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The grasshopper adaptations

Grasshopper exoskeleton

 

Some confuse them with crickets, but the grasshoppers make up a group of different insects. These small animals receive their common name by their form of displacement: by means of jumps. There are about 11,000 species of caeliferous species , but, depending on the region where they live, they can be named differently.

Those caelifers of the Acrididae family that can form huge flying swarms and change their color and behavior under special circumstances, are called locust. These insects are are often read about since the times of the Pharaohs,  so this mean they have adapted well . In this article we will look at some of the features that make a grasshopper adapt to its environment.

The adaptations of a grasshopper

1. Jumping legs and wings

Let’s start with the legs. This, of course, is the main distinguishing feature of grasshoppers by which they are immediately recognized. Anyone who has caught grasshoppers in the grass as a child knows that with the help of such legs they can easily jump long distances. In a meadow (that is, in open space) this is the optimal strategy – to jump abruptly from the predator somewhere to the side so that he loses sight of the prey.

A similar task – to move as far as possible from the predator – is performed by the grasshopper and wings. After bouncing, he can also fly some distance. The caught specimen flew about a meter in each jump, which is quite significant.

 

2. Camouflage , they can change their skin to match their environment 

Grasshopper camouflage among the dry twigs Grasshopper camouflage on the red soil

Coloring animals that are suitable for environmental conditions is familiar to everyone since elementary school. The grasshopper is no exception: the green insect in the green grass of the meadow is difficult to distinguish, which is an excellent disguise from predators.

In an article recently published in the international journal Behavioral Ecology , scientists from Pablo de Olavide University have shown that grasshoppers are able to change the color of their body to the color of the soil on which they live to be less visible to potential predators. In addition, they have found that there is a great adjustment of this capacity of camouflage depending on the conditions of the environment, since before a higher risk of being attacked by predators this camouflage improves even more.

In nature, this species of grasshopper can be found in clayey or sandy soils, always with scarce vegetation. As a curiosity, the color of the grasshoppers is usually very similar to the ground where it is found, for example reddish on reddish soils, or light gray in areas of light clay.

The color changes in the grasshoppers are due to changes in the quantity and quality of the pigments incorporated into the skin. They are slow changes (from several days to weeks) compared to the rapid changes of octopus or chameleons for example. In addition, they are costly and irreversible changes. “Therefore, it is expected that controlling which and how many pigments to produce is of great importance for grasshoppers,” explains researcher Pim Edelaar.

3. Strong protective exoskeleton 

Grasshopper exoskeleton

The grasshopper has a very strong exoskeleton to the touch. Their exoskeleton  is made of a secreted polysaccharide-protein called chitin. This allows him to remain unharmed if he has already been captured (and if then he somehow manages to free himself). The middle segment of the insect is also protected by a shield-like pronotum, which runs into the first thoracic segment.

4. Tenacious forelegs

Grasshopper foreleg they use for protection

Further, it is interesting to pay attention to the grasshopper’s front legs. It can be seen that they are equipped with small hooks. On the one hand, these are good devices to cling to stems and leaves. On the other hand, grasshoppers can feed not only on plants, but also on other smaller insects (that is, they behave like predators), so they need tenacious paws to reliably hold their prey.

 

5. Powerful jaws

Grasshopper are generally herbivores but they are known to eat and kill other insects especially when there is no vegetation.  Another argument in favor of a possible predation by a grasshopper is that it has rather powerful jaws. They are suitable not only for eating greens, but also for other insects. If you catch such a grasshopper – be careful, it can hurt a bite by the finger! By the way, this is also a protective mechanism – if a grasshopper can bite the one who attacks him, then this will be a weighty argument to stop the persecution.

 

6. Their Earing

According to Friederike Gilbert and Norbert Elsner in the Journal of Experimental Biology, hearing in grasshoppers has evolved for the purpose of identifying predators, prey and potential mates. The tympanum is the most common means of hearing in insects, although others hear by echo location or the vibration of tiny hairs on the skin. Situated between the tympanum are air-filled tracheal sacs which act as an internal sound pathway.

The complex auditory apparatus, that is, the grasshopper’s ears, is located on the shins of the front legs of the insect. Thus, it can be said that the grasshopper hears with his feet. Oval membranes that are located on both sides of the tibia play the role of eardrum. In some species of grasshoppers, the membranes are open, in others they are closed with special caps. The structure of the hearing aid consists of nerve endings, muscles, and sensitive cells. The structure also includes 2 branches of the trachea, which are suitable for eardrum.

 

7. They can modify mating sound

A study from the University of Bielefeld (Germany) found that some grasshoppers are able to modify their song by being near an abnormal sound and, punctually, they do so when they are in the vicinity of a vehicle. This, which seems to be a learned behavior, could revolutionize what we believe of these animals.

Grasshoppers produce a “song” by rubbing their legs with their wings: this sound serves as a means of communication and, mainly, as a way to attract potential partners. Hence the importance that a grasshopper has to be heard.

However, unnatural variables such as a vehicle can make grasshoppers not able to make their potential partners listen to them. For this reason, animals are forced to modify their song if they want to pass their genes to a next generation.

This is why some researchers justify the rapid learning of grasshoppers (which, evidently, must have developed this new song in less than a century). However, some evidence suggests that grasshoppers are really capable of learning because they modify their song in the absence of vehicles. Although this is not fully confirmed, it could mean that a grasshopper’s brain is much more complex than we think.

The sensitive antennae of the grasshopper, which perform the function of touch, in some species is much longer than the body.

Some species of grasshoppers are endowed with two pairs of wings used during flight and as a protective coating.

 

8. They can change environment to survive

Grasshoppers are located almost all over the world, but their presence in tropical and subtropical areas is quite common. They prefer the warm temperatures but can live in the cold . Some of them prefer to live in open or grassy habitats are also located in forests or places where there is humidity but the can be found even in caves and deserts with little to no vegetation.

These animals can migrate and this usually occurs when there is a large group of the same species because the lack of food, causes your body to generate a substance that gives you the necessary strength to fly and move to other places where they can survive.

 

Conclusions

So, we examined the structure of the grasshopper, and realized how he adapted to life in the meadow. In general, the standard rules of defense and attack are observed:

– active nutrition
– camouflage (so as not to become someone else’s food)
– flight if detected
– passive (chitin) and active (jaws) protection
– attack on smaller insects

However, as we see, they are specialized specifically for this ecosystem.

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