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by Valerie

September, 2009

Obscure Bird Grasshopper

obscure bird grasshopper

Our featured backyard resident this month is one of our largest insects, the obscure bird grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura). Reaching over 3 inches from head to wingtip, a large female really does make an impression. Males are smaller, sometimes remarkably so, and mating pairs can look rather bizarre, with a male only half the size clinging to the back of the female.

The name "bird" comes from the penchant of locusts in this genus to fly rather long distances, and often up into trees, if they are frightened. Their long wings and strong flight do resemble a small bird at times. The genus Schistocerca also includes species that swarm in devastating hordes in Africa and South America, but our local species are not usually numerous enough to be very destructive.

While grasshoppers will generally eat almost anything green, the obscure bird grasshopper seems to favor plants in the citrus family, such as wafer ash and lime trees. They will, though, eat many different kinds of broad-leafed plants.

As with many locusts, the color of this species is variable. Some individuals are very dark and greenish, much like the one pictured above, but others can be bright yellow, and sometimes they have blue eyes. They almost always have a yellow stripe down their backs. Besides using their flight to escape predators, if these grasshoppers are captured, they have further defenses. Grabbed at the wrong way, they can deliver a good bite with their strong jaws. If held by the back, they will kick with their muscular hind legs, and the large spines can draw blood.

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