Big Bend is for Lubbers
The Annual Grasshopper Invasion
Lubber grasshoppers are about three inches in length. Their wide, heavy bodies are shiny black with yellow pinstripes, and you’ll see the flash of their rose-red wings when they fly. Like all other grasshoppers, they have strong mandibles for chewing. They are often seen in great numbers in the foliage of desert plants like mesquites and acacias,where they devour enormous amounts of leaves. They also eat their own dead, which leads to the piles of dead grasshoppers on the roads: when these slow-moving grasshoppers are killed by traffic, other grasshoppers come out to eat them and are often hit, and then even more cannibals come out to feed on them.
As in other animals, the bright coloration on the lubber grasshoppers indicates that they are toxic. Small mammals have vomited violently and even died after eating them. Birds, too, have died after eating them. Lubber grasshoppers sometimes secrete a foamy spray containing irritating compounds from their thoracic, or mid-body, region.
In addition to being virtually inedible, lubber grasshoppers appear to be highly heat tolerant, perhaps more than most other insects. They are often seen walking on roads in the heat of summer afternoons, when the surface temperature on the asphalt measures over 135 degrees.
Pick up a lubber, and you'll hear loud hissing as it forces air out of its spiracles, or breathing holes. It may also spit "tobacco juice" when handled. This brown liquid consists of partially-digested food material along with semi-toxic compounds, and it stains skin and clothing.
Durable, inedible, heat tolerant, and fearsome—the only enemies that lubber grasshoppers seem to have are moving vehicles. Once they learn that asphalt is meant to be crossed, not loitered upon, they’ll be ready to take over the world.
This article by Park Ranger Mary Kay Manning first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2001 issue of The Big Bend Paisano.
Did You Know?
Paisano, a Spanish word meaning countryman or peasant, is also a nickname for the greater roadrunner. Common in Big Bend National Park, the roadrunner's nickname is also the namesake of the park's visitor guide.