Grasshoppers and crickets are two of the most common insects found in the United States. They belong to the same order of insects, Orthoptera, and share many similarities in their appearance and behavior. Although they are often considered pests by farmers and gardeners, they play an important role in the ecosystem as food for other animals and as pollinators. In this article, we will explore the world of grasshoppers and crickets in the United States, including their physical characteristics, habitat, behavior, and ecological significance.
12 Types of Crickets & Grasshoppers in the United States
There are over 11,000 species of grasshoppers and crickets worldwide, with nearly 1,000 species found in the United States alone. Here are 12 of the most common grasshoppers and crickets found in the United States.
1. Differential Grasshopper
Scientific name: Melanoplus differentialis
One of the most common grasshoppers in the central US, the differential grasshopper is considered a pest throughout much of it’s range. They’re a brownish green color that darkens as they age, so the younger individuals can actually be bright, almost neon green or yellow.
They favor heavily-weeded grasslands, but they’re quite common in urban areas as well. Young grasshoppers eat alfalfa, hay, and grains, while adults eat corn, cotton, and fruits. They tend to feed in large swarms, which makes them a dangerous agricultural pest.
2. Snakeweed grasshopper
Scientific name: Hesperotettix viridis
This grasshopper can be found throughout the entire continental US. It’s a medium-sized, green grasshopper with long wings. Unlike some other species of grasshopper, it’s actually considered beneficial to agriculture, because of its preferred diet of plants like snakeweed.
These plants can be severely toxic to livestock, and a healthy population of snakeweed grasshoppers can keep the population of these noxious weeds low enough to minimize the risk to hungry livestock.
3. Pasture Grasshopper
Scientific name: Melanoplus confusus
A dull, brown to yellow grasshopper of medium size, the pasture grasshopper can be identified by a dark stripe on its head. It usually has a cream colored belly. They’re spread throughout the continental United States, and can be found in grasslands and prairies from coast to coast.
They tend to eat plants like ragweed, buckwheat and sagebrush. Since ragweed is a favorite food of theirs, they may be a highly beneficial species. Ragweed is one of the most common allergens in the country, and pasture grasshoppers may be of great use during allergy season.
4. Common Field Cricket
Scientific name: Gryllus
Field crickets are a large genus of species that are so similar to each other in appearance that until relatively recently they were all considered the same species. It was only through careful observation of the males’ songs that differences in the species were eventually observed.
When you think of a cricket, odds are you’re thinking of a field cricket. They’re dark brown to black in color, have short, almost vestigial wings, and are responsible for the stereotypically “chirping” we associated with crickets.
5. Northern Green-striped Grasshopper
Scientific name: Chortophaga viridifasciata viridifasciata
Found east of the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia down to the Gulf of Mexico, this is a brightly colored and widely distributed species. They like short grass, and so they’re common in hayfields and roadsides.
Females are bright green with brown markings on their backs and wings, while males tend to be dull brown, although some are also green.
6. Protean Shieldback
Scientific name: Atlanticus testaceus
Native mainly to the eastern states, this is a very distinctive species of katydid. It’s an ancient species that may well have been around in the time of the dinosaurs, and it looks like it. It’s a dark, earthy brown with a big, bulging body and a broad back.
They get their name from a large, armor-like structure that covers their thorax. Females have a large, sword-like ovipositor that gives them a frightening, primordial appearance. If you pick one up, it will almost certainly bite you. It isn’t dangerous, but that bite can definitely hurt.
7. Northern Mole Cricket
Scientific name: Neocurtilla hexadactyla
Native to the eastern and central United States, the northern mole cricket is not considered a pest, and it spends most of it’s life underground. Most adults are short-winged and incapable of flight, although some adults in every population will be flight-capable.
While they’re often found in turf, they are a native species and so they have enough natural predators that there’s little risk of their population growing out of control. For the most part, they feed on the roots of plants underground.
8. Painted Grasshopper
Scientific name: Dactylotum bicolor
A flightless species, the painted grasshopper has bright red and yellow markings that give it a distinct appearance. These bright colors are a warning to would-be predators. Since they can’t fly, these grasshoppers have evolved a different method of defence: they taste awful.
It isn’t clear if they’re actually toxic to their predators (primarily birds and lizards) but they certainly taste so bad most predators avoid them. A lizard or bird that makes the mistake of trying to eat one will often spit it out.
9. Eastern lubber
Scientific name: Romalea microptera
Growing to nearly 3 inches in length, the eastern lubber is an enormous grasshopper. The nymphs are jet black with yellow stripes, while adults are yellow with bright orange, black, and red markings.
To protect itself from predators, it excretes a foul tasting foaming substance that will quickly convince any predator the lubber is not worth eating. It may also emit a loud hissing noise that can deter many predators. It’s considered a major pest in Florida and other southern states, where it can decimate crops with startling speed.
10. Horse Lubber
Scientific name: Taeniopoda eques
This species is, essentially, the western States’ version of the eastern lubber. It retains it’s black body and yellow markings into adulthood, although southern populations often show the same kind of yellow and orange colors as their eastern relatives.
They favro desert habitats, and it’s especially common in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas and New Mexico. It has multiple defense strategies, including emitting a foamy substance that has a strong vanilla-coffee smell. In addition, it is toxic to many of it’s predators, causing vomiting and death in many predators.
11. Obscure Bird Grasshopper
Scientific name: Schistocerca obscura
Identifiable by it’s distinctive yellow stripe, which runs along it’s back for the entire length of it’s body, this grasshopper is native to most of the US, from Maryland south to Florida and west to Arizona.
It’s a large insect, growing to about 2.5 inches long, and it’s closely related to the desert locust. While it is capable of long migrations, it’s population never reaches the size of the apocalyptic locust swarms of Africa and the Middle East.
12. White-lined Bird Grasshopper
Scientific name: Schistocerca albolineata
A large, olive-green to black grasshopper native to the Southwest, the white-lined bird grasshopper is another close relative of the desert locust. They favor oak woodlands and pine forests over grasslands.
It eats mostly the trees and shrubs that it roosts on, although this is actually speculation, as little research has been done on the dietary habits of this species.