One-Shot Wednesday: two-striped grasshopper nymph

Melanoplus bivittatus (Two-striped Grasshopper) nymph | Jerseyville, Illinois

As the heat of summer solidifies its chokehold over the middle and southern latitudes of North America, grasshopper nymphs will begin to ramp up their development. I see grasshoppers commonly in my soybean field trials, where their feeding presents more of an annoyance to me than an actual threat to yields.

I photographed this particular individual on almost this same date last year in one of my Illinois soybean trials, not knowing for sure which species it represented. There was no particular reason for only taking this one single photograph, other than it was perched nicely when I saw it and that I did not feel like taking the time to chase it into another good pose after my first shot disturbed it.

Later in the season I saw numerous adults representing Melanoplus differentialis (differential grasshopper), a common species in this area, and assumed this was its nymph. However, a closer look at the photo suggests it represents the closely related M. bivittatus (two-striped grasshopper). While adults of these two species are easily distinguished based on coloration, the nymphs can look very similar (especially in their earlier instars) and are distinguished on the basis of the black femoral marking—more or less solid in M. bivittatus and broken into chevrons that create a “herringbone” pattern in M. differentialis.

Wing pad size and relative body proportions suggest this is a fourth-instar nymph.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Tucuras, langostas, y saltamontes

Staleochlora viridicata | Cordoba Province, Argentina (March 2011)

Tucuras, langostas, and saltamontes are names in Argentina for what we in North America call grasshoppers (order Orthoptera, superfamily Acridoidea). Argentina certainly has its share of species, some of which can only be described as “gigantes”! During my first week out in the field at my home base here in western Buenos Aires Province, I encountered the hefty-bodied female in the photo below and was immediately reminded of a similar-looking individual I had photographed in neighboring Córodoba Province during my March 2011 visit. Both had short but well-developed wing pads that at first suggested they might be mature nymphs of an incredibly large species. However, when I noted both were females I decided they likely represented adults of some type of lubber grasshopper (family Romaleidae), many of which—especially the females—are brachypterous (short-winged) and heavy-bodied as adults. A little searching revealed that both belong to the genus Elaeochlora, each looking very much like the species pictured on an Argentine postal stamp and identified as E. viridis (update 9 Mar 2012 – Sam Heads has identified these as Staleochlora viridicata).

Staleochlora viridicata| Buenos Aires Province, Argentina (March 2012)

Getting at least a genus name for these individuals then prompted me to go back to photographs I had taken last year of other types of grasshoppers. One of these, Eutropidacris cristata, is truly one of the largest grasshoppers I have ever seen (update 9 Mar 12 – Sam Heads notes that Eutropidacris is now a synonym of Tropidacris). This individual was seen in a soybean field in the northern Argentina province of Chaco. These insects, known in Argentina as “La tucura quebrachera,” apparently occur in outbreak numbers periodically and, understandably owing to their monstrous size, generate a lot of attention. In Brazil the sepcies is known as “gafanhoto-do-coqueiro” (coconut tree grasshopper),

Tropidacris cristata | Chaco Province, Argentina (March 2011)

One of the more colorful grasshoppers I have seen in Argentina is Chromacris speciosa. The individual below was photographed last March in eastern Córdoba Province, also on soybean. It’s tempting to presume that the green and yellow coloration has a cryptic function, but apparently the nymphs of this species are brightly colored red and black and have the habit of aggregating on foliage. This is classic aposematism (warning coloration) to indicate chemical protection from predation, so perhaps there is a similar function to the adult coloration as well.

Chromacris speciosa | Cordoba Province, Argentina (March 2011)

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Best of BitB 2011

Welcome to the 4th Annual BitB Top 10, where I get to pick my 10 (more or less) favorite photographs of the year. As an insect macrophotographer I still feel like a relative newcomer, although with three seasons under my belt fewer and fewer people seem to be buying it anymore. Granted I’ve learned a lot during that time, but the learning curve is still looking rather steep. I don’t mind—that’s the fun part! With that said, I present a baker’s dozen of my favorite photographs featured here during 2011. I hope they reflect the learnings I’ve had the past year and maybe show some progress over previous years (2009, 2008 and 2010).

One more thing—I’m including a special bonus for the first time in this year’s edition. Each of the photos shown below is linked to a 1680×1120 version that may be freely downloaded for use as wallpaper, printing in calendars, or any other use (as long as it’s personal and non-profit). It’s my way of saying thanks for your readership and support.

