The Great Escape: A Bioblitz Tale

by Eric Neubauer

Way back when TMN training was beginning, I heard Alan Rudd’s stories about little grasshoppers that jumped into the water to eat algae or escape with interest. Over the next year I encountered pygmy grasshoppers in just three places, locations including Taylor Park on Granger Lake on Day 1 of the Bioblitz.

On Day 3 I encountered some again, this time at Alan Rudd’s place, where I had seen some in the fall. It seems they remain active through winter in very sheltered areas. Unbelievably I ended up with a mating pair sitting on my finger, something that isn’t likely to ever happen to me again.

Give us some privacy!

How did this happen? I saw one sitting near the water and tried to scoop in up in a container I had along for photographing Pardosa spiders. Of course, being a grasshopper it immediately jumped out as I expected, but landed upside down in wet mud, and I could see her tiny feet waving around in the air. So I offered her my finger, which she grabbed onto and was happy enough to sit there while I took as many photos as I wanted.

As I started taking photos, I realized there was more than just mud stuck to her. Eventually I realized it was an entire male grasshopper. When I finished with the camera, I put the grasshoppers back where they came from.

A little later I thought I saw a grasshopper jump into the water and burrow in the mud. I wasn’t sure, because little frogs were doing exactly the same thing to avoid me. I took a photo, and sure enough it was a grasshopper, proving that Alan hadn’t been exaggerating.

Something in the mud

Whoops! After carefully looking at the supposed Paratettix hiding in the mud, I believe it is actually a frog, Acris blanchardi, so my underwater photo of Paratettix hasn’t happened yet. You’d think it hard not to be able to tell a grasshopper from a frog, but there you go. I’ve deleted the observation and resubmitted under Acris.

Acris blanchardi, not in the mud.

Linda Jo commented that this isn’t the first time such a mis-identification has occurred!

Feast Time for Hawks

by Eric Neubauer

Much has been written for those of us who want to attract wildlife, but sometimes luck plays a part. It turns out this is an ideal venue for hawks, validated by the hawks themselves.

Two hawks hanging out.

I planned to make my former farmland a prairie rather than a lawn because that’s what would be natural for the area. Doing nothing was a great start. While I decided how best to proceed, nature took over. All kinds of plants came up, both native and non-native. By then I knew I’d have to mow once in a while to control the growth of brush since burning wasn’t a safe option. I mowed several paths through the grass and weeds and around the house so I’d could access various parts of the yard without walking through head-high grasses and forbs. Next I started mowing in from two edges of the property before stopping and leaving the rest as cover for wildlife. This included the margin along the north edge of the property under the power line next to the road.

The hawk hunting venue

When late fall arrived I noticed how often a hawk was sitting on the power line. At first a Prairie Falcon was there on a regular basis, then an American Kestrel, Cooper’s Hawk, and Red-Tailed Hawk showed up. After a couple of months it looked like they’d finally hunted the area out, and started watching across the road instead. Today they are gone except for the American Kestrel. On the last busy day, the Cooper’s was on the power line just as it started to get light. Then a Red-tailed Hawk (I think) flew up to the transformer on the pole about 15’ from the Cooper’s, before moving down a couple of poles. Right after that an American Kestrel came along and buzzed the Cooper’s before landing on the wire midway between the other two. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen that happen. Loggerhead Shrikes are also on the wire a lot, but that’s a year round occurrence. I know hawks are also perching on my roof and using the mowed area around the house in the same way.

Here is why I think the venue worked so well;

  1. The tall grass provided cover and food for grasshoppers, small birds, and rodents. The mowed area next to it made them accessible to the hawks when the prey strayed.
  2. The wire was on the north side of my property so they could approach their prey with their shadows behind them and the prey wouldn’t be warned as a shadow passed over them.

