NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA-- The wonderful world of arthropods is a fascinating one, especially with a magnifying glass. Everything from crawfish, spiders, and butterflies represent this very unique group of invertebrate animals. We went downtown to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium to learn about a bug like no other, the lubber grasshopper.
Louisiana is home to hoards of interesting creatures. A biblical plague is what makes grasshoppers the stuff of nightmares. With over 18 thousand species-- the lubber grasshopper is the heaviest grasshopper in the United States.
Zack Lemann is an entomologist and the Curator of Animal Collections and Visitor Programs at Audubon. With childlike glee, we followed him down the summer vacation child infested exhibits to learn about the lubber. He says, "lubber grasshoppers do have a nickname in certain parts of the south. They are called devil's horses or the devil's horse. I don't know where that name comes from but if you grab one, you might have brown stuff on your fingers, where they spat on you. That spit seems to be the source of myths."
Lubbers populate the gulf south and you'll see them in April as nymphs growing into one of the titans of the bug world. Reaching over three inches long by the end of the summer. Though their menacing looks might creep you out there's no need for alarm. When it comes to a plague, lubbers, do not fly, or move very fast and their numbers don't amount to much.
They don't fly and their legs won't win them any track awards with the long jump. With the awkwardness of an acne-ridden teenager, they are slow, ungainly and easy to spot. They would certainly make a crunchy meal to any predator that came along if it weren't for one thing: "they have glands in their thorax that produce foul-tasting chemicals that are kind of nasty and they regurgitate the contents in their gut if they are disturbed by a predator. So unlike most grasshoppers that are well camouflaged, that can escape with a lot of effective means, these grasshoppers just bumble along like they own the joint. Most things leave them alone." Lemann says, he has seen fisherman try to bait the hook with them only to find the fish spitting them out.
As off-putting as their taste may be, if chemical warfare doesn't deter enemies, they'll turn around and them their backside. "When they're disturbed, they will rattle their orange wings to warn predators to stay away," says Lemann.
Lubber grasshoppers do have quite the appetite and they aren't picky eaters. Herbivorous, they will gladly take to any accommodating salad bar or garden. In their world, big is beautiful and when it comes to being a lubber grasshopper lover, the way to their heart is by way of a bouquet of flowers. They are none to have a preference for lilies.
Although the Bible's Exodus refers to locusts in an unfavorable light, be at ease, there were no lubbers in Egypt!
To take a peek at some lubber grasshoppers, head over to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium this summer and bring the kiddos along! These grasshoppers live in the Louisiana Swamp Gallery.