Grasshoppers and crickets

Grasshoppers and crickets provide a fantastic musical accompaniment to your garden so find out what you can do to attract them!

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Image by MrClean1982 via Flickr

What do grasshoppers do in my garden?

Many people wouldn’t be pleased at seeing grasshoppers in their gardens because they are voracious eaters and can damage a lot of plants but they are an important part of the ecosystem and can even help by eating up some poisonous weeds. They also provide a tasty and protein rich food source for birds and small mammals; that’s if they can catch them of course!

If nothing else, grasshoppers are fascinating insects and provide a wonderful ‘song’ to liven up your garden. They produce various noises by an action called stridulation. This involves rubbing different body parts together; in grasshoppers the legs against the wings and in crickets the wings, which have a set of teeth like appendages along their bottom edge, against each other. If you hear a grasshopper ‘singing’ in your garden, it is most likely to be a male as they are the real vocalists. Each species has their own particular ‘tune’ which is used to deter males and attract females. Females do ‘sing’ but much quieter and usually only when near a male grasshopper.

How do you distinguish grasshoppers from crickets?

There are several tell tale signs which can help us to recognise whether we have grasshoppers or crickets in our garden. The most obvious difference is the length of their antennae, which are generally shorter than the body in grasshoppers and much longer than the body in crickets. If you are still unsure, try to observe what they’re eating. Grasshoppers are herbivores and will only eat plants but crickets have a more varied diet, scavenging on decaying plants and fungi as well as their own dead. Some even feed on weaker members of their own species!

How do grasshoppers eat?

Grasshoppers have unique mouths in that they have mandibles and salivary glands. They use their mandible to cut and chew vegetation while the salivary glands produce saliva so that digestion can begin. This allows them to feed very effectively on plant matter making grasshoppers greedy feeders. Their appetite, combined with their ability to travel quickly means that they are capable of causing considerable damage to crops and plants.

Grasshopper Facts

  • Grasshoppers are able to hear each other’s ‘song’ by way of specialised organs called tympana.
  • Their back legs are very long and strong which allows them to jump.
  • Many species have wings, allowing them to fly short distances. They usually only fly with their back wings as any front wings they may have are leathery, and you don’t see many planes with leathery wings.
  • There are 30 species living in Britain and most of them prefer the warmer south.
  • Grasshoppers are usually coloured like their environment as camouflage is their best method of defence.
  • In certain conditions, grasshopper populations can explode. This limits the food supply and makes grasshoppers band together into big swarms which change colour and go in search of other places to eat. When this happens, they become known as locusts, which can be incredibly destructive.
  • People in places such as Africa, China and Mexico eat grasshoppers. They are cleaned and cooked to provide a great source of protein with very little fat. In the USA, people coat them in chocolate and consider them a delicacy! (I wouldn’t recommend eating grasshoppers from your garden as they can carry tapeworm).