I stepped onto my porch today and encountered a monster. The beast was nearly as long as my foot, and its haunches reached midway up my toddler’s calf. Two beady black eyes pivoted to look at me, and I felt as if I’d walked into a historic horror film.
The beast on my porch was none other than an eastern lubber, a variety of grasshopper endemic to some regions of the Southeast. For as long as I can remember, unusually large eastern lubber grasshoppers have overrun my grandmother’s home each summer. These fascinating insects thrive in the iron-rich, rocky, warm soils of Lookout Mountain.
I became fascinated with eastern lubber grasshoppers several years ago when I noticed so many unusually large specimens in my own neighborhood. Here are a few interesting facts about Eastern lubber grasshoppers.
1. Eastern lubber grasshoppers are known by dozens of different names, which vary considerably within different regions of the South. The most common names are “lubber grasshopper”, “diablo” and “graveyard grasshopper”.
My grandmother calls them “devil bugs”, while another relative calls them “devil’s horses”. These names refer to the insect’s eerie coloration. One now-taboo name mis-identified the grasshoppers as crickets and included an extremely offensive racial slur.
2. Eastern lubber grasshoppers can grow to several inches in length. The beast on my front porch measured nearly seven and a half inches from the tip of her abdomen to the end of her head. In general, females are larger than males.
3. Adult eastern lubber grasshoppers expel a foamy, irritating froth from their thoraxes when they feel frightened. As I learned from my own backyard explorations, they will generally make a rattlesnake-like hiss before resorting to this survival tactic. The foam is not severely irritating to humans, but it may cause a mild rash.
4. Eastern lubber grasshoppers thrive because they have almost no natural predators. They are foul-tasting and relatively poisonous; toxins in their skin can kill small birds and make other predators seriously ill.
5. During each stage of life, the eastern lubber grasshopper dramatically changes its coloration. Immediately after hatching, the bugs are red with a single black stripe. Nymphs are solid-black and wingless, with yellow, red or orange stripes. The “devilish” black coloration persists for some adults, but others develop a bright-orange base color with black, pink, yellow and green markings.
Audubon Guides offers more eastern lubber grasshopper facts.