How Do Grasshoppers Adapt?

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"Different fields, different grasshoppers; different seas, different fish" says an Indonesian proverb. This is the essence of adaptation--the ways that the physical features of different creatures increase their ability to thrive within a specific environment. Over several generations, animals develop specific physical features that gives a species advantages for living within its surroundings. Without adaptations, a creature lives precariously in its habitat. Grasshoppers have several adaptations which enable them to get the best possible living out of their habitats.

Eating

  • Grasshoppers have strong jaws for grabbing and chomping food. This means they can wrest nutrition from even tougher plants. They also have feelers near their mouths to taste plants.

Eluding Predators

  • The green color of many grasshoppers camouflages them in the grass. Grasshoppers have strong V-shaped back legs which enable them to jump high and far. They can jump 20 times their own body length, a feat no human track star can claim. This enables them to escape predators. These insects can shoot brown liquid out of their mouths which tastes bad to predators, a further discouragement to any potential hopper-eaters.

Winterizing

  • Grasshoppers in temperate climates practice something called embryonic diapause. The female adult grasshopper lays eggs during late summer and early fall which are meant to hatch the following spring. The eggs go into a state of suspended animation during the cold season, which protects the embryonic grasshoppers from the effects of low temperatures. This state of dormancy is comparable to hibernation in mammals.

Heat Protection

  • Scientists recently discovered that migratory grasshoppers in California adapt to hot, dry conditions. A thin, waxy coat over the insect's exoskeleton is designed to protect it from dehydration. However, in extremely hot climates, the lipids in that coat can melt. Dr. Allen Gibbs of the University of Southern California led a team of researchers who discovered that grasshoppers shifted the melting point of their coats to protect against this effect.

Polymorphism

  • When different versions of a species coexist, this is called polymorphism. In some animals, this is gender related: different markings or sizes for male and female. In hive insects, there are queens, workers and drones. In Africa, a species of grasshopper has adapted into two morphs or types. Desert locusts in conditions of low population density are green with short wings and little tendency toward migration. When population density rises, however, the alternate morph of the species appears: brownish in color with longer wings, these insects form swarms which migrate over hundreds of miles.

References

  • Photo Credit grasshopper image by Igors Leonovs from Fotolia.com
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