Is there something that grasshoppers don’t eat?

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Marisa Y. Thompson

A few people have recently reported what appears to be grasshopper damage to a variety of landscape and garden plants. The telltale signs are:

  1. ragged and chewed holes in leaves, stems and fruits, and
  2. droppings (droppings, insect droppings) that look like small black ants without legs.

Please note that the smooth circular holes on the edges of the leaves are more likely to have been made by leaf cutter bees and are a welcome sign to my garden!

“A Handbook of the Grasshoppers of New Mexico” is NMSU’s excellent online tool for anything related to grasshoppers, which includes the ecology, economics, and a history of these interesting pests in New Mexico. Species descriptions, distribution maps and photos are also included.

For links to useful information on harmful and beneficial insects, visit the blog version of this column at https://nmsudesertblooms.blogspot.com/2021/06/hoppers.html.

The following is a column by Curtis Smith from August 2002.

Question: I have always wondered about the grasshoppers that attack my garden most years. Is there anything I can plant that they won’t eat?

Reply: Carol Sutherland, NMSU Extension Entomologist (Retired 2021), told me there is a grasshopper to eat any plant you can grow. Not all grasshoppers eat all plants; some are very specific, while others are not at all difficult.

She says there are at least 160 described species in New Mexico (implying there may still be more to be discovered and described). A few of them prefer to eat weeds and could be considered beneficial. Of the rest, around 40 species have the potential to become major pests. Some of them prefer grasses, others prefer broadleaf plants and some both. The extent of the problems we have in our landscapes depends on the species present (usually more than one), how many of them are present and what they prefer to eat. I find Sutherland’s following statement very instructive. “Running out of rebar, steel, aluminum, adobe, rock, asphalt and concrete, I can’t think of many substances that will consistently be minimally damaged by grasshoppers. one sort or another. So in a year we may have fewer problems; in another year we may have more problems.

Sutherland also explained that the weather affects the number of grasshoppers. Drought, especially in early spring, can drastically reduce the grasshopper population, and therefore the damage caused by grasshoppers. When we irrigate, we help the grasshoppers avoid the spring drought dilemma. Careful and limited irrigation of landscapes can help, but river valleys are also exhaust valves for grasshoppers. If they manage to reach the valleys, they will survive and can migrate to our gardens.

There are chemicals to use, but their effect is limited by the fact that grasshoppers are migratory. Adult grasshoppers have wings and can fly in our gardens. So, after killing a few, new grasshoppers arrive to continue eating our garden plants. Some people prefer insect diseases which can be purchased as a biological control for grasshoppers. These are effective with some species, but not all species. Some gardeners claim great success using guinea fowl, turkeys and other birds that eat grasshoppers. Unfortunately, some birds (biological control agents against grasshoppers) also eat garden plants.

Grasshoppers are a difficult problem for gardeners in our area. For very adventurous gardeners, Sutherland states that grasshoppers are edible and very nutritious. I think this is good information for guinea fowl (I’m not yet ready to eat grasshoppers).

Additional note from Marisa: A friend once made “poppers” by stuffing jalapeños with grasshoppers and cheese before roasting them. If you try them, please post photos on social media and tag me (@NMDesertBlooms).

For more information on gardening, visit the NMSU Extension Urban Horticulture page at http://desertblooms.nmsu.edu/ and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/. Find your local cooperative extension office at https://aces.nmsu.edu/county/.

Marisa Y. Thompson, Ph.D., is an Urban Horticultural Extension Specialist in the Plant Science Extension Department and is based at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center in Los Lunas.

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