American Bird Grasshopper

This week for Flora and Fauna Friday, we have an acrobatic arthropod of avian proportions. This week we’re talking about the American Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca americana).

The American Bird Grasshopper is a very large grasshopper, with females reaching nearly 4 inches in length. Their color is primarily a golden tan, mottled with brown and black, and topped with a tan stripe down the center of the back. They can be found in fields, meadows, and prairies feeding on grasses, forbs, and the leaves of broadleaf trees. American Bird Grasshoppers get their name not only from their substantial size but because of their unique behavior when fleeing as well. When disturbed, they will leap from their perch and take flight. Instead of quickly throwing themselves back into the safety of the grass, like other grasshoppers, the American Bird Grasshopper will soar up into the air before either landing atop grass some yards away or lazily flying up into the branches of a tree to hide. Much like a flushed bird would do. Their substantial size and lackadaisical flight behavior makes them a target for predators. They’re a favorite food for the Loggerhead Shrike and American Kestrel, who’ll snatch the insects out of the air.

Our species is in the same genus as the swarming Desert Locust (Schistocera gregaria), infamous from the biblical plague. Although the American Bird Grasshopper can be considered a pest to some agricultural crops, it doesn’t swarm like its Old World cousin. Swarming is an adaptation to life in the desert, where food is scarce and scattered over vast distances. That’s not the case here in the southeastern United States. The American Bird Grasshopper is content with dining alone in the bounty of our climate. Adults overwinter and can often be seen rousing in fallow fields and meadows on warm winter days. Come Spring and Summer, the new year’s generation emerges to carry the species’ mantle.

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