Article By Sylvia Durell
Its striking colors and large size make the adult eastern lubber grasshopper one of the most distinctive grasshopper species in Florida. They can get to be two inches long so it’s a good thing they can’t fly! Imagine running face forward into a swarm of lubbers! Wings on adults rarely measure half the length of its abdomen and can’t support flight. Plus, even with those long legs, they can jump only short distances. Mostly it walks and crawls slowly and clumsily. Sidebar: the word “lubber” comes from the old English word “lobre,” which means lazy or clumsy. The term is currently used mostly by seafarers, who call novices “landlubbers.” A lubber’s bright color pattern is not only pretty; it’s one of its defense mechanisms. It says “I’m poisonous – you don’t want to eat me!” There have been reports that some incautious birds have actually died after eating them and that opossums have been known to vomit violently and remain ill for several hours after eating a lubber.
We residents of Florida will start seeing more of these eye-catching grasshoppers starting this month and into August. In landscape beds, they seem to favor amaryllis, Amazon lily, crinum and related plants. They also like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, peas and squash and sometimes damage young citrus trees. You’ll probably only see on or two at a time so you can leave them alone. If you do notice plant destruction, you should hand-pick them and simply follow up with a stomp. Or, you can throw them into a bucket of soapy water or a trash bag to kill them. Be aware though, that when disturbed, adult lubbers may spread their wings, hiss, and secrete a foul-smelling froth from their breathing holes. They may also regurgitate their most recent snack as a dark brown liquid. This “tobacco spit” can also contain semi-toxic compounds that might stain your clothing.
University of Florida entomologists say that 99% of all insect species in Florida are either beneficial or don’t really harm our plants. That tells us we shouldn’t be harming them! Maybe in the case of the eastern lubber grasshopper, we should just take a moment to appreciate them for the little works of art that they are.
About the Author: Sylvia Durell is the Hernando County Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) Program Coordinator. Her position is funded by the Hernando County Utilities Department and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. She is a Certified Horticulture Professional through the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association. Ms. Durell is available for presentations to clubs and for “brown bag” lunch programs for employees of Hernando County companies. Call (352) 540-6230 for a list of topics.