A rise in the grasshopper population is a concern for gardeners, farmers, and ranchers due to the insect's appetite. Courtesy photo
Whether working in the yard or going for a walk, a constant companion in the Highland Lakes right now is the grasshopper.
While the insect makes an appearance every spring and summer, a population explosion seems to be taking place in 2020.
“The dry weather does increase the survival of young grasshoppers,” said Kelly Tarla, the Burnet County extension agent for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. “We’ve had in past history where, when we’ve had a warm fall, females can feed and lay eggs longer.”
Autumn 2019 was warmer than normal, she said.
Scientists have identified 150 grasshopper species, but only five damage crops, gardens, trees, and shrubs: melanoplus differentialis, melanoplus femurrubrum, melanoplus sanguinipes, melanoplus bivittatus, and melanoplus packardii. The femurrubrum (redlegged), bivittatus (twostriped), and sanguinipes (migratory) can be found in Texas, according to the Extension Service.
Female grasshoppers lay eggs a half-inch to 2 inches under the soil’s surface in pod-like structures, which can hold 20-200 elongated eggs woven together in an egg-like shape. They are sturdy enough to survive winter if the soil is left alone. Females lay eggs in fallow fields, ditches, fencerows, weedy areas, crop fields, hay fields, and the like.
Eggs hatch from late April through June. Tarla said if the soil where eggs are buried is disturbed, they will start to hatch.
Grasshoppers can demolish crop fields as well as compete with livestock for food. A population increase coupled with a meat shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic is even more concern for the state.
“Technically, every year, grasshoppers are going to do some damage,” Tarla said. “They’re going to feed on vegetation. We don’t want the grasshoppers to eat the hay. They can definitely cause some destruction in hayfields and pastures. That’s dire competition for livestock on vegetation.”
A lack of food for livestock is a financial hit for ranchers.
“If (livestock) don’t gain weight, that’s a problem,” Tarla said. “If they didn’t gain weight, they don’t go to market.”
Three methods can help curb the grasshopper population: biological control through predators; mechanical control by keeping yards mowed or fields tilled through August; and chemical control with insecticides.
While grasshoppers might be a nuisance, Tarla noted they also can benefit the ecosystem.
“Quail and turkey eat those nymphs (immature stage) and grasshoppers,” she said, “but they won’t necessarily control that population. Our ideal and goal is to have a healthy population of grasshoppers. Yes, we still want to have several for birds and larks.”