For Release June 24, 2003

Grasshoppers Will Eat Anything

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Grasshoppers don't care. Given their choice, they will start with the lushest, freshest vegetation. They really go after those tender young shoots of young broadleaf plants. They don't really care if those plants are in your field, you pasture, your yard and garden or just weeds growing in the ditch. They will chow down! But if those are all gone, they'll move on to older and tougher food and once that is gone they will commence to chewing on almost anything, including the screens on your house. They don't care, as long as they are eating.

Kansas, like all of the Great Plains states, is grasshopper country. Grasshoppers constitute one of the most destructive groups of insects in the state. To date, roughly 118 species of grasshoppers have been found in Kansas. In all fairness, however, most of the damage is done by only about 15 species.

Just like people, different species of grasshoppers have different food preferences, different habitat preferences and different reproductive rates. In general, grasshoppers prefer hot dry weather which explains why their numbers seem to increase in dry years. In wetter years there are various fungi that destroy grasshopper eggs in the ground as well as young grasshopper nymphs. So here we have a build up in grasshopper numbers because of dry weather the last three years. The current weather pattern is certainly working in our favor, with the increased rainfall and higher humidity. But we still have enough young 'hoppers going into the growing season to cause some serious problems.

The first step in curbing grasshopper problems is to reduce places for them to hide. Grasshoppers prefer to hide in dense rank weed and grass growth. This provides shelter from the hot summer sun as well as protection from the various predators. Predators of grasshoppers include various other insects, birds, snakes, lizards even small mammals and rodents.

If you take away the 'hopper hiding places it makes it easier for predators to find them. And it will often move them away from your garden or field. You need to proceed with caution as mowing a large area of weeds, that contain a large concentration of grasshoppers, can move the grasshoppers right into the area you don't want them. So a pretreatment of the rank foliage with an insecticide may be necessary.

There are three basic treatment methods of dealing with grasshoppers; baits, natural/biological controls and insecticides. Baits usually involve molasses and water and other such products. They are somewhat effective but time consuming. There are several biological control products available, but it looks like very large areas need to be treated for effective control. And then we still need good rainfall to make the products active and effective.

Insecticides are often the first thing that homeowners will reach for. Insecticides can be effective, but they are often used improperly which just compounds the frustration of the gardener. Start scouting early. Small grasshoppers are easier to kill than large ones. If you are finding upwards of about ten small grasshoppers per foot of area, consider treating. Then don't just treat the plants you are trying to protect. Spray buffer zones around the area as well to knock down the grasshoppers before they get to the plants you are protecting. We may not be destined to deal with a plague of grasshoppers this summer, but I can guarantee that there will be spotty outbreaks of these leaping pests!


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