Last week at Dorchester Colonial site, I thought I saw a toad meandering through the grass. Looking closer, I saw a huge Eastern Lubber grasshopper clumsily wandering through the grass. When we stopped to look at it, we realized that there were grasshoppers everywhere!
These very colorful grasshoppers have such tiny wings that they can’t fly; their powerful back legs can help them hop. They can crawl and climb trees, though, and the nearby pine tree has at least 4 climbing. That name, Lubber, comes from an old English word meaning clumsy (think “landlubber”) and these do look a little awkward.
The beautiful, bright colors can send a message to other creatures that they aren’t good to eat. This adaptation, called aposematism, might discourage would-be predators from being interested. If that didn’t work, the grasshopper is capable of hissing and spitting a noxious substance, aka “tobacco spit”.
Lubbers eat a wide variety of broad-leafed plants, and there are certainly mentions of them causing crop damage. This one was just chewing the leaf of a Carolina Elephant’s Foot plant, which has just begun to bloom.
Loggerhead Shrikes prey on Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers
According to the University of Florida, the only natural predator of adult Eastern Lubber grasshoppers is the Loggerhead Shrike. The Loggerhead Shrike is nicknamed the “butcherbird” for its habit of impaling prey, like these big grasshoppers, on a thorn or barbed wire spike. These birds are in steep decline, which could mean that there will be areas where the lubbers get out of control.
I haven’t seen this particular form of grasshopper out here on Dewees Island: I am guessing that because they don’t fly, they’re unable to make the 2.5 mile hop across from the mainland. We have seen them in other spots in the lowcountry like the Edisto Nature Trail in Jacksonboro. And here in South Carolina, it seems that Mid August is the time for them to find mates: we’ve found them at this time of year several times. So get out there and see if you can find one!