The eastern lubber grasshopper is a colorful giant pest

The dog days of summer are upon us – right in the middle of hurricane season. Along with algae blooms, school and football season, comes lubber season — that is eastern lubber grasshopper season!

 

Most grasshoppers don’t reach population numbers that can cause serious damage to gardens, crops, flowers, native and ornamental landscape plants and even citrus; however, the eastern lubber grasshopper is an exception.

Here is some information you should know about this colorful, pesky grasshopper.

The eastern lubber grasshopper is well known in the southeast, and elsewhere, due to its large size and widespread use in biology classrooms for dissection purposes. Luckily, the eastern lubber grasshopper is limited to the southeast and ranges from North Carolina south through Georgia and Florida, and west through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to central Texas.

It is one of the most intimidating insects because of its size and distinct colors. At maturity, both males and females can reach 2 ½ to 3 inches long, respectively. I’ve personally seen some specimens close to 4 inches in length.

Their color varies, but they are typically yellow or tan with black spots, stripes and other markings. In north Florida, a predominantly black form is sometimes found. Their bright color pattern is believed to be a warning to unsuspecting predators that lubbers are not palatable, and even toxic. There are few natural predators that will help control these pests. Insects sporting black, red and yellow colors often mean caution for most predators. If ingested, lubbers are very poisonous to birds and small mammals, like possums.

The eastern lubber is slow and appears clumsy and travels by walking and crawling meagerly on the ground and on plants. In fact, ‘lubber’ is derived from an old English word ‘lobre’ which means lazy or clumsy.

These creatures have two sets of wings, yet they are unable to fly. Not only is this large, heavy-bodied grasshopper unable to fly, it is a poor jumper too. They are mostly observed eating, walking, mating or laying eggs.

They are good climbers and often climb trees to chew young tender foliage at the branch tips, particularly at night.

The young eastern lubber grasshopper differs dramatically in appearance from the adults. The immature stage is referred to as a nymph and looks very different from the adult grasshopper. Their color pattern is so different from the adult stage that the nymphs are easily mistaken for a completely different species. Nymphs are usually black with one or more yellow, orange, or red stripes, and the front legs and sides of the head are red. Some are brownish red but still have the characteristic stripes.

Lubbers prefer to inhabit low, moist areas of dense undergrowth including pine forests and wet hammocks with a moderately dense canopy. As they mature, they disperse widely and can be found in nearly all habitats. This time of year, they are frequently observed crossing roadways.

The good news is that there is only one generation per year. In Northeast Florida, eggs hatch in mid to late March. Young nymphs crawl up out of the soil and begin feeding on suitable plant material. They resemble miniature grasshoppers and molt five times before becoming an adult.

One way to reduce populations is by keeping weeds under control. They prefer open pine fields and weedy areas. If you live next to a weedy piece of property or a ditch that is overgrown, you may have more problems with lubber grasshoppers.

To contact Mike Adams, email adamscience@windstream.net.

 

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