The Entertaining Prairie Boopie

by Sue Ann Kendall

[I wrote a similar piece for my personal blog, but thought it might be good to also have it appear here.]

This being a big year for the hoppers, I thought I’d learn more about the ones here at the Hermits’ Rest, and I’ve been sharing some photos here and there, and did a post on their cool names. I am not able to get them by net (even though I keep saying I’ll buy one, I forget), so most of my photos are rather blurry, but I’ve had fun identifying them, with help from my expert friend and student Master Naturalist, Eric N., on iNaturalist.

Most of the grasshoppers you see around the ranch are boopedons, a name you just have to love. More on them later.

By the dark color and size, I now know this is a male.

I did find a really pretty grasshopper (if you think they can be pretty) with a cool name over by our church office on Friday. These are the Obscure Bird grasshoppers (Schistocerca obscura). The stripes on their backs and the dots on their legs make them very striking.

Back at the ranch, today I went on a hunt, and only found one grasshopper-like insects that weren’t Boopedon (to be precise, the prairie boopie, the best name ever), a katydid.

It turns out that male and female prairie boopies (Boopedon gracile) look very different, so what I’d thought was a different species, was, indeed, just a female of the same species. I learned this when I FINALLY found a detailed article on them.

I also learned that “Prairie boopies are typically found in dense grasses, including prairies, rangeland, and savanna habitats. In Oklahoma, this species was reported to be more abundant in overgrazed prairies than natural ones.” (This is from Grasshoppers of the Western US, a really interesting site.) I’m happy to know they aren’t officially classified as pests (unless you hate grasshoppers, I guess).

Anyhow, as I went about observing away, I realized the front field was a like a sea, with little bobbing boopie boats on it.

Every brown thing you see is a grasshopper. Bobbing boopies.

Then I noticed that they were very fond of the nightshade plants next to the driveway.

Twelve boopies jumped off this plant when I took another step closer.

I quickly realized these grasshoppers are at the height of adulthood. Most of them were mating. They don’t need privacy (being grasshoppers). You can see how different the female looks in this picture.

That’s four of them. And do you see why I am annoyed all the rain skirted us today?

As I walk along, I tend to send boopies flying away (but only males, because I just learned the females are flightless!). Here’s video proof. Warning: I think I sing. Lucky for you it’s only 35 seconds long.

Other than how hard these guys feel when they hit me as I drive Hilda, I’ve gotten fond of these guys. Both Vlassic and the chickens love to eat them, and at the moment I don’t have any tender plants they will kill.

It’s been fun watching them grow, and I guess somewhere out there will soon be a lot of grasshopper eggs. I’ll have to look those up next…sigh, no I won’t. I’m crushed: “Little is known about the reproduction of prairie boopies” (from the above web link). Well, we have plenty of them here, even though they apparently aren’t often found in high densities (I beg to differ).

I’d call that a high density.

I guess I’ll be booping along now. That’s all I know about the prairie boopie. I lie. They are also known as the graceful range grasshopper, and were identified by Rehn in 1904.

Nebulatettix subgracilis, Blackland Baby?

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.

iNaturalist observation by E. Neubauer

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.

The view that gives the accurate ID.

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.

Fun times for the dusky grasshoppers – blue area visible.