Nature Study: Grasshopper

Grasshopper nature study plan watermark“Although the grasshopper’s feelers were not designed as mere ornaments,  yet like our noses they add immensely to the personal appearance of the family and it could easily be imagined that vanity dictated the graceful way in which they are waved about if one did not know the very practical nature of those delicate appendages If we study one under the microscope for a while we shall discover the secret of its wonderful flexibility It is not a solid rod but a great many tiny sections connected by movable joints This makes it as limber as a willow switch while it has a power possessed by no switch for it can move itself being supplied tiny as it is with yet more tiny muscles and nerves…”

nature study grasshopper ovipositors“The grasshopper, loved companion of our childhood, has no sting and no disagreeable habits whatever, excepting the absurd one of daubing us with molasses. Yet some of the tribe seem to bear a sword, the abdomen terminating in a goodly blade that might alarm us if we did not know so well the disposition of these gentle sword-bearers. The formidable-looking blade is simply an ovipositor, with no more sinister use than to deposit the eggs in a safe place, slitting grass-stalks or reeds for the purpose, or sometimes digging a hole in the ground. Consequently it is the possession of the females only, and is borne by those of all the long-horned grasshoppers as well as of the crickets.

Much less pretentious, but far more effective as a drilling machine, is the ovipositor of the short-horned grasshopper, which, in keeping with the stout and more compact build of the creature, is short, pointed, and very strong. It is made from the final segments of the abdomen, which are modified into four short, triangular pieces that fit together into a point when at rest and are quite inconspicuous. When the moment of action arrives, however, this closed drill is pressed firmly into the ground, then opened, forcing the earth aside to make a hole as large as its body; again the drill is closed and its sharp end thrust farther in, to be again opened. This operation is repeated until the persevering miner has bored a hole as long as its abdomen. Such is the strength of this tool in some species that it is used successfully for drilling holes in old logs and even in fence rails.

The hole having been made, the eggs are placed in it, beginning at the bottom. Thus the first laid eggs are lowest down. When the young hatch — the lower ones presumably coming out first — how are they to escape without disturbing or even destroying the eggs above? It would be a careless insect that did not make provision for such a chance. So we do not find the eggs laid in a solid mass, but very prettily disposed around the edges of the hole, leaving an open space in the centre through which the newly hatched can easily ascend to the upper world.

The eggs are embedded in a sort of resinous material that affords them protection. This also plugs up the hole, but is easily broken by the emerging insect. Thus each nest of eggs can be removed in one unbroken mass by any one desirous of collecting them. Having conscientiously dug the hole and deposited the eggs, the grasshopper forthwith dismisses the whole matter, trusting the kindly earth to cradle the young until they make their way out into the wide world the following season, very small and weak but not at all afraid, and amply able to take care of themselves.”

From Grasshopper land, by Margaret Warner Morley 1858-1923.
Found free online at Hathitrust and Googlebooks.

Click to enlarge and print this study guide for the grasshopper:
Grasshopper nature study plan

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