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grasshopper

grasshopper, name applied to almost 9,000 different species of singing, jumping insects in two families of the order Orthoptera. Grasshoppers are long, slender, winged insects with powerful hind legs and strong mandibles, or mouthparts, adapted for chewing. They range from 1/2 to 4 in. (1–10 cm) in length. They have a front pair of rigid wings and a hind pair of larger, membranous wings, often brightly colored. When the wings are at rest, the hind pair folds and is covered by the front pair. Some species fly well, others poorly or not at all. There are three pairs of legs, all used for walking. The muscular hind legs are also used for jumping and for initiating flight. Grasshoppers can jump up to 20 times their body length. In most species the singing, or stridulating, is performed only by the males. Both sexes possess auditory organs.

The long-horned grasshoppers (family Tettigoniidae) are characterized by antennae longer than the body and auditory organs on the forelegs. This family includes the katydids. The short-horned grasshoppers (family Acrididae) are characterized by antennae shorter than the body and auditory organs on the abdomen. This group includes the locust. Pygmy grasshoppers (family Tetrigidae) are less than 3/4 in. (20 mm) in length.

Most grasshoppers mate in the fall, after which the female lays the eggs in the ground or in plant tissues. The eggs of most species hatch in the spring. Newly hatched grasshoppers are similar to the adults except for their smaller size and lack of wings. After several molts, in which the young shed their old body coats and grow new ones, the winged adult stage is attained.

Most grasshoppers are plant feeders, attacking crops such as wheat, barley, corn, rye, and oats. The migratory grasshoppers, including the locusts, are a serious threat to agriculture. A few long-horned grasshoppers are carnivorous. Grasshoppers are typically found in temperate regions. They are classified in the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, order Orthoptera.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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