Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The grasshopper with the beautiful red legs...

Late Sunday afternoon after getting home from the bird symposium, I headed over to the Little Miami River to decompress and look for a few migrating warblers. Almost immediately an American Redstart and a female Chestnut-sided Warbler flew into view, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo sang his knocking song the entire time I was there. Lots of other birds made an appearance too, including all the usual suspects, but this little grasshopper is what really caught my attention, so I hunkered down to watch and photograph it...

...a Red-legged Locust (Melanoplus femur-rubrum)--also know as a Red-legged Grasshopper, cleans its antenna. I never really noticed how short a grasshopper's antenna (or "horns") were compared to the size of its body. Lang Elliott points this out in his book, "The Songs of Insects," where he mentions antenna size is a distinguishing characteristic between katydids ("long-horned" grasshoppers) and locusts ("short-horned" grasshoppers).

Red-legged Grasshoppers are members of the genus Spur-throated Grasshoppers (Melanoplus).

Spur-throated Grasshoppers do not sing. I read that fact in "The Songs of Insects," by Lang Elliott. I had always assumed locusts sang just like katydids, crickets and cicadas. Elliott clued me in...only Slant-faced Grasshoppers fiddle and sing (or stridulate). Their songs are "soft and muffled" (Elliott, 178). They fiddle by rubbing the inner surface of their hind femurs (upper leg) against the edges of their forewings. The spines you see along the tibia of the Red-legged Grasshopper are for gripping, not stridulating.

...when I arrived at the river, the skies were heavy with grey clouds and darkness was seeping in among the grasses. I didn't know if the photos would turn out. They are not great, but they are good enough to capture the grasshopper's coloring. With red legs, a yellowish underbody, and a greenish head, she's hard to miss...

...striated muscles are bound in the beautiful herringbone pattern that makes up the hind leg (femur). Those muscles fuel the incredible jump that allows grasshoppers to cover lots of space with what looks like little effort.

Note After sniffing around the Internet a bit, I found a very interesting and helpful site detailing how a grasshopper jumps--seems the mechanics of a catapult are at play. Click here for a link to a video of the catapult in the knee of a grasshopper (by the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, UK). Click here for the first page in a step-by-step series explaining how a grasshopper jumps (keep clicking "next" to read the entire explanation--also by the University of St. Andrews). If humans had the same capabilities, we would be able to fling ourselves over 40 feet away.

...Red-legged Grasshopper (Locust) backlit in the fading afternoon light.

I love the little claws at the end of the talus that help them climb.

Have you ever seen a grasshopper poop?
...and did you ever think you'd see a title like that on my blog? I wasn't going to include these photos, but Matty convinced me "the news must be reported mom, and a grasshopper pooping is news...especially to my friends." So...here it is, for Matty's friends and other boys 12-16. Until Sunday, I had no idea what grasshopper excrement looked like because I'd never seen one defecate...so I guess you really do learn something new every day...





p.s. A neat book I found on the web is called "The Grasshopper Book," by Wilfrid S. Bronson. It was written for children in 1894. Click here for the preview. I loved the language and the artwork and am going to try to find it. Here is a brief excerpt:
Finally there comes a fair spring day when the lucky little grasshoppers hatch. The majority of insects begin life as caterpillars or maggots or grubs of some sort, eat furiously for a while, and then sink into a deep sleep during which all the alterations come about that change them from infants into adults. Their baby state is very different from the grown-up state. A caterpillar looks nothing like a butterfly, a maggot isn't like a fly, a grub bears no resemblance to a beetle or an ant. But a baby grasshopper is a grasshopper from the start. Lacking only wings, it is otherwise like its parents, except, of course, in its proportions. In common with many other infant animals, it has a head and legs which look a lot too large for its body. Besides the droll appearance this creates, it even shares a little of their look of charming innocence.

Red-legged Grasshopper from behind. Even at this angle, the grasshopper has beautiful markings...

20 comments:

Kerri said...

Excellent post! So educational!! And Marvelous images!

Chris said...

Maybe a long one but a very good one. I love reading it and enjoyed these very nice pictures! Well done Kelly.

TexWisGirl said...

i always marvel at their armor plating of their underbellies and the braid weave on their legs. :)

Out on the prairie said...

One of the advantages of having a little dog running ahead is not having them jump on you.One bike path I like I always let someone else lead theway to avoid this.Excellent pics Kelly!

Carole Meisenhelter said...

I really enjoyed these latest photos; so clear despite the cloudy day. What a lovely nature inspired walk and photography session. When the weather warms more here in Australia I quite enjoy the sound of the cicadas in the bushland nearby. They are the song nearing Christmas I always think. Cicadas singing, and jacarandas covered in lilac bell flowers.

Carol Mattingly said...

I had no idea a grasshopper could poop like that. Wow. And your images are fantastic!!! Carol

Birding is Fun! said...

What about poop photos for boys in their 30's too! Awesome photos and wonderful lesson in grasshopper anatomy. I wonder how many of your readers know about all your degrees (German lit and some type of animal biology right?) and that you successfully performed an ovarian hysterectomy on a rat.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

Great post, the photos were really interesting I loved the way you labeled the parts and provided all the information. The quote was great I expect the book wopuld be real fun.

Guy

Elaine said...

Very interesting! You answered a lot of questions about grasshoppers that I never knew to ask. The photos are fantastic!

Snappy Di said...

Great photos and information. Love insects and they cob hobbled way their bodies look to be put together. They're just plain interesting. If you feel like it, come follow my blog. I am having a giveaway and the link is on my top sidebar for a free pretty dragonfly!

Laure Ferlita said...

I know a 40-something boy that will get a kick out of some of these photos as well! Great post!

KAT said...

wow I must admit to you that I am creeped out by grasshoppers for some reason. (they jump) but your photos are always interesting.
KAT

DeanO said...

grasshopper poop...Oh my; fantastic photographs

Rob Ripma said...

This is a fantastic series of photos Kelly! What type of lens are you using for these? I think I need to get one!

Caroline said...

Fascinating - great job, Kelly!

Kelly said...

...thank you, everyone! Hehehe...I had to laugh. I got so many interesting emails and from the comments here it seems like there are a lot more people interested in insect pooh than just boys 12-16!! Believe me, it was a strange sight. It shouldn't have been....if you eat...you digest, but I had never seen an insect...eliminate before! Wonder if I ever will again.

...as for the lens I used...Rob, I used my Nikon AF-S VR-Nikkor 70-200mm 2.8G lens and my Nikon 2x teleconverter. I didn't even use the Nikon D700 here, but the newer D7000. I didn't think any of the photos would turn out because the shutter was so slow and the conditions so dark, but it worked!

Roy said...

What a monster Kelly.{:)

Santa said...

Beautiful photographs, and loved the write up as well....

Montanagirl said...

Fabulous shots, Kelly! I'm back after a couple days absent, so I'm behind on commenting. Terrific series and very interesting too I might add!

Cicero Sings said...

Fun and informative post ... especially fun were the poopin' hopper pics. LOL