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Not a lout or a lummox, just a lubber

By Ralph E. Mitchell

In early March, some residents of Charlotte County began seeing small, dark-colored grasshoppers in their landscapes.  These are baby Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers which emerged earlier from the ground as they hatched out from last year’s eggs. These young grasshoppers are called nymphs.  Nymphs are immature grasshoppers that look exactly like small adults except that they lack wings, may be a different color, and cannot reproduce at this stage.  The nymphs that we see now are black in color with yellow stripes.  To make room for their ever-expanding size, a nymph sheds its skin or molts and gets a little bigger every fifteen to twenty days. At the last molting, they become full-fledged adults.  You can’t miss an adult lubber!  The adults are huge and yellow in color with black dots and red coloration on the hind wings.  Females are bigger than males and can get up to three and one-half inches long.  The adults also have a pair of short, useless wings.  While populations of this giant, slow grasshopper vary from place to place in Charlotte County, some initial reports suggest a good year for these insects in 2018.

In addition to their large size and striking coloration, lubbers also have some other defenses to protect themselves.  The lubber grasshopper has toxic properties that keep various animals from eating them.   These grasshoppers can produce a frothy spray from their midsection which can irritate potential predators.  As such, lubbers are not normally consumed by predators except by a bird called the loggerhead shrike.  These birds capture and impale the lubbers on thorns which allows the toxins to degrade in a few days.

While lubbers are large, they tend to eat less than some of their smaller relatives as far as consuming landscape plants.  This, however, may be of little comfort to those whose landscape is eventually covered with these large insects!  Their favorite plants include amaryllis, Amazon lily, crinum, and related plants, as well as  oleander, certain jatropha, the Mexican petunia, and lantana.  Some weeds are not sparred and may end-up on the lubber’s menu including chamber bitter and Florida beggarweed.   Lubbers have several invertebrate  natural enemies including  parasitic flies and nematodes which work behind the scenes to take out a few of these grasshoppers.  As lubbers are large targets and move slowly, non-chemical control via hand-picking, can help reduce numbers.  Keep in mind that the smaller nymph grasshoppers are easier to control than adults.  There are some chemical options, including carbaryl when used as per label directions, but often an overwhelming infestation cannot be easily stopped.  Also, while the largest number of adult lubbers will be observed in July and August, the single generation per year will eventually decline.

Lubber grasshoppers are not everywhere in Charlotte County, but when present can be numerous.  Monitor populations now and take any practical actions you can to suppress this potential pest to manageable levels.  For more information on all types of Florida insect issues, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/01/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf .

Resource:
Capinera J. L. & Scherer, C. W. (2016) Eastern Lubber Grasshopper, Romalea microptera . The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Photo Credit – John Capinera, University of Florida

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