Dateline: October 31, 2014*
How does one control pest species such as grasshoppers and plant hoppers? Often Mother Nature takes over control TO control. Grasshoppers and other pests have some natural predators besides birds, and it isn’t just fauna.
Think PATHOGENS… disease-causing agents! All natural, no chemicals involved. In recent times I ran into two examples of this phenomenon in the form of fungi.
I always knew that a fungus had an important role in the web of life, but in my mind it had more to do with the ability to break down organic materials and provide nutrients rather than helping in our quest to control pest species.
My knowledge base was expanded when I found a grasshopper that seemed content to vogue for hours on end for my camera. Then I realized that the poor thing clinging to the top of some tall dried grasses was actually petrified, as in dead, not merely scared. I didn’t think that some ghost had snuck up and scared the life out of it, so I investigated a bit further.
There is a fungus that belongs to the Entomophaga grylli species complex, which is grasshopper-specific. Often called “summit disease”,
The name is derived from the fact that infected individuals climb to an elevated location (summit) where they die. This elevated location helps the pathogen to spread because it is more likely to drip or blow unto foliage below, where it can be contacted by healthy individuals as they feed on foliage. Entomophaga grylliis not evident because the spores develop inside the body of the grasshopper. However, the dead grasshopper eventually disintegrates, allowing the fungal spores to be dispersed. The principal evidence of infection of E. grylliis the peculiar behavior of the dying and dead grasshoppers: they grasp vegetation.”
As you can see in the photographs, it is very effective.
Another day I was back by the Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) shrubs and I noticed some type of plant bug sitting motionless. This is not all that unusual as there is even one particular insect that has a common name based on the fact that it favors palms…the Palm Flatid Planthopper (Ormenaria rufifascia). Although called a plantHOPPER, most of the time when I see them they are stationary, and don’t’ seemed concerned with moving all that much.
This pale green looker seems benign enough, as I have never noticed major damage cause by this species. This may also be because I have many saw palmettos sprinkled among a great diversity of other Florida native plants…no monocultures here.
I was taken by a new observation and what I thought was a new type of Planthopper. On closer inspection, I realized that this indeed was one of the Palm Flatids, it just appeared to be in a costume of sorts.