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“Grasshopper” by Static Pixels under CC by 2.0

Grasshoppers are in the arthropod phylum, and part of the insecta class. They date back to around 250 million years ago, making them one of the oldest living group of chewing herbivore insects. These insects have many unique features, such as their color which allows them to camouflage with their environment, powerful hind legs that allow them to move quickly, and some have warning colors that keep predators away. Their hind legs also give them the ability to leap 20 times the length of its own body. Being an insect with wings and able to fly, grasshoppers can get up to 8 miles per hour when flying

How They are Harmful

Locusts are the swarming phase of certain species of short-horned grasshoppers in the family Acrididae. Dating back thousands of years ago, swarms of locust were called “The Plague”. Locust would swarm and cause devastating events such as famine and destruction of crops. They would completely demolish food for hundreds of people until there wasn’t any left, and then the swarm would move on to the next crop. In 1875, the largest swarm recorded was the Rocky Mountain locust that was 1,800 miles long and 110 miles wide.

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“Swarm”  by Wikimedia Commons under CC by 2.0

Today, while they do not cause famine across regions, they still can be a large pest to farms and growing crops. Their swarming behavior is caused by overcrowding of the population, which increases tactile stimulation of their hind legs. This stimulation increases the levels of serotonin which causes the grasshoppers to feed more and breed faster. With an increase grasshopper population, this means an increase for other animals that like to feed on them. Normally, having a predator that eats its prey controls the population. This does not work when there is this much of an increase in population. Bats, birds, rodents and other animals consume grasshoppers and these animals can also harm crops.

There are not many ways to eradicate such large populations of insects other then using poisonous chemical pesticides. These pesticides not only harm the grasshoppers, but they harm any of the animals around it, pollute water that runs off the crops and flows into rivers and lakes, can harm the people that are spraying them, and its sprayed on the food WE eat so it is also harming us. Many people think that this is the only way to get rid of them, but there are less harmful alternatives. Physical barriers such as screen netting and coverings on plants that deny grasshoppers access to the crops work extremely well.

“Environmental Contamination” by Wikimedia Commons under CC by 2.0

“Field Pesticides”  by Static Flickr under CC by 2.0

How They are Helpful

Despite being pests, without them the ecosystem would be a much different place. Because they are herbivores, they facilitate in plant decomposition and regrowth. This creates a balance for different species of plants to thrive. A grasshopper’s waste is extremely nutrient dense and beneficial for fertilizing the soil. Cow and animal waste is also used to fertilize the soil, but because of the reduced size of grasshopper waste, it allows microbes to break it down more efficiently, fertilizing the soil faster.

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“Fertilized Soil” by Static Flickr under CC by 2.0

Grasshoppers are also an important source of protein for other animals in the wild. By feeding other animals such as spiders and birds, it allows them to fulfill their roles in balancing the ecosystem.

Along with facilitating plant decomposition, grasshoppers prevent plant overgrowth. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, grasshoppers generally consume 10 percent of available plant biomass. Although this can be harmful to man made crop fields, it is extremely helpful in the wild environment. A grasshoppers mood, specifically to their diet can actually alter the way that they benefit the environment. “Sometimes, when a grasshopper dies, microbes in the soil easily break down his nitrogen-rich body, enriching the soil and helping carbohydrate-rich plants to grow. When the grasshopper experiences a fear trigger, though — like in the presence of a spider — he consumes more carbohydrate-rich foods. Then, when he dies, the microbes have more difficulty breaking down his body, and nitrogen-rich plants grow instead of carbohydrate-rich ones.”

There are many examples of grasshoppers helping and hurting vegetation. They are more helpful then hurtful in my opinion. The pest problem is no where near what it use to be hundreds of years ago. They do not cause a famine and a lot of people are not even aware that they are a common pest. The benefits of enriching the soil and facilitating plant growth out weigh the negatives of pests munching on crops. Although annoying, there are preventative ways of keeping you, and your crops safe using the netted coverings. Without grasshoppers, the ecosystem and the food chain would not be stable. Next time you see a hopping friend, give them a thanks for keeping the environment healthy!

 

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