• ljmarkson

In Defense of Grasshoppers

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

OR Without Grasshoppers We Won't Have Birds. On a recent balmy winter day, I walked down a path in my yard and a handful of grasshoppers flew into nearby trees and bushes. I haven’t seen many grasshoppers in my yard until this year and did a little digging to find out what had changed to create a more friendly natural habitat for them.

American grasshoppers are no longer a common backyard visitor but can again fascinate generations of children and feed hungry wildlife if native grasses and sedges are planted in American yards
  • The layer of leaves covering my yard gives adult grasshoppers a safe and cozy blanket to spend the winter under. In southern states like Georgia they come out on warm winter days. This explains why grasshoppers appeared in my yard when the temperature was hovering near 70. I was relieved to know a swarm of locusts wasn’t on the way…after all it is 2020!

Not a swarm of locusts, but up-close the face of this American grasshopper intent on climbing our french doors looks like a tiny alien! (This picture makes me realize I need to clean my windows!)
  • Grasshoppers live in grass, but in native grass and grass-like sedges, not the chemically green non-native grass that covers 2% of America. Sadly, where there are lawns, pesticides and non-native plants insects like the grasshopper can’t survive and will disappear. I think the variety of native grasses I added to my yard this year has directly contributed to the increase in grasshoppers living there.

Grasshoppers and other insects need native grasses such as this elegant bottlebrush grass (elymus hystrix). Non-native turf grass might as well be plastic to them.
  • Grasshoppers are generalists and can also live in forbes; which means they exist anywhere there are native herbacious soft stemmed plants (e.g. perennials and annuals) that are not woody (e.g. shrubs, trees). So, basically anywhere except in most of America's sterile backyards.

I promise there are no grasshoppers living in this environmentally hostile yard...and the homeowners are undoubtedly happy about it. Imagine 40 million acres of lifeless lawns like this in American and it becomes more clear why there is such a drastic insect and bird decline in North America.
  • Last year I planted about a dozen different sedges with a goal to generously add more of the sedges that thrive to my landscape. I didn't know I was also making a grasshopper nursery because baby grasshoppers love sedges!

Baby grasshoppers prefer to feed on sedges, like this bottlebrush sedge (carex comosa). Bottlebrush grass and bottlebrush sedge have very different but equally striking seedheads!
  • Grasshoppers may be fascinating alien looking creatures that existed way before the dinosaurs, but their main contribution to my yard is to offer birds including mockingbirds, robins, cardinals, thrashers, bluebirds and even hawks, a rich source of protein and fat at all stages of their lifecycle. When the tiny green grasshoppers hatch in spring they offer vital nutrients to baby birds. Other critters in my yard will also eat the grasshoppers, including possums, snakes, frogs, and even hungry chipmunks and squirrels looking for any protein source they can find.

Grasshoppers are a high protein treat for hungry birds and other critters. This one is a differential grasshopper (melanoplus differentialis)

Doug Tallamy, who is one of the most well-known leaders of the native plant movement, implores homeowners to have a diversity of native plants for insects as a basic building block of a yard’s ecosystem. I’m pretty sure the appearance of grasshoppers in my yard is evidence of this theory.

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