From  (posted 8 Jan). I’ve done limited photography with prepared rather than live specimens. However, the recreated aggressive-defensive posture of this greater arid-land katydid (Neobarrettia spinosa)—or “red-eyed devil”—was too striking to pass up. A clean background allows every spine and tooth to be seen with terrifying clarity.

From  (posted 6 Feb). I had never seen a cactus fly until I encountered this Nerius sp. I’m especially fond of the bizzarely-shaped head and un-fly-like spines on the front legs.

From  (posted 17 Feb). This photo of a fungus weevil, Phaenithon semigriseus, is one of the first where I nailed the focus right on the eye at such a magnitude of closeup (~3X) and also got the composition I was looking for. I didn’t notice at the time, but the beetle seems to be “smiling.”

From  (posted 28 Mar). One of the field techniques I’ve been practicing this year is actually holding the plant with the subject in one hand, resting the camera on my wrist and controlling it with the other hand, and manipulating the position of the plant to achieve a desired composition. It’s a difficult technique to master, but the results are worth it. The jumping spider, Euophrys sutrix, represents one of my earliest successful attempts with this technique.

From  (posted 30 Mar). This South American tree fruit weevil looks like it is sitting quite calmly on a branch. In reality, it never stopped crawling while I attempted to photograph it. Crawling subjects are not only difficult to focus on but also almost always have a “bum” leg. I achieved this photo by tracking the beetle through the lens and firing shots as soon as the center focus point flashed, playing a numbers game to ensure that I got at least one with all the legs nicely positioned. I’d have been even happier with this photo if I had not clipped the antennal tip.

From  (posted 4 May). Face shots of predatory insects are hard to resist, and in this one of the fiery searcher beetle, Calosoma scrutator, the angle of the subject to the lighting was perfect for showing off every ridge and tooth in its impressive mandibles.

From  (posted 10 May). I’ve taken plenty of lateral profile shots of tiger beetles, but I like this slightly panned out one especially because of the sense of scale and landscape created by the inclusion of the plantlets and the view over the small rise.

From  (posted 18 May). I found these Edessa meditabunda stink bug eggs on the underside of a soybean leaf in Argentina almost ready to hatch. The developing eye spots in each egg gives the photo a “cute” factor rarely seen in such super close-ups.

From  (posted 15 July). Some of my favorite insect photos are not only those that show the bug in all its glory, but also tell a story about its natural history. This nymphal lichen grasshopper, Trimerotropis saxatilis, is almost invisible when sitting on the lichens that cover the sandstone exposures in its preferred glade habitat. 

From  (posted 23 Aug). I know this is the second beetle face shot I’ve included in the final selections, but it was while photographing this rare Florida metallic tiger beetle, Tetracha floridana, in the middle of the night that I discovered the use of extension tubes to improve the quality of flash lighting (decreased lens to subject distance results in greater apparent light size). This is perhaps one of the best illuminated direct flash photographs that I’ve taken, and I also like the symmetry of the composition.

From  (posted 17 Sep). The three-cornered alfalfa hopper (Spissistilus festinus) is a common pest of alfalfa and soybean in the U.S. However, despite its abundance, I’ve never noticed the bizarre zig-zag pattern of the eyes until I took this photo. Even though both the insect and the background are green, there is sufficient value contrast to create a pleasing composition. Bumping up the ISO and a lower FEC setting prevented overblowing the light greens—easy to do with full flash macrophotography.

From  (posted 4 Oct). This longhorned beetle had settled in for the night on its Ericamera nauseosa host plant, allowing me to use higher ISO and lower shutter speed settings with a hand-held camera to achieve this very pleasing blue sky background, while retaining the sharpness of detail of the subject that comes from full-flash illumination. The blue sky background provides a more pleasing contrast with the colors of this particular beetle and flowers than the black background that is more typically seen with full-flash macrophotography.

From  (19 Dec). An uncommon underside view of these purple tree fungus (Trichaptum biforme) caps and use of flash illumination allows the colors to literally glow against the bright green lichens also growing on the tree. Keeping aperture at a moderate setting allows blurring of the caps further back, adding three-dimensionality to the photo and preventing it from looking ‘flat.’

