by Carl Strang
Some singing grasshopper species mature late in the season, and I have begun to encounter a few. Their identification is based on fairly clear anatomical characteristics, but good views (photos or a specimen in hand) are needed of several body parts viewed from precise angles. The songs don’t help much. Members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily rattle their wings in flight, and members of the stridulating grasshopper subfamily rub their hind legs over the folded wings to make sounds that are essentially identical. Through trial and error I now know that I especially need: clear dorsal and lateral views of the thorax; the color and patterning of the tibias and inside surfaces of the femurs; and, usually, the color and patterning of both the front and hind wings.
The femur and tibia colors appear to be significant to the grasshoppers themselves. When a seaside grasshopper lands close to a member of the opposite gender, the two begin a stereotyped leg-lifting display.
Seaside grasshoppers are strongly associated with the Lake Michigan beaches in our region. I found more members of this subfamily in a waste area in Cook County, Illinois.
This was part of my learning process. I caught one of the grasshoppers and took some photos in the hand, but failed to get a crucial piece of information.
I need to go back to that site some time, not only to confirm the identity of this species, but also to check some individuals that had orange rather than yellow tibias, and may represent a different species.
Finally, there was a different-looking band-winged grasshopper at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
I will need to go back for this one, too, but again with further study, focusing mainly on the shape and proportion of the thorax, wings and head, I am tentatively identifying it as a Boll’s grasshopper. If I’m correct, this is a dramatic example of how a species can vary from place to place. Compare the above photo to the next one.
These grasshoppers are fun. I hope to find more, as many more species in the two singing subfamilies have been found in the region historically.