are the sounds they make — crickets chirping softly on a starry summer night, or the load buzz of a roadside meadow on a warm fall afternoon.

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