Well, there you have it, and I hope you’ve enjoyed my selections. Please do tell me if you have a favorite among theses (and if there were other photos posted during 2011 that you think deserved making the final selections).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011


Dissosteira carolina (Carolina grasshopper) | Jersey Co., Illinois

Despite the geographic specificity of its scientific and common names, the Carolina grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina) can be found in every state of the contiguous United States and adjacent provinces of Canada. Its large size, cryptic coloration with yellow hind wings, tendency of males to crepitate during flight (a snapping or crackling sound made by rubbing the under surface of the forewings against the veins of the hind wings), and distinctively chunky nymphs would normally be enough to attract a lot of attention were it not also among the most overwhelmingly ubiquitous of grasshoppers throughout much of its range. I could give all sorts of information about its food habits, migration and dispersal behavior, daily activities, etc., but this would be redundant given the excellent Species Fact Sheet that has been generated for it by the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station (Pfidt 1996).

This individual was found in a soybean field in Jersey Co., Illinois. They are extremely wary and perhaps the most difficult-to-approach grasshopper I’ve encountered yet. Considering my particular fascination with oedipodine grasshoppers, I felt compelled to take some photographs—but, my God, there are already a godzillion photos of this species on the web.  I decided to limit myself to this one rather unusual perspective and leave it at that!


Pfidt, R. E.  1996. Carolina Grasshopper Dissosteira carolina (Linnaeus). Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 912, Species Fact Sheet, 4 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Oedipodine Rex

Sandstone glade habitat for Trimerotropis saxatilis | vic. Calico Rock, Arkansas

Ever since my current fascination with band-winged grasshoppers (family Acrididae, subfamily Oedipodinae) began, I have been obsessed with photographing one species above all others—Trimerotropis saxatilis, the lichen grasshopper. Like most species in the group, lichen grasshoppers utilize an interesting survival strategy that I call “conspicuous crypsis”—the use of stunning colors and contrasting markings to help them blend into the mottled and variably-colored environments that they inhabit.  Lichen grasshoppers take this strategy to the extreme, culminating in some individuals with the most gorgeous shade of blue-green in perfect match to the crustose lichens that cover the rock outcroppings of their preferred glade habitats.  In my opinion, they are the kings of the oedipodines!  I have seen them before in past years in the igneous and sandstone glades that dot the Ozark Highlands of southern Missouri.  Crustose lichens abound in these acid environments, providing the perfect backdrop to make invisible these otherwise conspicuous grasshoppers. This past June during a couple of visits to a marvelous sandstone glade complex near Calico Rock in north-central Arkansas I got my wish, and shown here are some of my favorites from the many, many photographs I took during those sessions.

Trimerotropis saxatilis with classic lichen-green coloration.

Lichen grasshoppers are actually quite variably colored—not all individuals exhibit the green coloration for which they are so famous.  Despite this, they are the only member of the genus occurring in the eastern U.S. and, thus, are immediately recognizable.  While they are beautiful in all of their color variations, I cannot lie—it is the green individuals that I constantly find myself admiring the most.  While many other grasshoppers are green, only a handful (themselves members of the same subfamily) exhibit the same stunning shade of blue-green that this one does.  Add to that an abundance of black speckling and contrasting bands, and you’ve got one gorgeous grasshopper.  Yet, for all their overt beauty, they are absolutely impossible to see in their native habitat until they take flight when approached.  Fortunately, their escape flights are short and not terribly erratic—with a little practice it becomes rather easy to track them in flight (aided by their interrupted buzzing crepitation) and watch where they land.  They may not be immediately visible after landing, but with careful study of the landing area they are usually quickly relocated.  Once detected, slow deliberate movements are all that are needed to allow a close approach and a good look (and photographs if desired).

The stunning green contrasts starkly against a dark moss backdrop.

Of course, the problem with ‘conspicuous crypsis’ (or any form of crypsis, for that matter) is that it only works when in the right environment.  I chased the above lichen-colored individual onto this patch of dark moss while trying to photograph it, at which point it became overtly visible.

The mottling of the colors is almost as fascinating as the colors themselves.

As previously mentioned, lichen grasshoppers come in a variety of colors and shades.  While the green individuals may be the most stunning, I was captivated also by the below individual, darker brown and black, with the most beautiful, contrastingly colored orange eyes.  This individual may not blend in as well as the green individuals when sitting on lichen-encrusted rocks; however, its coloration and patterning seem perfectly adapted to the more barren, darkly colored rock exposures.  This helps explain why not all lichen grasshoppers are green—the rock exposures in the glades that they inhabit are not uniformly lichen-encrusted, but rather consist of both encrusted and barren expanses of rock, with diverse coloration being a result of multiple and sometimes conflicting selective pressures.

