Grasshoppers vs. Locusts—they both look they same, so it makes sense that telling them apart can be a little confusing. Despite some obvious similarities in appearance, there are some distinctions when it comes to these insects. What is the difference between grasshoppers and locusts? Let’s clear a few things up.
What Is a Grasshopper?
Grasshoppers are insects that eat plants. They are medium to large in size (anywhere from 1 to 7 centimeters in length), with the females being larger than the males. These insects can leap up to 20 times the length of their bodies. There are approximately 11,000 different grasshopper species worldwide. They are found everywhere in the world, with the exception of the extreme polar regions, because it is too cold.
Grasshoppers are closely related to katydids and crickets. Like these other insects, grasshoppers have two sets of wings—one narrow and resilient, while the other is wide and pliable—long hind legs for jumping, and mouthparts made to chew. Unlike katydids and crickets, the antennae on some grasshoppers are short. The length of their antennae classifies them as either long-horned grasshoppers or short-horned grasshoppers.
When it comes to the coloring of grasshoppers, they are colored in ways that allow them to blend in with their environment. They are often green, brown, or gray, although in some species, the males have bright colors on their wings to attract females. If a grasshopper is brightly colored, they often eat toxic plants. They store the toxins in their bodies, and their color warns predators that they are dangerous.
Grasshopper Diet and Habitat
Grasshoppers are commonly found in fields or meadows. However, they can thrive anywhere that has enough food. They are voracious eaters and, on average, eat 16 times their body weight. Their favorite foods include cereal crops (crops such as barley, wheat, rye, rice, and oats, among others), leaves, and grasses.
The greatest threat to grasshoppers are flies. Often, they lay their eggs near the grasshopper’s eggs, and when the flies hatch, they eat the grasshopper eggs. Some flies lay eggs on the grasshopper’s body, and the larvae then consume the grasshopper. Other predators include spiders, beetles, snakes, birds, and mice.
What Is a Locust?
A locust is a grasshopper that develops gregarious characteristics. The environmental conditions have to be suitable to allow the grasshoppers to form into an organized group. These conditions can include dense vegetation growth after a drought. For example, during a drought, locusts are driven to small areas of vegetation. They abandon their solitary phase, which is common for grasshoppers, and reproduce at incredibly high rates. Transitioning from the solitary phase is signaled when the grasshoppers secrete serotonin. Locusts move together as a group, making stops on any patch of green that they notice and causing extensive and devastating damage to crops, covering long distances in a short period of time.
What Is the Difference Between Grasshoppers and Locusts?
Both grasshoppers and locusts are similar in appearance, and they also have similar morphological structures. However, when grasshoppers change into locusts, their wing structures change. As locusts, they need to be able to fly longer distances, so their wings become longer and stronger. A locust also has a smaller body than a grasshopper.
Locusts also have the ability to exist in the solitary or gregarious phase, while grasshoppers can only be solitary (although, they get together to mate). Locusts come into being when the need for food becomes desperate, and they’ll do what they can to ensure their survival.
Humans, Grasshoppers, and Locusts
Humans have been known to use both grasshoppers and locusts as a food source. Both insects are responsible for the mass devastation of crops, a trait that doesn’t exactly endear them to the farming community. To combat this issue, pesticides and biological control methods have been developed by science to keep grasshoppers and locusts under control.
In essence, a locust is a grasshopper that has developed social characteristics. More often than not, the short-horned grasshopper will morph into a locust, but there have been cases where other grasshopper species have become locusts. The only thing a grasshopper really needs is for the environmental conditions to be right, and they’ll turn into a locust. Now you know!