With the high season of the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper for visitors from afar, to the Everglades National Park this summer, for many, it felt like the park was being invaded by aliens. On the Anhinga Trail and other spots, the huge bright orange and yellow grasshoppers were almost frightening.
Unfortunately, their persistent hissing and buzzing from their wings, drown out the natural noise in the marshes of the Everglades. With their big black creepy insect eyes, at most of the park’s popular stops, they sat there staring at the visitors. Leaving most guest with the creeps. Although many children found fun in seeing how many they could count.
The scientific name for the lubber grasshopper is Romalea microptera. It is the most distinctive grasshopper species within the southeast United States. Known for its size, it can reach nearly three inches.
A lubber grasshopper goes through several life stages. In the nymph stage (an immature form) it is wingless and completely black with one or more yellow, orange or red stripes. As an adult, the growth of their wings is half of their body length and become either a dull yellow often with black spots and markings, a bright orange with black markings, or entirely black with yellow and red striping. The adults in the black color phase are known as “diablo” or black diablo.” In Louisiana, they are known as the “Devil’s horse” and in Mississippi, they are known as the “giant locust.” In some parts of the south, they are also known as the “graveyard grasshopper.”
You will from the lubber grasshopper primarily in the south from North Carolina to Tennessee, and in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, and Missouri. Their habit consists of open pinewood, weedy vegetation, and weedy fields. They have also been found to live in sewers.
Not a danger to humans or pets, they are voracious defoliators eaters. Not picky when it comes, to food, they will go from flower beds, herb gardens to the bush by the side of the road. They do have a preference though, crinum lilies and other toxic flowering plants. With growers getting rid of them they early in the season, they are no threat to agriculture. But, the damage to landscaping can be quite extensive.
From late February to March, young lubbers will emerge from clusters of eggs buried about two inches into the soil. Their attack on local plants in large swarms is almost immediate. While small, they can be killed with pesticides and can be eaten by spiders, birds and other insects.
With months, almost becomes an invincible warrior. The colorful exoskeleton is toxic and serves as a warning to predators that it is poisonous. Male and females when they sense danger make a buzzing noise by rubbing their forewing against the hindwing. At times, they will hiss and produce a foul-smelling froth that’s secreted from their thorax. When they fear danger, they can spray their toxin a distance of about six inches. The toxins are stored in their bodies from the poisonous plants they eat.
Lubbers have few natural predators, consequently, the adult population is exploding. One predator is the shrike, a small bird that can decapitate the grasshoppers with its beak or impale them on thorns or barbed-wire fences. Before they eat the grasshoppers, the birds will wait for the toxins to fade.
Even with their high numbers, the lubber grasshopper is not a threat to the Everglades, they are part of the ecosystem. They have been around as long as the Everglades.