2008 is a leap year so we thought we’d celebrate with one of our best loved leaping bugs – the grasshopper!
There are about 50 grasshopper species (Orthoptera) that have been recorded in Britain, but only around 30 of these are living and breeding here.
Leaping into action
To leap successfully a grasshopper has to extend its back legs with a lot of power, and do it very quickly. To be able to jump long distances, grasshoppers have developed very strong leg muscles. When the grasshopper wants to jump, it is thrown forwards and upwards into a somersault. So grasshoppers are really gymnasts, not just leapers!
|The Meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus) |
© Greg Hitchcock
Grasshoppers do have wings, but these are often short and not ideal for flying. The Meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus) is easy to identify as it is the only British grasshopper that can’t fly – its wings are just too short. However, most grasshoppers can fly a little, so a big leap can be extended with a short flight.
Surviving the winter
The grasshopper may be associated with balmy summer days, but in gardens throughout the country, grasshopper eggs are surviving the current cold weather to hatch in the spring.
Grasshoppers lay their eggs in the summer at the base of plants or just under the soil. The eggs are covered in a frothy material that hardens to form a protective case and keeps the eggs safe through the winter. When the eggs hatch in spring, the young grasshoppers look like tiny replicas of the adults. These baby grasshoppers are called nymphs and, as they feed, they have to keep shedding their skins (exoskeletons) as they outgrow them. After three or four changes the nymphs finally emerge as adults in the summer.
|Common field grasshopper Chorthippus|
Brunneus) © Roger Key
Singing through the summer
Grasshoppers are known for the singing noise they make in the summer months. They ‘sing’ by rubbing their hind legs against their forewings. Each species has its own distinctive song, and the pitch frequency can be so high that many older people find it necessary to use bat-detectors to listen to them!