Solitary and Plagues

The name Orthoptera is derived from the Greek "ortho" meaning straight and "ptera" meaning wing. Taken together this refers to the parallel-sided structure of the front wings (tegmina). Slender, thickened front wings fold back over the abdomen to protect membranous, fan-shaped hind wings.

The Order Orthoptera includes Grasshoppers, Locusts, Crickets and Katydids. Most are fairly solitary eaters of vegetation and plant matters. However, on occasions, when certain conditions are right, can turn into plagues of locusts, which can strip the countryside of all plant life, in rapid order. This can leave humans in those areas, facing starvation, without help from others.

The Order Orthoptera more than likely came into being about the middle of the Carboniferous period. Present living members of this order are terrestrial herbivores (plant-eating insect animals which live on land). The modified hind legs of Orthoptera have been adapted for jumping. Many species have the ability to make and detect sounds. Orthoptera is one of the largest and most important groups of plant-feeding insects.

From information from the North Carolina State University, Department of Entomology's website, we have a good bit of information on the Order Orthoptera. See the website at http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/course/ent425/compendium/orthop.html.

There are many Orthoptera worldwide and they are the dominant insect order in most terrestrial habitats. In North America, according to this source, there are 11 Families and 1,080 Species. Worldwide, there are 28 Families and over 20,000 Species.

Orthopteraare noted for often causing serious damage to crops and grasslands. Under certain circumstances (somewhat technical, but it has to do with crowding, close proximity to each other and probably touching each other) grasshoppers become plagues of locusts. They then swarm and destroy everything in their path. Swarms of locusts appear with regularity in parts of Africa, Asia and North America. Another pest, but one which is interesting to watch, is the mole cricket. They live underground a good bit of the time, but they can do damage to lawns, golf courses and other grassy landscape areas in the Southern United States.

One Orthoptera which can be both a good guy and a bad guy are several species of field crickets. They are reared commercially as fish bait. However, crickets can and will also eat clothing, like moths and other insects which like to get into your clothes. In some areas, crickets become so plentiful that they stack up in door ways, make roads slippery from the numbers of them crushed by vehicle tires etc. Tulsa, Oklahoma is one place where your PMNS Curator has seen this happen regularly. Some crickets are also used as food for pet lizards and snakes. Some people use crickets, grasshoppers and katydids.

For some Taxonomy on Orthoptera, we provide the following:

The Grasshoppers and Locusts comprise two major families:

Acrididae (short-horned grasshoppers and locusts) -- Herbivores. Common in grasslands and prairies. This family includes many pest species such as the two striped grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittatus), the differential grasshopper (M. differentialis), the African migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), and the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria).

Tetrigidae (pigmy grasshoppers) -- Herbivores. Similar to short-horned grasshoppers but with a pronotum that extends to the back of the abdomen.

The Crickets comprise three major families:

Gryllidae (true crickets) -- Herbivores and scavengers. Females have a cylindrical or needle-shaped ovipositor. This family includes the house cricket, Acheta domesticus.

Gryllacrididae (camel crickets) -- Scavengers. Most species have a distinctly hump-backed appearance; a few are cave dwellers.

Gryllotalpidae (mole crickets) -- The front legs are adapted for digging. Most species feed on the roots of plants, but some are predatory.

The Katydids comprise one major family which includes some grasshoppers

Tettigoniidae (long-horned grasshoppers and katydids) -- Herbivores. Females have a long, blade-like ovipositor. Some species are pests of trees and shrubs.

many species of Orthoptera, the males use sound signals (chirping or whirring) in order to attract a mate. The sound is produced by stridulation -- rubbing the upper surface of one wing against the lower surface of another wing, or the inner surface of the hind leg against the outer surface of the front wing.

Each stridulating species produces a unique mating call. In fact, some species may be so similar to each other that they can only be distinguished by their mating calls.

Many grasshoppers produce ultrasonic mating calls (above the range of human hearing). In some species, the sounds may be as high as 100 kHz. (Human hearing extends to about 20 kHz.)

Species that produce sound also have auditory (tympanal) organs. In crickets and katydids, these "ears" are on the tibia of the front legs. In grasshoppers, they are on the sides of the first abdominal segment.

The snowy tree cricket, Oecanthus fultoni (family Gryllidae), is often called the temperature cricket. Adding 40 to the number of chirps it makes in 15 seconds will equal the ambient temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

The redlegged grasshopper (Melanoplus femurrubrum) is not only a crop pest but also the intermediate host for a tapeworm (Choanotaenia infundibulum) that infests poultry.

We will be adding more information and some more graphics shortly.
Thank you for your patience as we build this page.

Green Grasshopper on wooden fence post on the Terry Stiles Ranch near Bryan Texas. open reserved

Here are some website links for more on Orthoptera: