Tag Archives: differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis)

put on your faces – earth day 2010

Today is Earth Day 2010.  For forty years this annual event has served to focus attention on issues such as conservation, pollution, climate and sustainability.  That 2010 is also the International Year of Biodiversity makes this Earth Day even more important.

Every 24 hours approximately 100 species go extinct, relegated forever to the past tense.  It seems to me that every day should be Earth Day.  But since I have no interest in preaching, I thought I’d mark this event with a special edition of put on your faces.  Because it’s faces like these that we stand to lose.

Close-up of a mallard duckling (Anas platyrhynchos) (2009_06_03_021795)

Mallard duckling (Anas platyrhynchos)

Close-up of a white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) as it feeds (2009_07_18_026958_c)

White-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata)

Close-up of a juvenile male blackbuck (a.k.a. Indian antelope; Antilope cervicapra) (2009_05_22_020931)

Blackbuck (a.k.a. Indian antelope; Antilope cervicapra); juvenile male

Close-up of a green heron (Butorides virescens) (2009_09_05_028705)

Green heron (Butorides virescens)

Close-up of a fox squirrel (a.k.a. eastern fox squirrel, stump-eared squirrel, raccoon squirrel or monkey-faced squirrel; Sciurus niger) (2009_09_27_029754)

Fox squirrel (a.k.a. eastern fox squirrel, stump-eared squirrel, raccoon squirrel or monkey-faced squirrel; Sciurus niger); male

Close-up of a green anole (a.k.a. Carolina anole; Anolis carolinensis) (20080817_11010_c)

Green anole (a.k.a. Carolina anole; Anolis carolinensis); male

Close-up of a differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) (2009_10_02_029993)

Differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis); male

Close-up of a male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) (2009_10_25_034089)

Great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus); male

Close-up of a male fallow deer (Dama dama) (2009_05_22_020739)

Fallow deer (Dama dama); light morph male (buck/stag)

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.

We are Legion, for we are many (Part 3)

One interesting aspect of the gigantic spider web at Lake Tawakoni State Park is that, like all other communal webs, the builders are not the only inhabitants of the structure.  Generally speaking, social spiders often share their architectural wonders with many species of arachnids and insects alike.  North Texas’ own majestic marvel is no different.

By and large, long-jawed orb weavers (of the genus Tetragnatha) make up the vast majority of inhabitants.  Their numbers undoubtedly count in the millions.  They are the rightful owners and occupiers of this adaptive, growing spectacle.  In fact, walking through the web invites one to see these small spiders in mass quantities, whether that be in a blanket draped above your head or a writhing mass covering every inch of everything.  They are the apparent masters of their new realm, and they are solely responsible for the enormous and constantly-changing creation.

Nevertheless, I discovered they share their home with all manner of kith and kin, both arachnid and insect alike.  As I pointed out, such a thing is anticipated with communal webs such as this one, yet it never failed to amaze me each time I stumbled upon another squatter, another interloper who moved in and camped out in an abode built to house someone else.

A female Black & Yellow Argiope (a.k.a Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia) (209_0976)

The first visitor I discovered dwarfed her hosts by orders of magnitude.  A female Black & Yellow Argiope (a.k.a Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia), another orb weaver, sat quietly in the middle of her web as the long-jawed orb weavers scurried all around her in their frantic yet organized construction.  With their numbers so overwhelming, more than once I witnessed them chancing upon her web, yet she never moved nor made any indication that she would attack them—although I have no doubt she would.  She could kill as many as she wanted, though, and would have no impact whatsoever on their overall numbers.

An unidentified spider (209_0999)

As I attempted to get a close-up of some leaves caught in the middle of webbing, this small spider hurried into view just as I snapped the photo, then it promptly scampered up onto the web and out of sight.  While I’ve not identified the exact species in this case, I saw many of these scattered throughout the structure.  In fact, I saw a handful of these kinds of large-bodied spiders sharing the web as well, although too often they were impossible to photograph.

Surprisingly, true insects had moved in as well.  I discovered a type of mantis treating the web like they had always lived there.  Unfortunately, they were so small and so well camouflaged that it was impossible to get photos of them.  Their bodies were as thin as the web itself, so they could not be seen until they moved; otherwise, they blended in perfectly.

A Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) hiding in the massive spider web (210_1015)

Differential Grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis) seemed unconcerned with the web, often found resting within its midst and under cover of its thickest blanket.  Although not the best photograph, you’ll even note in that image that the grasshopper shares the frame with a long-jawed orb weaver (bottom-left) and a kind of jumping spider (top-left).  Not one of them seemed at all concerned about the others.

A Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) surrounded by spider web with two long-jawed orb weavers (of the genus Tetragnatha) nearby (210_1019)

That differential grasshopper enjoyed a perch completely shielded by webbing, but he was not alone.  If you look closely, there are two long-jawed orb weavers lurking nearby.  Both are hiding on the underside of leaves, one at top-left and another at bottom-left.

A slug caterpillar of the genus Euclea (210_1024)

I nearly overlooked this slug caterpillar of the genus Euclea (possibly Euclea delphinii or Euclea nanina, as both are presently indistinguishable from each other).  Its position near the middle of a web-covered bush, in addition to its color, made it virtually impossible to see.  Had I not been knelt down looking at a bit of web building, I would never have noticed it.  It regrettably could not be photographed up close since a shroud of web encircled its position, so all I could do was put the camera as near the web as possible and try to focus through it.

A Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) hanging from a leaf (210_1033)

Yet another differential grasshopper minding its own business in the middle of an arachnid nightmare.  This one clung easily to a leaf buried deep in the heart of spiderland.  Thankfully, I found a rather convenient hole in the web that allowed me to put the camera quite near this insect without disturbing a single strand of silk.

A female Black & Yellow Argiope (a.k.a Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia) (210_1031)

A mere five steps from the first one, I then discovered this second and much larger Black & Yellow Argiope.  Her web placed her at knee level.  Despite the growing throng of people that had appeared by then, and despite many of them getting quite near her to snap some photos, she never moved and never displayed even the smallest bit of interest in all the goings on.  She had three egg sacks hidden in the bush from which her web dangled.  They were impossible to photograph due to the impenetrable webbing that covered the whole of the plant.

[more images and observations to follow in Part 4, the last of this series]

[Update] The second photo shows a bronze jumping spider (Eris militaris).  The jumping spider in the top-left corner of the third photo is a bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax).