I wasn’t out to prove anything really. The day was getting long in the tooth and there wasn’t time to mount an expedition to the great outdoors, so I ventured out into my own back yard. We have an acre and a half with a sluggish “county drain” stream coursing through it. I try to keep at least a third of the property in wild state and a good portion of my wild blog material comes from there. Mentally I always challenge myself to find something interesting within my little kingdom. This time I only took a few steps before spotting something of potential value within the realm.
A small insect, perhaps a half an inch long or so (about 13-14 mm for you Canadians out there or about two M & M’s for the rest of you) was perched on the siding. A small bug is hardly newsworthy on an average day, but this one appeared to be a grasshopper. As a rule, grasshoppers are in the medium to large end of the insect spectrum. They start out tiny but soon attain sizes well over an inch when mature. This example had the chiseled features of an adult grasshopper combined with the petite size of a nymph. It was, in other words, a Danny Devito among grasshoppers.
I had never seen such a micro-hopper before and was willing to bet that you (those Canadian and M&M eating readers out there) had never seen one either. So, I snuck up as close as my close up lens would allow, snapped as many shots as I could, and succeeded in frightening the thing off. It launched off the wall and into the grass before I could mark its landing. It was gone for good. But, I had my photo evidence and a description and that was enough.
My minor league back yard grasshopper turned out to be a type of Pigmy Grasshopper. There are eight species in Michigan and I can tell you with all honesty that these insects were about as familiar to me as Tessellated Darters (go ahead look that one up). In other words, not at all. Sure we all know about grasshoppers and how they fly and jump, live in dry upland fields, eat grass, and die off in the fall but these little fellows break most of the rules of grasshopperdom. They do jump, but that’s where the comparison ends.
Take a good look and you’ll notice that this fellow has an overly large head, a peculiar flat pad on its back, and a very long point extending well beyond the end of the body. This projection is a part of the thorax called the pronotum. On a regular grasshopper it exists as a small pad at the base of the wings, but the pygmies take it to an extreme (flaunt what you have, I guess). The wings on this species are small and relatively useless.
The coloration is so mottled that it is difficult to tell where one part begins and the other ends. I can’t be sure, but I believe this little tooter to be an Ornate Grouse Locust. The genus name for this species, Tetrix, is Greek for Grouse. Like a grouse, the Ornate Grouse Locust is well camouflaged. Wow, don’t you feel better for knowing this? I know I do. Heck, before I walked out my back door I didn’t even know these things existed – leave alone living in my back yard. And, how about that Greek thing, eh? But, that’s not all! There’s more.
You Canadians have certainly heard the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. You know, the one where the grasshopper fiddled about as the ant labored feverishly to put away food stores for the winter. When winter came, the grasshopper begged food from the ant but was turned away to die in the cold. This fable reinforced the values of hard work and taught you to never let a talking grasshopper into your home. This tale also paid homage to the fact that all northern grasshoppers die in the fall (only their eggs carry on into the following year). Well, in the amazing form of the pygmy grasshoppers you have a group of hoppers that actually overwinter as adults. They breed in early spring and some of them may live two or more years. Ants smantz!
Now, before you shake your head in wonder and disbelief, there’s more. Save that last jaw drop for this last set of facts. Grouse Locusts favor wet areas and feed on algae and organic material found in wet soils. This is not your typical grasshopper fare or habitat, but then again this is not your average grasshopper. I’m not saying that this species does it (it has been implied, however), but in other parts of the world these guys are reported to actually jump into, and swim, underwater to escape. That definitely is not a grasshopper thing to do, but then again these are not your avera….wait, I already said that didn’t I?
Please excuse me for getting so excited by a bitty bug. It’s just so nice to know that there is such an anti-establishment beast out there and that good things do occasionally come in small packages at your doorstep.