A darker brownish individual with spectacular orange eyes.

A third individual, shown in the photograph below, resembles the second in that it is more brown than green.  However, the base coloration is lighter with greater contrast to the dark bands.  Like the second individual the eyes are spectacular orange, but it also exhibits a green shading on the back of the head behind the eyes not seen in the second individual.

Another brownish individual, this one more contrastingly marked.

Not only did I find the adults, but I also found a rather young nymph that certainly represents this species (I’m guessing maybe 3rd instar based on the degree of wing pad development).  This nymph exhibits the same stunning green coloration that the first individual above shows, and its fortuitous occurrence on both lichen-encrusted and (relatively) barren rocks provide an excellent demonstration of the effectiveness of its coloration in achieving crypsis—now you see me…

The lichen-colored nymph is easily seen against barren rock...

…now you don’t!

...but blends in marvelously amongst the lichens.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Pardalophora phoenicoptera – Orange-winged grasshopper

For some reason, I’ve found myself increasingly fascinated with certain grasshoppers—not just any grasshoppers, but band-winged grasshoppers (family Acrididae, subfamily Oedepodinae).  And not just band-winged grasshoppers, but band-winged grasshopper nymphs.  It began last year when I found adults and nymphs of Trimerotropis latifasciata in the Glass Mountains of northwestern Oklahoma.  I believe it has something to do with the combination of their frequent association with the same habitats where I look for my beloved tiger beetles and their marvelously cryptic coloration.  Adults themselves are cryptic enough—that is, until they flash their brightly colored hind wings, but the nymphs are positively invisible until they move.  Moreover, many species show a wonderful range of intraspecific diversity in their crypsis—Ronald Reagan may have thought every redwood tree looked the same, but when you’ve seen one band-winged grasshopper nymph, you most certainly have not seen them all.

These two band-winged nymphs were seen at St. Joe State Park (St. Francois Co., Missouri) in the vast central “sand flats” of the park (actually waste areas of crushed limestone tailings left from lead mining operations during the previous century).  At first I assumed they each represented a different species, but based on comments at BugGuide I take both of them to represent Pardalophora phoenicoptera (orange-winged grasshopper)—distinguished from Xanthippus by having only one notch in the pronotal crest and unusual amongst most grasshoppers in that the winter is passed as a nymph rather than egg.  This leads to well-developed nymphs at the beginning of spring and adults much earlier in the season than many other grasshoppers.  These photos were taken on April 28, and the size of the wing pads suggests they are not quite full-grown yet, maybe 3rd or 4th instars.  Acridoid aficionado David J. Ferguson has found this species in the Ozarks on rocky/gravelly hilltops (e.g., “cedar glades”) and on gravelly or stable sandy slopes in sunny openings in Oklahoma. He places the species (particularly the green ones) high on his favorite hopper list, and I’d have to say I agree with him (so far).

One of these days, I’m going to find and photograph the king of all green oedepodines—Trimerotropis saxatilis!

Update 6/8/11: Dave Ferguson has kindly confirmed the ID, writing:

…yes these are identified correctly.  Assuming 5 instars, they look like 4th (where there are 6 instars, numbers 4 and 5 look a lot alike).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Saltatorial sidetracks

One thing I’ve realized during these past several years of fall collecting is that there are more than just tiger beetles to capture my interest as the field season enters its final days.  The late season floral burst of goldenrods (Solidago spp.) and tall thoroughwort (Eupatorium altissimum) brings forth a multitude of bees, flies, wasps, and soldier beetles.  Megacyllene robiniae, the locust borer (family Cerambycidae), is also a pleasant, if not pedestrian sight on the goldenrod as well, but if one is lucky to find goldenrod near a patch of Amorpha fruticosa (indigo bush), then its larger, more boldly marked and infinitely more exciting congener M. decora (indigo borer) might also be seen.  Nothing, however, seems to match the diversity and abundance during fall of the great order Orthoptera – grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets.  This is particularly true in the Ozark glades and Great Plains grasslands where I’ve spent the majority of my fall collecting time.  Perhaps it is because of their size – for the most part they are relatively large insects compared to the beetles I normally study, or maybe it is their pervasive reliance on sound – singing in the grass, rasping in the trees, snapping their wings in flight.  Bold and conspicuous, they demand attention.

