It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a giant grasshopper! This time of year we get several calls from homeowners panicked about giant yellow and black grasshoppers eating their plants. Known as the eastern lubber, these large colorful grasshoppers are a bother to homeowners and farmers from spring through summer every year in the Southeast, particularly to those folks terrified of large bugs.
The first sign of a lubber infestation typically occurs in March and April when hundreds of small black lubber nymphs can be found blanketing a landscape like a plague of Egypt. I’ve seen entire plants coated in young black lubbers and have watched as hundreds hopped away from my feet as I walked across a lawn. The nymphs start small and black with yellow or red lines but grow in size as they molt until they eventually reach their Godzilla adult size in late June and July.
Lubbers are generalists and therefore like to eat a variety of plants, but their favorite food tends to have broad strappy leaves such as amaryllis and lilies. I’ve found in my yard, for instance, that they like our bird of paradise. For those that grow vegetables, they particularly like peas, lettuce, kale, beans and cabbage, but will munch on more than 100 different species of plants if given the opportunity.
Unfortunately, the lubbers are not desirable prey and are toxic, so don’t count on the birds to help you out. Thankfully, the adults are very slow and clumsy which makes them easy to kill by hand (or foot) but if you’re anything like me I cringe at the thought of squishing them once they’re huge. Insecticides are rarely very effective at killing the adults but can cause inadvertent death to desirable insects. The best way to manage lubbers in the landscape is to kill them while they’re young in the spring. Knocking them off into a bucket of soapy water in the evenings while they’re congregated on plants is an effective, sustainable and rather fun killing tactic. For more information and recommendations on handling lubbers or other gardening problems, contact your UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Service at 352-671-8400.