This article was originally produced  on October 6, 1999 as a bi-monthly news column for the Vero Beach Press Journal

 

Date of release:  October 10, 1999

Daniel F. Culbert, County Extension Agent

BIG GRASSHOPPERS CAUSE LITTLE PROBLEMS

New comers to Florida are often amazed at the sheer size of one occasional visitor to our Florida Yards. First encounters with the eastern Lubber grasshopper may intimidate persons who are unfamiliar with this large colorful insect. It sometimes occurs in large enough numbers to cause localized damage to citrus, vegetable crops and landscape ornamentals.

Floridians have little trouble recognizing this insect. It may be considered the best-known species of grasshopper in Florida, and one of the most readily recognized among all other kinds of insects. Todayís column will discuss the habits and management of this unmistakable Florida grasshopper. Our information comes to us from Clay Scherer, a researcher at University of Floridaís Department of Entomology and Nematology.

While the eastern Lubber grasshopper is known as Romalea guttata to some scientific authorities, the literature sometimes states the species as R. guttata. No matter what it is called, it can be found hopping throughout most of the southeastern US, and is likely to be found anywhere in Florida. It is well known to our Master Gardeners, who are asked to assist local property owners when the Lubber seeks out and defoliates amaryllis and related plants in our Florida Yards.

The Lubber is surely the most distinctive grasshopper species within the southeastern United States. It is well known both for its size and its unique coloration. The wings offer little help with mobility because they rarely cover more than half the length of the abdomen. This species is incapable of flight and can jump only short distances. The lubber is quite clumsy and slow in its movements and travels by walking and crawling feebly over plants or soil.

COLORFUL CHANGES

Adults are colorful, but the color pattern varies within the state. In north Florida, the Lubber is mostly black but well marked with yellow. In our area and throughout southern Florida, they are mostly yellow but bear red and black markings and red on the wings. Adult males can reach two inches in length, while the larger female Lubbers can approach three inches at maturity.

Grasshoppers show incomplete metamorphosis, which means that young insects look similar to the adults in shape, but are smaller. Young Lubber nymphs are also colored differently from the adult, so they commonly are mistaken for a different species. The nymphs are mostly black with a long narrow yellow stripe running down the top of their back, with red on the head and front legs. Young Lubbers tend to be gregarious and dispersive. This clustering habit easily brings people to notice them in their yards, and accounts for their familiarity.

Adults live throughout the year in the Indian River area, with their numbers dwindling over the winter. They have one generation per year, with eggs beginning to hatching locally in early March. Eastern Lubbers grow through five stages (instars) before finally molting into the full sized adult stage, with each of these nymphal stages lasting from 15 to 20 days. The highest number of adults is seen in July and August.

Females lay eggs during the summer. After mating, females use the tip of the abdomen to dig a small hole into the soil. At depths of two inches, she will deposit from one to three individual egg masses, each having about 50 eggs, in a light foamy froth. These eggs remain in the soil through winter and will begin hatching in March. The young Lubber nymphs then crawl up after hatching and congregate near suitable food sources.

FEEDING PREFERENCES

Eastern Lubber grasshoppers eat many different kinds of plants. They are reported to relish several native weeds such as pokeweed, tread-softly, pickerel weed, lizardís tail, sedges, and arrowhead. Eastern Lubber grasshoppers seem to prefer open pine-woods, weedy fields and the weedy vegetation along roadsides. Occasionally on rural highways in the central portion of the state, you will see a parade of lubbers marching across the road, with enough flattened lubber grasshoppers will accumulate on the road to cause a minor bug slick!

The accumulation of weedy plant species along drainage ditches within citrus groves and vegetable fields will sometimes attract lubbers. The insects can end up feeding on cultivated citrus vegetable or nursery crops nearby these sources of weedy vegetation. Along our coast, Lubbers may invade residential areas and feast on certain ornamental plants.. Locally we receive many calls about Lubbers on ornamental lilies, especially daylilies, Amaryllis and Crinum lilies. Despite their size, the eastern lubber grasshopper requires far less food than other more injurious species of grasshoppers that are only one-third as large or smaller.

DEFENSIVE CHARACTERISTICS

Eastern Lubber grasshoppers possess a variety of abilities to defend themselves. Their bright color pattern is a warning to predators that the lubber contains toxic substances. Indeed, there are several recorded cases where individual birds fail to exercise caution and select these hoppers as prey with distasteful results. Opossums have been known to vomit violently after ingesting a lubber, and to remain ill for several hours.

If the red, yellow, and black colors fails to keep a predator at bay, then the Lubber may spread their wings, hiss, and secrete a foamy spray. This spray consists of a number of irritants, and the bubbly froth is accompanied by a relatively loud, frightful hissing sound. The insect contracts the abdomen to force air out of the spiracles along with the defensive secretion. The sound is produced as the spray is being forced out of these tiny holes. Lubbers, like most grasshoppers, can also regurgitate recently consumed plant material. This material, commonly referred to as 'tobacco spit,' is mostly liquid and has a dark brown color. It is partially digested food material along with some semi-toxic compounds from the insect's crop (stomach). It can easily stain clothing.

LUBBER MANAGEMENT

Lubbers lend themselves to non-chemical control methods that are suitable for Florida Yards. They rarely occur in numbers high enough to cause significant large-scale damage to ornamentals. In most cases the homeowner can rid a prized ornamental of individual Lubbers by hand. Because they are large, slow moving, and essentially harmless to humans, all that is necessary to rid the area of these pests is a small net and a smashing device (such as a broom). Armed with a net and garbage bag, property owners can minimize potential damage within minutes.

On the rare occasion when chemical control is necessary, several insecticides that are registered for use on ornamentals, fruits, and vegetables can be used to control grasshoppers. The following general use insecticides are labeled for grasshopper control: chloropyifos (Dursban), carbaryl (Sevin), cyfluthrin , or rotenone. For specific recommendations consult the insecticide label and consult our office for the latest recommendations from the University of Florida. Remember that grasshoppers are much easier to control when they are nymphs. As they grow larger, higher rates of pesticides must be applied for effective control.

If you need additional information on lubber grasshoppers, visit your county Master Gardeners, or call or stop by your county Extension office. For those with other questions about Florida Yards, contact me - my phone number is 863-763-6469 and you can send e-mail to dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu.

Links:

UF/IFAS Featured Creatures Article on Lubber Grasshopper

C.W. Scherer and D.E. Short   Biology and Control of the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper UF/IFAS Fact Sheet ENY-335, May 2003.

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