Timbavati Wild Facts – The Extravagant Elegant Grasshopper

Have you noticed these extravagant Elegant Grasshoppers (Zonocerus elegans) around lately?

Did you know that they are mainly seen during the summer months in the Lowveld as this is the height of their breeding season? Grasshoppers have a three-phase life cycle which consists of the egg phase, nymph phase and the adult phase. Some consider this an 'incomplete' life cycle as many other insects undergo a four-phased cycle which includes the pupae phase.

The body of a grasshopper is made up of three sections namely the head, the thorax and the abdomen. Their multicoloured appearance is known as aposematic colouration, which tells potential predators that they are poisonous! This type of colouration is not usually used by mammals, but with insects, their main predators (birds, some reptiles and other insects) all seem to have colour vision which is why they display such extravagant bright colours.

Grasshoppers mating.

Ever wondered what the difference is between a locust and a grasshopper?

Locusts and grasshoppers may share similar physical characteristics. A locust is a grasshopper that has greater social characteristics. Here are some wild facts to help differentiate between the two insects:

  • A locust is actually a short-horned type of grasshopper.
  • Both insects belong to the order Orthoptera, but grasshoppers belong to the suborder Caelifera while locusts belong to the suborder Acrididae.
  • Locusts can exist in two behavioural states, gregarious and migratory, whereas grasshoppers do not.
  • Grasshoppers belong to 28 distinct families, while locusts only belong to 1.
  • Locusts have well-defined wings for long-distance flying whereas grasshoppers don’t
Solitary elegant grasshopper.
Elegant grasshopper nymph by JMK (CC BY-SA 3.0) source https://candidegardening.com/
Beautiful side profile of the elegant grasshopper captured by Chad Cocking of Tanda Tula

So what gives these grasshoppers their toxicity?

Well, this is dependent on what they have to eat. Elegant grasshoppers eat plants that contain toxins such as cardiac glycosides, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, and even cannabinoids which they store within their body.

These grasshoppers have one other defense mechanism, they are able to excrete a yellow liquid through their exoskeleton which leaves a bad taste in the mouth of whoever tries to eat them. Despite their warnings of how toxic they are, it is known that the Pedi tribes eat these specific grasshoppers with their daily porridge to add a bit of extra flavour. No side effects have been noted for human consumption however this could be because of the relative amount consumed compared to our body size versus that of a bird or an insect.

We think that 'Elegant' is just a cover-up name for these ravenous critters who could do more damage than good as they every plant in their path... munch munch!

However, we do appreciate their beauty and vibrancy they bring to the Timbavati every year.

Grasshoppers mating by mattharvey1 (source https://www.trekearth.com)