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  • Writer's pictureFern

Uncovering the Mystery: The Tail of Grasshopper Killer

Not too long ago, a Grasshopper Killer relocated from the distant east to Florida, embarking on her quest to conquer grasshoppers. During late spring to early summer, observers would witness her determined battles with branches and vines in her yard. But no, she wasn't in conflict with the plants themselves; somewhat, she struggled to dislodge grasshoppers clinging to the foliage, much like a sailor gripping the mast of a sinking ship.

 

Once again, the season arrives. As you stroll through your yard, you notice leaves on your plants that appear scorched. Yet, upon closer inspection with your near-sighted eyes, you realize these plants aren't charred; they are cloaked in tiny baby black grasshoppers.

 

In our Florida backyard, the Southern Lubber Grasshoppers reign supreme. These colossal insects hold the title of being the largest grasshopper species in North America. Their voracious appetites span an expansive menu, from vegetables to fruits and flowers. Despite your best efforts to eradicate them, these hardy creatures defy chemical warfare and persist. Next spring, they'll return in numbers equal to or greater than the previous year.


Following their mating rituals, lubber grasshoppers deposit approximately 25 to 50 eggs (species-dependent) caches into the ground during the summer. As the seasons shift, wingless nymphs—immature grasshoppers—emerge from the soil in groups, crawling forth from mid-March to June for sustenance.


Now, let me share a personal anecdote. Growing up on farmland, I assisted my mom in the sad tasks of dispatching chickens and ducks. Witnessing others slaughter pigs and cows wasn't precisely a joyous experience, especially when you've spent time nurturing those animals and made daily eye contact with them.


But grasshoppers, ah, they're a different story. Their appearance is aggressive, with armor-like shells and claws that cling tenaciously to surfaces. Inspired by my research, I devised a grasshopper-hunting strategy. I enlisted my kids to capture these critters, corralling them into an empty Arizona tea jug. Alas, the jug's entrance proved too snug for the Southern Lubber Grasshoppers—foam spewed like "tobacco juice" as I attempted to coerce them inside.


Undeterred, I upgraded to an Alfredo sauce jar. The key advantage? Transparency. Through the glass, we observed grasshoppers stepping on each other's heads, their antennae brushing against the metal ceiling cap as they sought to escape—moments of frustration followed by renewed determination played out before our eyes. We even placed bets on which grasshopper would relent first and which would tenaciously cling on to the end. 


It just so happened that fire ants also inhabited my property—a formidable group of creatures. Curious about the outcome when these fiery ants encountered the colossal grasshoppers, I devised an experiment. In my humble opinion, both species were short-tempered and fiercely determined.


I upended the Alfredo sauce jar, allowing it to descend upon a fire ant mound. Initially, the ants erupted in fury, scurrying inside and outside the jar, clambering onto the grasshoppers, only to be unceremoniously kicked off. Undoubtedly, it was a veritable tsunami for the ant colony. Yet, remarkably, the ants swiftly adapted, relishing their newfound feast. Meanwhile, the grasshoppers engaged in diminishing skirmishes until they ultimately surrendered. The fire ants prevailed, their collective behavior overwhelming their opponents.


Let's delve into the carpenter ants' tactics in their ongoing war against grasshoppers. Once they latch onto a grasshopper, these industrious ants exhibit unwavering commitment. They cling tenaciously, refusing to retreat or reconsider their position. Their arched backs and unyielding grip persist until life ceases within the grasshopper.


My kids weren't aspiring hunters. Instead, they observed my antics. My supportive daughter conducted impromptu tours for our guests, delighting in their startled reactions to our grasshopper graveyard. Her laughter echoed as she reassured them, "Fear not—they're all deceased."


My friend Megan enlightened me about another ruthless grasshopper predator in nature: the Loggerhead Shrike. These avian assassins impale grasshoppers, leaving them desiccated for up to three days before returning to consume their macabre meal safely.


Ah, indeed—the crafting of grasshopper jerky. One might surmise that its flavor deepens, and the texture becomes heartier and more satisfying as it soaks in the sun's warmth and the breeze's caress.


With a moniker befitting a butcherbird, the Loggerhead Shrike savors Lubber Grasshopper meals with the finesse of a Michelin-starred chef preparing puffer fish. These avian gourmands meticulously arrange their prey before indulging. 

 

Surprisingly, grasshoppers harbor toxicity for certain predators. Perhaps I should take a page from the Loggerhead Shrike's culinary playbook and create grasshopper jerky. Doing so could safeguard my fire ant population on the property. I reserve the fire ant mound for my dear friend Anna. She dislikes killing yet delights in prodding every fire ant nest she encounters. The spectacle of irate ants scurrying about, voicing their displeasure in their ant language, brings her peculiar joy.

 

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