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Every week there are new marvels to look for in the outdoors, and Discover Nature highlights these attractions. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Josh Hartwig brings us the stories of river otters, luna moths, red buds, and other actors as they take center stage in nature’s theater.You can hear Discover Nature, Mondays at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Discover Nature: Missouri's Grasshoppers

Shelly Cox
Differential grasshopper

Discover nature this week with Missouri's grasshoppers. Did you know there’s an unofficial song of summer? And it comes from one insect: the grasshopper. Their calls are the elevator music of summer.

Grasshoppers create songs that are repeated without a musical pitch. The songs aren’t whistles or trills. Instead, they sound like two pieces of sandpaper scratching together. It’s a sort of insect rhythm section. 
A grasshopper makes its coarse tune by rubbing a series of small spines on its hind leg across a scraper on its wing, like sliding a thumbnail along the teeth of a comb.

Each species has its own call to attract mates, just as birds do. Usually, only males take to music attracting females with their calls. They mate, and the female lays eggs. Tiny nymphs hatch from the eggs the following spring. By late summer, the nymphs have grown through about five molts to become adults with a song.

Admirable grasshoppers have a very slanted face and long hindlegs. Males are expert fliers, whereas females are weak fliers and prefer to hop. Their eggs are deposited in masses in the soil, where they mature over winter until the following spring.

Differential grasshoppers are relatively large grasshoppers that vary somewhat in coloration and may be green, brownish-green or olive green. The femurs of the hind legs have a black herringbone pattern, and the tibias are usually yellow with black saw-toothed spikes. And one of their favored food plants is giant ragweed.

Try tuning in to the grasshoppers when you go outside. They prefer dry, grassy, weedy areas, especially disturbed places. Listen for their different calls during the day along roadsides and in woods and fields. But not to worry, you won’t find yourself humming along.

More information about Missouri’s grasshoppers can be found in our online Field Guide at MissouriConservation.org.

Josh Hartwig is the host of Discover Nature and a media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
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