Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Gray Bird Grasshopper, SCHISTOCERCA NITENS

from the April 27, 2014 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

Clinging to the wall of my neighbor Phred's garage one morning this week was the largest grasshopper I've seen in this area, about 2¾ inches long (7cm), shown above. A picture better showing the distinctive white patches on the face and the front part of the thorax, the pronotum, and the handsome chevron pattern on the hind leg's femur, is shown below:

Gray Bird Grasshopper, SCHISTOCERCA NITENS, head and abdomen patterns

Jim Conrad taking a grasshopper pictureAnd just for fun, a picture taken by Phred of me taking the above pictures appears at the right.

By looking at grasshopper pictures at BugGuide.Net, volunteer identifier Bea in Ontario figured out that this might be the Gray Bird Grasshopper, or Vagrant Grasshopper, SCHISTOCERCA NITENS. My further checking on the species found that the species is commonly seen in this area and is to be expected, so that's what I'm calling it. Gray Bird Grasshoppers are mostly a tropical species, occurring from northern South America up through Central America and Mexico, and entering the US from California to Texas and Oklahoma.

Gray Bird Grasshoppers are solitary and non-migratory, but under certain conditions they form swarms that fly long distances and cause damage to crops and native plants. They've been introduced into Hawaii, where in 2002 and 2004 outbreaks on the island of Nihoa led to the defoliation of almost all the vegetation, including endangered plant species.

The name "bird grasshopper" is applied to members of the genus Schistocerca, apparently because of their large size, approaching that of small birds.