Increasingly, I’m finding these fall hoppers harder and harder to resist, especially grasshoppers of the family Acrididae.  Until now I don’t think I’ve given grasshoppers their due respect – compared to my beetles they always seemed so… primitive.  No horns, no jeweled, metallic sculpturing, no over-sized jaws, no unique morphological specializations of any kind other than enlarged, saltatorial (modified for jumping) hind legs – they sport the quintessential ‘general’ insect body plan (open up any college introductory entomology textbook, and what do you see illustrated in the general morphology chapter… a grasshopper!).  Even their movements seemed to me somehow mechanical and robotic.  I always brushed them off as just basic insects, unrefined and uninteresting.

Of course, they are anything but uninteresting – in fact, orthopterans as a whole are among the most popular of insect groups if the number of recently published field guides is any indication.  One of these is The Grasshoppers (Orthoptera: Acrididae and Romaleidae) of Nebraska (2008), authored by Matthew L. Brust and colleagues, and a copy of which I received as a gift from the senior author during my recent collecting trip to Nebraska and surrounding areas.  According to this book, the grasshopper in these photographs is Hippiscus ocelote – the wrinkled grasshopper, a large, handsomely robust species distinguished by the single cut in the pronotum and its surface sculpturing, the orange hind tibia, and the triple-banded and basally blue inner surface of the hind femur.  The species is generally brownish throughout, but this particular individual – seen in the White River Hills of southwestern Missouri in early September – sported a decidedly reddish head and pronotum that contrasted beautifully with its spotted wings and forced me to stop searching for tiger beetles and spend some time photographing it.

There are many reasons why I should not let myself get interested in grasshoppers – they’re big and take up a lot of space (a premium in most private collections such as mine), and by any standard my interests are already spread too thin.  Still, I think it is better to have too many interests than not enough, and a Schmidt box or two full of some of the more interesting grasshoppers that I’ve encountered – properly curated and identified – wouldn’t take too much away from my beetle efforts.  I already have a few specimens of Trimerotropis saxatilis (lichen grasshopper) from Missouri’s igneous glades and the related T. latifasciata (broad-banded grasshopper) from Oklahoma’s Glass Mountains, so a small assortment of other notable species in addition to them couldn’t hurt, right?

Photo Details: Canon 50D w/ 100mm macro lens (ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/16-f/20), Canon MT-24EX flash (1/2 ratio) w/ Sto-Fen + GFPuffer diffusers. Typical post-processing (levels, minor cropping, unsharp mask).


Brust, M. L., W. W. Hoback and R. J. Wright.  2008. The Grasshoppers (Orthoptera: Acrididae and Romaleidae) of Nebraska.  University of Nebraksa-Lincoln Extension, 138 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

What’s more difficult to see…

…than a Trimerotropis latifasciata (broad-banded grasshopper) adult on lichen-encrusted clay exposures?

Answer: A T. latifasciata nymph on lichen-encrusted clay exposures.

My thanks to David J. Ferguson for confirming my initial ID as a species of Trimerotropis and provisionally placing these individuals as T. latifasciata.  Of course, I’m not at all an expert in grasshopper identification, but I recognized these individuals, found atop the red, flat-topped mesa of Gloss Mountain State Park in northwestern Oklahoma, for their great similarity to T. saxatilis (lichen grasshopper), a striking, more greenish species (at least here in Missouri) that I had hoped to but did not see during my visit to Lichen Glade Natural Area back in late May (it may have been too early in the season for them).  At first I thought these individuals might represent that species, considering the abundance of lichens that encrusted the clay exposures atop the mesa.  However, according to David the red hind tibia (seen in the photo below of a different adult – sans left front leg), longer wings, occurrence on clay (rather than rock or sand), and location in the Great Plains make T. latifasciata the most tenable choice.

Like T. saxatilis and other species of the genus, T. latifasciata provides a marvelous example of the use of camouflage (i.e., blending in with surroundings) – a form of crypsis – to avoid detection by predators.  Finding this species only strengthens my desire to find (and photograph) T. saxatilis – speckled green, white and black – amidst the green lichens that encrust the red igneous outcroppings of the St. Francois Mountains some 100 miles south of St. Louis.

Photo Details: Canon 50D w/ 100mm macro lens, (ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/18-20, Canon MT-24EX flash (1/4 ratio) w/ Sto-Fen diffusers, and typical post-processing (levels, minor cropping, unsharp mask).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Email to a friend