Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grasshopper Havoc

Spring is in the air folks! The sun is out, the flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping, and at Pacific Science Center the eastern lubbers are hopping! Yes folks, this spring we have hatched our very own baby eastern lubber grasshoppers (Romalea guttata). This is the first time that this species has been able to reproduce within our exhibit, so we’re watching them closely and with much excitement.

An eastern lubber is a type of grasshopper native to the southeastern and south central portion of the United States. They are common to Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and North Carolina often found swarming in search of lush green grasslands. Nor are lubbers very picky eaters. They will devour a wide variety of vegetation and fruit. Lubbers have a fondness for citrus, vegetable crops and landscape ornamentals. For many animals they are toxic to eat and they can secrete noxious foam as a defense mechanism. They are one of the largest grasshoppers reaching over 2.5 inches in length as adults. Although they have wings, lubbers are flightless.

Most adults usually lay between 25-50 eggs. Our exhibit currently has 13 newly hatched juveniles, so we are hoping to be seeing more shortly. Spring hatchlings generally mature by early fall. We are very excited to watch them grow!

Grasshoppers are fun to look at on exhibit, but not an insect that we would like to add to Seattle’s outdoor animal population. As with all of our insect species, their bedding, food and cage are maintained following strict containment protocol. Perhaps more than any other animal we care for, it is easy to understand this need with grasshoppers: They move fast and eat a wide range of plants. We remind our readers to never release any non-native insects into the wild, even accidentally, by composting cage material that may contain eggs. [See our earlier article, "Stick Bug Amnesty."ed]

A reminder of the havoc that grasshopper species can cause in our region is highlighted in a recent article from the Seattle Times. The challenges of dealing with grasshoppers are compounded by the fact that there are a number of species, each adapted to different conditions. Richard Zack, from Washington State University’s Department of Entomology, listed the following: the bigheaded grasshopper (Aulocara elliotti), the clearwinged grasshopper (Camnula pellucida), the two-striped grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittatus), the redlegged grasshopper (Melanoplus femurrubrum), the migratory grasshopper (Melanoplus sanguinipes), and the valley grasshopper (Oedaleonotus enigma). Professor Zack commented, “Each can be a problem. They will vary on where you are looking and the year.”

Let's all agree - the last thing we want to do is add an invasive species to that list!

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