Shadow dance

The days already grow shorter, the sun rising later and falling earlier.  The snap cool of autumn rumbles into town.  And a play of light and shadow comes sooner each afternoon, sunlight filtered through a latticework fence and blanketing the patio in abrupt transitions.

I stepped outside a few days ago to let the sun shower my still sickly body.  Amazing what natural light and heat can accomplish when all else feels cold and distant.

No sooner had I closed the door behind me when I stopped.  Something lurked at the intersection of dark perpendiculars, something hidden in lightless realms made impenetrable by reflection.

A male differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) hiding in shadows (2009_10_02_029942)

What beast dared stand guard in crossed blades of shadow?  What behemoth[1] stood so near to me that I might reach out and touch it with ease?  What creature faced me so courageously as I towered above it?

A different perspective no doubt would shed more light on the subject.

A male differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) standing in shadows (2009_10_02_029945)

Even before I stepped back and knelt down, I could see his leaf sway[2] acted out against a backdrop of harsh dichotomies, an environment of bright and dim where he chose to stand.

Yet as I became still, so too did he.

We faced each other for a bit, I in the light and he in the dark, and there we spent a dusting of our afternoon appraising one another.

I then made the first move, a shift of my position such that the sun would be at my back, a view I hoped would offer a more vibrant scene.

Amazingly he followed, stepped forward as I inched sideways, echoed move for move each of my leviathan footfalls with minuscule footfalls of his own.

A male differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) standing in sunlight (2009_10_02_029965)

How brave you are! I thought, How very brave indeed.

I leaned back against the fence for stability; nevertheless, he moved nearer until eventually he stood so close that the camera could no longer focus on him.  And there he remained, swaying side to side occasionally as I pondered who would make the next move.

Already his location made it impossible for me to photograph him.  My only option was to move to the other side of the patio.  But where he held his ground meant I would have to step over him.

He will flee…

I chanced it anyway.

I moved as one might swim through cold molasses, first standing, then skirting the patio wall, and ultimately bringing my giant self over him and toward the other end of the patio.  He never flinched aside from turning to watch me, a move which put him back in shadow.

A male differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) standing in shadows surrounded by sunlight (2009_10_02_030025)

Light striking the far wall and the ground around him created a shield of contrast in which he found protection from my prying eyes.

Ah, the camera need not worry about such things, though.

In the watchful profile seen through the lens, his true form came to light: a male differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis).  Chevrons painted along his hind legs[3] revealed his name despite what colors his body might present[4].

I let the warmth of late afternoon cloak me in comfort as I lay on the concrete watching him.  And he, no doubt, watched me as well.

Slowly he moved, one tiny step at a time, until he once again stood in the light.

A male differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) seen from the side (2009_10_02_030042)

We paused, the two of us, and we together watched the sun as it fell toward the horizon.  The shadow dance continued though neither of us moved.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] The grasshopper was two inches/50mm in length.

[2] “Leaf sway” is the term used to describe the tendency of grasshoppers to lean side to side when they perceive a threat.  As a form of camouflage, this action makes them look like a twig or leaf swaying in a gentle breeze.

[3] The herringbone pattern along the femora is diagnostic for this species.

[4] Like many species, differential grasshoppers have tremendous color variability.  They come in countless shades and combinations of black, gray, orange, red, brown, yellow and green, if not other hues as well.

4 thoughts on “Shadow dance”

    1. LOL! Funny you should mention spiders… Arachnids are another area I think I’ve been ignoring.

      I have to admit, Amber, I was rather pleased with this grasshopper. He was a friendly chap, quite tolerant of me.

    1. Well-designed machines is a great way to describe them, Amar! That was the exact impression I had when reviewing the photos: there’s something biomechanical about them…

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