With the weather still damp and chilly in much of the United States, we continue our visit to the tropical rainforests of Central America to meet several members of the grasshopper clan. Grasshoppers belong to a large and diverse group of insects known as Orthoptera, the “straight winged” insects. Ancestors of these marvels date back more than 250 million years. In previous episodes we met other members of this coterie including giant leaf insects, slender walking sticks, elegant walking sticks, matchstick grasshoppers, and horsehead grasshoppers.
One of the most impressive features of rainforest vegetation is the ubiquitous loss of foliage from leaves of so many plants. While much of this defoliation occurs under the cloak of night at the jaws of various caterpillars and beetles, one group of bold herbivores, the grasshoppers, are often seen in broad daylight. They have powerful chewing mandibles that take significant bites out of even the toughest leaves. These jaws also render a memorable nip if one handles a hefty grasshopper carelessly.
Garish lubber locust nymphs make a mess of things as they devour leaves of a small shrub while a lovely metallic romaleid grasshopper checks out a leaf nearby. The last video clip reveals a small eumastid commonly known as an airplane grasshopper, so named for the outstretched hind legs reminiscent of airplane wings.
Their sometimes garish coloration advertises potent chemical defenses discharged as vomit when predators attack. We have seen this behavior before in the Eastern Lubber Locust we met in a previous episode. Brightly colored lubber grasshoppers often feed in large groups, reinforcing the visual warning of their distastefulness. In addition to chemical weapons, larger individuals of these rainforest beauties bear formidable spines on their legs that can deliver a memorable jab to an overly inquisitive predator or bug geek.