The grasshoppers are also giving out now. The only ones left  are a very few Schistocerca americana and Melanoplus femurrubrum adults, and some Chortophaga viridifasciata nymphs. In late summer, there were hundreds of thousands of M. femurrubrum nymphs, and a plague of Biblical proportions appeared to be brewing. It appears few ever made it to adulthood, and those that did suffered heavy predation. I’m sure the little birds did their bit, but the hawks did too. Attracting birds isn’t purely for entertainment.

The Grasshoppers of Bridge Park

by Eric Neubauer

I’m one of the members of our Chapter who’s visiting various city parks in Milam County on Tuesdays. Here’s what I found at Bridge Park in Rockdale, which is an area full of some of the famous bridges of Milam County. I was hoping to add to my goal of documenting all the grasshoppers in the county.

As I expected, the very first grasshopper I picked up was one I’d hoped to run across for a long time. I knew instantly what it was, but somehow expected it to be larger.

Aztec spur-throated grasshopper Aidemona azteca

Regarding the Aztec grasshopper, it was only about a ¼” long and pretty lively. I got three photos and it was gone. Looking at other images at iNat suggests it’s a tiny grasshopper and overlooked for that reason. I can’t find anything about sizes on the internet. I was looking through the fallen leaves behind the calaboose at Bridge Park.

Then there was a peculiar looking nymph I never saw before. I didn’t necessarily think it was a species I hadn’t seen. This was correct, but it was the first time I’d encountered a nymph. I think I identified it correctly.

Kiowa grasshopper Trachyrhachys kiowa

In looking at the satellite views at google maps, I realized that an abandoned railroad once ran through Sumuel Park, one of the other parks we visited. It was the one that came up though Deanville and continued on through Cameron.

This was a great visit, definitely another case of the Linda Jo’s time-to-get-off our-butts initiative. There are several sites I’ll be sure to visit again on a regular basis.

How I’m Doing on My Grasshopper Quest

I’ve seen 27 Acrididae species in Milam County. There are a total of 31 observed. Of the four I don’t have, two observations are bogus (wishful thinking applied to nymphs), one is Schistocerca lineata, which I’ve seen in Burleson County, and the other is Melanoplus punctulatus which Sue Ann has seen. Since the common name is Pine-tree Spur-throat grasshopper, I think I need to go somewhere there are pine trees.

Boopedon gracile: A Photo Essay

by Eric Neubauer

All photos copyright 2020, Eric Neubauer.

Boopedon gracile, the Prairie Boopie

Fact Sheet

• Range is south-central Great Plains into Mexico.
• 26th most commonly observed grasshopper in Texas at iNaturalist.
• Eye oval in shape, less curved in front; dark with fine tan mottling.
• Thin black stripe extends from front of eye, just over and past antenna.
• Female has vestigial wings and is flightless.
• Male has functional wings which usually extend beyond the abdomen.
• Most have black “eyebrow”, curved on top and flattened on bottom.
• Light dorsal stripes on pronotum are parallel toward front rather than pinched, then widening and fading toward back; slight pinching on males.
• Front lateral edge of pronotum usually light.
• Abdomen with black sides appears striped as segments have pale trailing edge. Black may be eroded, especially on females. Top of abdomen is pale.
• Hind femur strongly banded on male
• Outside of femur on female mostly black; back and inside may show banding.
• Hind tibia violet on at least one female; apparently tibiae not colored on instars.
• Female colors tan, green, and black.
• Male colors dark brown, black, and yellowish tan.

The habits of this species aren’t well known. Photos of male abdomen and most instars are lacking here.

More Photos

Female with a lot of green
Female with a little green
Two more examples
Female showing violet tibiae
Left: yellowish female. Right: female with longer wings
Typical males
Typical male
Light male
Youngsters

You are welcome to download this PDF of the photo essay. Click the Download link below.

Reference:

https://idtools.org/id/grasshoppers/factsheet.php?name=17690

Note: Boopedon nubilium is found in western Texas. The male is black. The typical female is mostly pale brown and somewhat similar to B. gracile.

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.