JoAnne Skelly: Independence … from grasshoppers

JoAnne Skelly

JoAnne Skelly

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I’ve been looking forward to Independence Day. I have been hoping for independence from voles, rabbits, ground squirrels, mice, cottonwood seeds, falling leaves (in summer!) and weedy grasses.

Now the newest test of my gardening perseverance is grasshoppers. All of a sudden, I’m seeing 1/2-inch baby hoppers everywhere. Occasionally I see a large adult. I didn’t see hoppers last year, but they are here now with a vengeance.

Winter was probably too mild to kill them off. Unfortunately, those little hoppers will soon be big hoppers with voracious appetites. I’m already seeing edges of leaves that have been eaten almost to the vein.

That’s because grasshoppers can eat up to one-half their weight in plant material each day. When populations are large, they can wreak havoc on a landscape or garden. Although there are approximately 118 species of grasshoppers in Nevada, only about 10 of these are problematic.

A female lives a year and can lay an average of 200 eggs in most years. But, in good years (good for the hopper, that is), she may lay up to 400 eggs. Hatching starts in April or May, peaking in mid-June.

That’s probably why I’m seeing so many nymphs around now. They will be adults in nine to 11 weeks. Fortunately for us, lots of critters eat grasshopper eggs, nymphs and adults, including birds, mammals and other insects.

There are also parasites that attack the eggs and nymphs. Hoppers start out the day basking in the morning sun and end doing the same in late afternoon. Those are the times it is easiest to catch them.

You can use an insect sweep net over plants or even quick hands to gather them up. Then, put them into something you can dispose of, or smush (that’s a scientific term!) them. Sometimes you can catch one, fling it down and stomp on it.

This develops good eye to hand to foot coordination (LOL). You might want to try heavyweight row covers to deter these determined eaters in your garden. If the fabric is too thin, they eat right through it.

I’ve read of people putting water plus molasses into shallow pans to trap hoppers. Supposedly, if you add a thin film of canola oil on top, you won’t be trapping bees or attracting mosquitos. You have to remove the dead every day.

I’m sure there are chemicals that claim to control grasshoppers, but hoppers are so mobile it is difficult to stop them. Insecticides have to be applied at sites where the eggs are laid and during the very early developmental stages. Just one more gardening tribulation.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email 


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