Colors distinquish the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

Special to the Sun Herald

I think they’re kind of cute. But I’m an entomologist and I find most “creepy crawlers” cute.

Most people who see the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper chewing on their favorite plant may not share my opinion. This particular grasshopper is restricted to the deep South and is, by far, the most distinctive grasshopper in the southeastern United States. Folks just arriving in Mississippi have never encountered anything like this eating machine.

Right now, many yards and gardens are overrun with the young lubbers. These can be easily distinguished from other grasshoppers by their coloration. Most are completely black with one or more yellow (sometimes red) racing stripes running longitudinally down their side. The front legs and head are often bright red.

Adult females lay their eggs (up to 150) in a hole in the ground; they hatch in late March. As soon as they emerge, they head for a suitable food source where they congregate and begin feeding. The Eastern Lubber Grasshopper seems to prefer weedy vegetation and open pine woods. When road crews don’t get around to mowing the road margins, there can be so many of these grasshoppers that their vehicle-crushed bodies can create spots on the road similar to soil slicks, causing accidents.

Controlling lubbers is simple but labor-intensive. They are large, slow-moving and relatively harmless to humans. When handled, however, they may secrete a foamy spray from their thorax that can be irritating to some. They can also regurgitate recently eaten plant material.

This dark-brown fluid, called tobacco spit, is partially digested and can stain clothing. Barring these defensive secretions, all you need to do is pluck them off of your plants and terminate them with extreme prejudice. If you don’t like the thought of handling them with your bare hands, use a butterfly net and a garbage bag. Give it a few minutes, and you’ll be rid of them for the rest of the growing season. They hatch only one generation per year and can’t fly.

If you insist on using insecticides, they will work only on the smaller ones. As they get older and bigger, pesticides have less and less effect. If you use an insecticide, make sure it’s labeled for use on the plant you’ll be spraying. If you’re worried about another infestation, you can plan to put a granular insecticide on your lawn next February to kill the nymphs as they emerge from the ground.

Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.