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Northland Nature: Prime time for grasshoppers, locusts

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

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A two-striped grasshopper. Note the light lines going from the head to the tip of the wings. (Photo by Larry Weber)

Thanks to recent rains in late July (more rain in the last 10 days than fell for the whole month previous), there is now plenty going on as we enter August.

The trio of fall wildflowers — goldenrods, asters and sunflowers — are emerging and progressing as we reach and pass mid-summer. I have seen in bloom about two-thirds of the dozen kinds of goldenrods that grow in the region, and fewer with asters and sunflowers, but more to come.

In addition to this trio, there are some excellent growths of joe pye weed, pearly everlasting and thistles. The season is moving on. Chokecherries and hawthorns are getting ripe while acorns and hazelnuts are developing.

The garden is doing its part with daily new produce. Tomatoes, lettuce, peas and beans are available. In the yard, day lilies of July are replaced by August phlox.

In the woods, the ground is more moist than a few weeks ago and we have quite a variety of mushrooms and other fungi taking advantage of these conditions. Also, each walk is filled with sightings of the new crop of small frogs and toads. A few green frogs still call at the lake and some gray treefrogs are beginning their late-season calls as well.

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Much is going on now with insects and spiders as well. This month may be the best time of the year to observe these critters.
During a recent walk in a field, I noted many monarchs and fritillaries taking nectar at wildflowers. Along the edge were several dark, almost black butterflies: common wood nymphs. Moths were present, too — both adults and caterpillars.

At the goldenrods that thrive in the field were many bumblebees and flower flies. Here, too, were some beetles, wasps, hornets and ants. Predaceous damselflies and dragonflies patrolled, seeking insect meals.

Late in the season, the two most common groups of dragonflies are the large darners and the small meadowhawks, and I see both. But no insects are more abundant now in the field or roadsides than grasshoppers and locusts.

It seems like each step would cause movements from these insects. Grasshoppers and locusts are both members of the insect order of orthoptera. This is a highly diverse group, but two kinds dominate the scene during my walk. The grasshoppers — two-striped grasshoppers — are mostly dark-green, with a pair of yellow stripes that run from the head to the wing tips. When scared up, they are more likely to hop than fly.

Larger, about 2 inches, and brown-gray are locusts (unfortunately, cicadas are sometimes called by this same name). When leaping, they often spread wings and fly, sometimes long distances. The inner wings are used for flight and frequently when in the air, they make a clicking-crackling noise known as crepitation.

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A locust pictured on an August afternoon. Note the color and shape. (Photo by Larry Weber)

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When flying, the wings can easily be seen — dark with a light band on the edges. (It is not likely that we will confuse a grasshopper with a butterfly, but when the locust is in flight, their wings can look like that of the mourning cloak butterfly.)

Grasshoppers and locusts thrive in this hot, dry summer, and I found them frequently as I walked in the last few weeks. Recent rains will not stop them since they are herbivores and feed on the grasses and other plants in these open sites.

Other orthoptera that can be seen or heard in this month are crickets and katydids, but their presence is not as obvious as the grasshoppers and locusts now.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

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