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Differential Grasshopper

Melanoplus differentialis

What do they look like?

Males and females of this species have different sizes. Male differential grasshoppers are 28-37 mm long, while females are 34-50 mm long. Their antennae are brownish-yellow or brownish-red in color. Their faces have a zig-zag pattern and their compound eyes are brown with light spots. Their upper hind legs are yellow with the same zig-zag pattern as their faces. Their lower hind legs are yellow and have black spines. Differential grasshoppers have yellow feet. Their wings and protonum (plates on the thorax) are glossy. The shape of males cercus (end of the abdomen) is different from those of females. (Boone, 2019; Milne, 1992; Pfadt, 1994)

Some adults may be nearly black in color. This polymorphic form is found mostly in Colorado and stretches northeast to South Dakota and Nebraska. They may be found randomly in other populations. (Boone, 2019; Milne, 1992; Pfadt, 1994)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    28 to 50 mm
    1.10 to 1.97 in

Where do they live?

What kind of habitat do they need?

Differential grasshoppers live in grasslands, open woods, lush vegetation, and wet crop areas. They can be found in wet meadows, creek-bottom lands, and herbaceous vegetation. Eggs are often found on field borders and roadsides. (Boone, 2019; Milne, 1992; Pfadt, 1994)

Differential grasshoppers live in grasslands, open woods, and wet crop areas. They can be found in wet meadows and creek-bottom lands. Eggs are often found on field borders and roadsides. (Boone, 2019; Milne, 1992; Pfadt, 1994)

  • These animals are found in the following types of habitat
  • temperate

How do they grow?

Differential grasshoppers develop and mature at the same pace. Most grasshoppers pass through their life stages at the same time. Females lay eggs in the late fall. The embryos in the eggs develop through the summer, but their development pauses through the winter months. They enter diapause when their development is 54% complete. They finish developing in the spring. Most eggs hatch within a two-week time frame in the late spring. Nymphs grow rapidly in the warm temperature of early summer and mature quickly. They pass through four stages of development. Differential grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis to become adults. Many nymphs become adults within a few days. Adults are found from July to October. (Boone, 2019)

How do they reproduce?

Differential grasshoppers have seasonal breeding, so they only breed during a certain part of the year. They produce one batch of nymphs in early summer. Females lay eggs in masses and press them into the soil. They may do this with up to 8 batches of eggs. Each egg mass contains up to 11 eggs. Eggs are often found along field borders and near roadways. (Milne, 1992)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Differential grasshoppers breed once yearly.
  • Range eggs per season
    200 (high)
  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

How long do they live?

Differential grasshoppers live for 2-3 months after hatching. (Milne, 1992)

How do they behave?

Differential grasshoppers live in large groups. They are able to move around in their nymphal and adult stages. Nymphs in their first and second stages of growth tend to stay close to the place where they hatched. After reaching their third stage of growth, the nymphs will crawl and hop towards their next food source, such as fields of barley, alfalfa, and species of the wheat genus. The nymphs all move in one direction in an unbroken band until they reach their food source. Differential grasshoppers move around a large range as adults. They are very strong fliers; adults can fly 10-100 yards to reach their next food source. (Milne, 1992; Pfadt, 1994)

How do they communicate with each other?

Differential grasshoppers have compound eyes. Not much information is known about their communication and perception. They most likely use touch, sight, hearing, and chemical (smell/taste) methods of perception. Touch, sight, hearing, and chemical methods of communication are possible. (Boone, 2019)

What do they eat?

Differential grasshoppers eat many kinds of plants, including grasses, forbs, crop plants, and fruit trees. They will eat corn, alfalfa, barley, soybean, wheat plants. They also eat members of the family Asteraceae, including giant ragweeds, blood ragweeds, common sunflowers, and prickly lettuce. Differential grasshoppers like eating damaged or wilted sunflowers, possibly because of changes in the chemical makeup of the plants. (Boone, 2019; Lewis, 1984)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Nymphs and eggs of differential grasshoppers are eaten by thread-waisted wasps, field crickets, and beetles of the family Carabidae, known as ground beetles, tiger beetles, soldier beetles, and blister beetles. They are also eaten by flies, such as robber flies and bee flies. Birds are important predators of all adult grasshoppers, including the adults of this species. (Capinera, 2001)

  • Known Predators

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Differential grasshoppers eat many types of plants, including grasses, forbs, crop plants, and fruits. They are preyed upon by thread-waisted wasps, field crickets, robber flies, bee flies, and beetles of the family Carabidae. Adults and nymphs are preyed upon by birds. Fly larvae in the families of root-maggot flies, tangle-veined flies, flesh flies, and parasitic flies are parasitoids that attack nymphs and adults. Parasitoids are insects whose larvae are parasites. (Boone, 2019; Capinera, 2001)

Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host

Do they cause problems?

Differential grasshoppers are a well-known crop pest. They are known to destroy crops of alfalfa, corn, soybeans, cotton, vegetables, and deciduous fruit trees. Dense swarms of adults can destroy a cornfield in 3-4 days. Nymphs may attack small grains, alfalfa, and hay. (Milne, 1992)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest

Are they endangered?

Contributors

Deena Hauze (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

References

Boone, M. 2019. "Species Melanoplus differentialis - Differential Grasshopper" (On-line). Bug Guide. Accessed July 03, 2020 at https://bugguide.net/node/view/5380.

Capinera, J. 2001. Handbook of Vegetable Pests. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Academic Press.

Lewis, A. 1984. Plant Quality and Grasshopper Feeding: Effects of Sunflower Condition on Preference and Performance in Melanoplus Differentialis. Ecology, 65(3): 836-843. Accessed July 03, 2020 at http://www.jstor.com/stable/1938057.

Milne, L. 1992. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. New York: Knopf. Accessed July 03, 2020 at https://archive.org/details/nationalaudubons00miln/page/n5/mode/2up.

Pfadt, R. 1994. "Differential Grasshopper Melanoplus differentialis (Thomas)" (On-line). Grasshopper Species Fact Sheets Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin. Accessed July 03, 2020 at https://keys.lucidcentral.org/keys/grasshopper/nonkey/html/FactSheets/differen.htm.

 
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Hauze, D. 2020. "Melanoplus differentialis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 14, 2021 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Melanoplus_differentialis/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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