Grasshoppers might not be the first animal that comes to mind when you think of appropriate pets for kids. In fact, grasshoppers can be tamed and trained surprisingly easily. From the insect order orthoptera, which includes crickets, locusts and katydids, grasshoppers look either cool or creepy, cute or kind of ugly, depending on your perspective. But there's no denying that they are pretty interesting to watch.
Like all insects, grasshoppers have six legs. They also have two antennae, two sets of wings and pinchers by their mouths that they use to tear off bites of food from plants. Their powerful hind legs work like little catapults or springs, bending and then quickly releasing to project them into the air. With this action the grasshopper can jump 10 inches high and 3 feet forward, which means if he was human size, he could soar over the length of a football field in a single leap.
Some species of grasshoppers also use their back legs to rub against their wings or body to create sounds. Others snap their wings and make noises when they fly.
The average grasshopper grows to about 2 inches long, with the females being larger than the males. They are often camouflaged to match their environment, so grasshoppers that live in grassy areas are green while those that live around rocks, dirt and desert land are brown or gray.
While grasshoppers in the wild are used to a lot of space, pet grasshoppers are happy in a glass terrarium or similar container. Since their jaws can easily chew through fabric and even plastic, a metal mesh top is the best choice. Put dry sand in the bottom of the enclosure, and a few branches or twigs to sit on. Place the housing unit where it gets natural light or light from an artificial source. Avoid direct sunlight, which can turn too hot for your insect friend.
Handling a Grasshopper
After a grasshopper has been in an enclosure for a few days you can pick him up and carry him around. Your child can handle him too if you show her how to let him walk onto her hand or softly pick him up with two fingers around his hard thorax, and gently cup her hand to protect the insect -- no squeezing, grabbing or leg pulling is allowed. The more he gets used to you, the more you can handle him without fear of him jumping away.
While it's probably unnecessary, some grasshopper owners even use thread as a leash, which kids think is fun. If your child wants to try it, teach her how to gently tie the thread around the grasshopper's thorax between the first two pairs of legs, leaving several feet on one end to hold on to.
Most grasshoppers are vegetarians, and only eat grass and other plants. Favorite foods include fresh reed, wheat and corn leaves. You also can feed them lettuce or other salad greens. They won't eat poisonous plants, but make sure all plant material is thoroughly washed before you give it to your grasshopper, since insecticide residue will kill him. Lightly mist the grass or plants so he has water to drink, and place it inside your grasshopper's home. Keep an eye on it and swap it out for fresh food when it starts to dry up.
Female grasshoppers lay small clusters of eggs in the ground or on a plant, which hatch after a few weeks. Baby grasshoppers are called nymphs, and they look like miniature adults when born -- except they don't have wings. They molt or shed their skin as they grow, with the wings appearing after about the eighth molt. This whole process only takes about two weeks, and then the grasshopper starts to mate. He lives about five months before dying naturally of old age.
Pets or Pests?
Our planet is inhabited by 11,000 species of grasshoppers who live in grassy meadows, fields and forests. A grasshopper can eat an extraordinary amount of food -- half his body weight each day. Locusts are short-horned grasshoppers who often swarm fields and destroy farmers' crops, racking up an astounding $1.5 billion worth of damage in the U.S. each year. So don't be surprised if some people don't understand your affinity for grasshoppers. This shouldn't affect your enjoyment of the process.