How do grasshoppers survive the winter? –Lucy, 9

Dear Lucy,

There are a lot of different grasshoppers living on our planet. In fact, scientists have discovered more than 11,000 species. Exactly how these grasshoppers spend their winter depends on what kind of winter they experience.

That’s what I found out when I went to visit my friend Laura Lavine. She’s an entomologist at Washington State University and was happy to help with your question. Let’s hop to it.

Lavine explained that in places with colder winters, such as Washington State, grasshoppers spend the winter as eggs. That means that their mothers will have buried them deep in the ground.

The grasshopper mom has an egg-laying organ, called an ovipositor, that’s shaped like a knife or sword. It’s really handy for digging in the soil.

“The ovipositor has a hard external skeleton and the grasshopper digs into the ground to lay her eggs below the surface,” Lavine said.

Some Pacific Northwest grasshoppers, like the red-legged grasshopper, will lay about 20 eggs at once. The mother will cover them all with a gummy coating.

The coating hardens and binds the eggs together so they can survive the harsh winter conditions. The mother grasshoppers will also bury them.

Lavine explained that some grasshoppers will lay their eggs in other safe, warm places such as plant roots, wood, or even cow manure.

“They hatch in the spring when the weather warms up and the sun comes out,” she said. Spring is a great season for us cats to chase these little hopping insects around. I must say it’s pretty entertaining.

While a lot of grasshoppers overwinter as eggs, some will survive the winters in a different stage of life. Between their egg stage and adult stage, grasshoppers are juveniles, or nymphs. In winter, nymphs will find a nice warm spot to hide. They probably won’t move or hop around much at all until it warms up again.

Of course, not all winters are so cold and harsh. For example, the giant grasshopper that lives in South America experiences a pretty warm habitat. It will still lay eggs underground to keep them safe, though.

“In warm places, grasshoppers are more active in the winter because the temperature is good and there are plenty of plants around to eat. So, they can spend the winter as eggs, as nymphs, and even as adults,” Lavine said.

Here are a few activities you can try at home to learn a little bit more about grasshoppers: Draw a grasshopper or make one out of a toilet paper tube and label its anatomy. Don’t forget to include the five eyes.

If you are feeling up to the challenge, you can also play around with some geometry in this grasshopper origami project. Have fun and tell us what else you learn about grasshoppers sometime at Dr.Universe@wsu.edu.

Sincerely,
Dr. Universe