Young grasshopper

Grasshoppers have invaded this summer. Las Vegas, a city in Nevada, had so many flying around its street lights that they were visible on weather radar used to show clouds.

Despite a lot of research, scientists can’t say for sure why grasshopper populations explode some years and not others. They have, however, found some weather patterns that do favor hoppers.

Grasshoppers lay their eggs in the soil in the fall or summer. The gooey egg pods won’t freeze in the winter, but are helped by insulating snow. The eggs hatch in the spring. Those young hoppers can benefit from warm, dry weather. The warmer weather allows the eggs to hatch early and the young to grow quickly.

Rain can also help by feeding plants that give grasshoppers plenty to eat. Although it may seem like grasshoppers will eat any plant, some are very choosey about which ones they dine on.

The number of predators that eat grasshoppers can also have an effect on whether the insects boom or bust.

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There are about 400 different species of grasshoppers native to North America. Some that are found in Montana have really unusual names, including: the plains lubber grasshopper; the wrinkled grasshopper, the white whiskers grasshopper and the huckleberry grasshopper.

Birds, fish and insects all eat grasshoppers. People in some areas also will chew up the insects, which have a lot of protein. In Mexico fried grasshoppers are called chapulines. The crunchy critters are even on the menu at Seattle Mariners baseball games.

Scientists also find that when grasshoppers die, they add lots of nitrogen to the soil, which plants need to grow.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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