by Eric Neubauer
This grasshopper wins the award for best Texas Blackland camouflage. It is so good that it could well have evolved here. Nymphs are especially difficult to see.
Unlike some other grasshopper species, its appearance is fairly consistent from individual to individual. It is also relatively common, at least in my neighborhood. Observations at iNaturalist suggest a range from just over the border in Mexico, north up through the center of Texas, and just into Oklahoma.
This was my first big ID challenge. I started noticing these last fall soon after I joined iNaturalist. There wasn’t much help on iNaturalist with less than 24 observations, most misidentified, and few if any research grade. How can this happen with an everyday species? Well, first this species was named Encoptolophus subgracilis until recently. A recent genetic study of the Chortophagini resulted in a new genus and realignment of several species. The second is that grasshoppers don’t have a lot of fans and people tend to concentrate on the easy ones.
Eventually I found the published article on line which provided some guidance. While a lot of the focus was on genitalia, which are rarely visible in live photographs, there were also details of the cranial ridges between the eyes for this and a half dozen related species. From that point on, all that was necessary to confirm an ID was a sharp, overhead photograph (at right).
The cranial ridges look like a bottle with slightly curved sides an a short neck to me. Another characteristic is the bright blue tibia which stands out against the salt and pepper body when the hind legs are flicked out during mating displays (see photo below).
This species can probably be found throughout Milam County from at least May through October.