If you've walked through the grass on a warm summer day, you've encountered members of the order Orthoptera - the grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids. Orthoptera means "straight wings," but these insects would be better named for their characteristic jumping legs.
Powerful hind legs built for jumping characterize the Orthopteran insects. The muscular legs propel grasshoppers and other members of the order for distances up to 20 times their body lengths.
Insects in the order Orthoptera are known for more than their jumping skills, however. Many are accomplished singers as well. Males of some species attract mates by producing sounds with their legs or wings. This form of sound production is called stridulation, and involves rubbing the upper and lower wings or the hind leg and wing together to create a vibration.
When males call for mates using sounds, those species must also have "ears." Don't look at the head to find them, however. Grasshoppers have auditory organs on the abdomen, while crickets and katydids listen using their front legs.
Orthopterans are usually described as herbivores, but in truth many species will scavenge other dead insects in addition to feeding on plants. The order Orthoptera is subdivided into two groups - Ensifera, the long-horned insects (with long antennae), and Caelifera, the short-horned insects.
Habitat and Distribution:
Members of the order Orthoptera exist in terrestrial habitats throughout the world. Though often associated with fields and meadows, there are Orthopteran species that prefer caves, deserts, bogs, and seashores. Worldwide, scientists have described over 20,000 species in this group.
Major Families in the Order:
- Gryllidae - true or field crickets
- Acrididae - short-horned grasshoppers
- Tetrigidae - grouse locusts or pygmy grasshoppers
- Gryllotalpidae - mole crickets
- Tettigoniidae - long-horned grasshoppers and katydids
Orthopterans of Interest:
- Oecanthus fultoni, the snowy tree cricket, chirps the temperature. Count the number of chirps in 15 seconds and add 40 to get the temperature in Fahrenheit.
- Ant crickets of the subfamily Myrmecophilidae live within ant nests and are wingless.
- Large lubber grasshoppers (family Romaleidae) raise their hindwings when threatened and produce a foul-smelling liquid from pores in the thorax.
- The Mormon crickets (Anabrus simplex) are so named for a legend. In 1848, the first crops of Mormon settlers were threatened by a swarm of these voracious eaters, only to be eaten by a flock of gulls themselves.
- Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity, Stephen A. Marshall
- Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman
- Orthoptera - Dept. of Entomology, North Carolina State University