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The grasshoppers and locusts are all around us now

A two-striped grasshopper basks on a flower. Larry Weber/Special to the Pine Journal1 / 2
A common locust has long wings and rounded head. Larry Weber/Special to the Pine Journal2 / 2

We are at the Autumnal Equinox — the beginning of the season of autumn. This is one of two times during our annual trip around the sun that the daylight and darkness are equal. (The other time is the spring, or vernal, equinox.) From this day on, the darkness will be more than the light time in our 24-hour cycle. Slowly, sometimes with warming spells, we also move towards chillier times — cool nights, frosty mornings and temperatures that don't climb too high in the daytime. Despite the lowering temperatures, probably the biggest impact to local wildlife is the shorter daylight. Their photoperiod initiates various activities and behaviors that have the critters prepare for the coming cold. Though not yet winter, Northland wild residents are starting to prepare for that time. Wild animals deal with this chilly season in four different ways — they migrate, hibernate, adapt and stay active, or die.

Migration is most associated with birds. With Lake Superior and Hawk Ridge nearby, we see plenty of avian migrants. These migrants expel a lot of energy and deal with danger as they go to warmer climates to find a milder winter.

Hibernators let the winter pass by as they go dormant, waking in spring. We tend to think of bears, bats and ground squirrels in this list, along with frogs and snakes.

Adapting and staying active is what we note with local birds and mammals that remain in the region all winter. Many adapt with a different diet or grow a thicker coat.

Dying seems like the strangest way to cope with the coming winter, but it is very common. This scheme is successful only if the animal lays eggs first. This is often the chosen route taken by insects and spiders.

Walking on these mild afternoons, it is not unusual to see plenty of active insects as they hop and fly. Butterflies, frequently the white cabbage and the yellow sulphurs, are here along with stinkbugs, crane flies and small red dragonflies. Here too are a couple of kinds of grasshoppers. All of these insects are living their last days as we move towards October. Though these individuals will die, their kind will persist into next year thanks to eggs now being placed in protected sites. Many eggs will succumb to the cold and not hatch next spring, but with the huge numbers of eggs produced, many others will survive.

One of the best examples of this behavior is from the grasshoppers. It seems like any walking along tall grasses at this time will send them hopping and flying. Grasshoppers are very common, belonging to the group of insects called Orthoptera, meaning they have straight wings. Other members of this group — crickets and katydids also — abound in the Northland. Crickets, usually dark, have long antennae with wings folded over the back. Katydids, normally green, also have long antennae but wings are held along the sides. Grasshoppers and the closely related locusts are various brown, gray or green colors, shorter antennae and also keep wings along the sides.

Grasshoppers have long huge hind legs and perform great skills of leaping in the grass. The locusts, usually more gray-brown with more of a roundish face, are more likely to fly when disturbed. Using dark-colored underwings to perform their aerial movements, they can be confused with butterflies. (Unfortunately, the name of locust has also been mistakenly applied to cicada, insects of the trees.) Both the grasshoppers and locusts feed on plant leaves which they devour using their powerful chewing jaws. They remain active far into the fall (I regularly see a few in November), but they will succumb to the cold. Females now are using their stout ovipositors (tail ends) to push into the soil to lay eggs. The ground cover along with the coming snow can be adequate protection for them.

Whether the grasshoppers are green with stripes or with reddish legs or whether they are the flying locusts of the roadsides, these types of Orthoptera are common now as relative crickets and katydids may be calling nearby. All are mating, feeding and laying eggs as they deal with the changing seasons.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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