Grasshoppers and locusts are two pests that can wreak real havoc on your crops, so it’s critical to understand how to keep them from causing lasting damage. While they might seem harmless to the untrained eye or regular garden owner, these little bugs are actually pretty mighty – so the more knowledge you have, the better equipped you’ll be to face them head-on and ensure they don’t infest your pastures.
Keep reading to learn all about grasshoppers and locusts – including the key differences between the two – and our top tips for getting them under control.
What are the differences between grasshoppers and locusts?
When we think of grasshoppers, we think of jumping insects in backyards, pastures, and crops. Say the word ‘locusts’, however, and it brings to mind images of historic plagues raining down destruction on crops and devouring every plant in sight. But, did you know that grasshoppers and locusts are actually very similar?
These two well-known insects are members of the same insect order, and locusts are technically a type of grasshopper. While some species are referred to as grasshoppers and others as locusts, both creatures are short-horned members of the order Orthoptera. This order also includes other bugs like crickets, however, they belong to a different suborder (Ensifera) whereas locusts and grasshoppers are part of the Caelifera suborder due to their short antennae and tendency to jump.
So, what typifies a grasshopper? Well, they’re generally large, hard-bodied, chewing insects that start at about 5cm in length and can grow up to 12cm. They have powerful hind legs for jumping, and both their wings and legs tend to make a distinctive snapping noise. Male grasshoppers make chirping sounds produced by rubbing their legs and wings together. There are many species of grasshoppers, and they’re found in an array of colours, ranging from green, brown and black, to orange, blue, and red, all in varying patterns.
Grasshoppers are usually found hiding in the ground, on stems, or on leaves. They are generally solitary creatures, however they may form bigger groups on occasion. They also have insatiable appetites, feeding on large volumes of plant material daily, including the leaves, stems, flowers, and fruits of fruit trees, vegetables, and ornamental trees and shrubs. From a reproductive perspective, female grasshoppers lay their eggs either in the ground or on plants. These eggs then hatch into nymphs, and eventually develop their wings in adulthood.
While one lone grasshopper can’t do too much damage, their appetite for plants can definitely make an impact on your pastures when you are dealing with many – which is where locusts come in.
All about locusts
Locusts and grasshoppers look almost identical, but there’s one key difference between the two that could be crucial to the health of your crops.
Locusts can possess two different ‘behavioural states’ – solitary and gregarious – whereas grasshoppers do not. When population density is low, locusts behave as individuals (solitary), much like grasshoppers. However, when their population density is high, they undergo physiological and behavioural changes (known as phase polyphenism) and form ‘gregariously’ behaving swarms – the ones you might’ve seen in movies and that give these insects a particularly bad name. This means that they’re able to travel in high-volume packs and quickly devastate crops and pastures by eating all of the surrounding foliage. This makes them a primary concern for many farmers.
As well as these behavioural differences, phase changes in locusts may be accompanied by differences in body shape and colour, fertility, physiology, and survival rate. These changes are so dramatic in some species of locust that once upon a time, swarming and non-swarming forms of locust were thought to be different species entirely. However, the extent to which different species of locusts exhibit these characteristics varies greatly.
The migratory locust has all the features associated with phase change, however the Australian plague locust, for instance, does not exhibit changes in body colour. So, it’s often difficult to distinguish between harmful locusts and less concerning grasshoppers based on these qualities alone. The main thing to look out for, as a result, is volume – the more bugs, the bigger the potential for damage.
How to prevent grasshoppers and locusts
- Keep the soil well watered and remove dead organic material. Grasshoppers and locusts are most active during the warmer months, especially during periods of drought. So, it’s important to first keep the area you’re dealing with well-watered and to remove any dead organic material that may function as a grasshopper habitat.
- Cultivate and tilt your soil. For vegetable garden beds, prior to replanting, cultivate the soil and leave it exposed – this will encourage birds and other animals to prey on grasshoppers or locust eggs in the soil.
- Introduce poultry. If you have the space and the desire, letting poultry roam your garden could be an eco-friendly way to grasshoppers and locust prevention.
However, these are only realistic solutions for grasshoppers in small quantities and areas (such as a home garden) – locust swarms or higher volumes of grasshoppers will not respond to this approach.
3 effective insecticides to control Grasshoppers and Locusts
While prevention is a great start, in times of outbreak, the best way to address grasshopper and locust problems is by using insecticides.
There are a number of very effective solutions currently on the market, meaning you can tailor your choice to your environment (crops, pastures, gardens) and the volume of pests you are dealing with.
Products containing the active ingredient fipronil are fantastic at eradicating pests like grasshoppers and locusts. Fipronil can be used in pastures, sorghum crops, and garden settings. Because it’s able to eradicate a broad range of pests, it is a diverse product available in a variety of brands and sizes that can be adjusted to suit the outbreak you’re trying to control.
If you are looking for a botanical organic insecticide for a non-edible garden or turf environment, our recommendation is the Eco-Neem Botanical Insecticide. This product works in multiple ways, with its two main actions being the suppression of insect appetite, starving swarms to death, and growth restriction, which prohibits them from moulting successfully. Plant damage will stop as soon as the insect ingests Eco-Neem, however, death may take several days depending on their size and type.
Another useful active ingredient is carbaryl. It is very effective in controlling a broad spectrum of pests and insects that may be resistant to other insecticides. Carbaryl is highly versatile and can be used on ornamental plants, trees, vine crops, fruit and vegetables, field crops, pastures, and domestic areas.
Our top recommendation containing carbaryl is the Bugmaster Flowable Insecticide, as this provides a good residual on foliage, has little to no odour, and comes in a flowable formulation to make handling and measuring much easier. Bugmaster also has a high level of crop safety, making it an ideal insecticide to treat grasshoppers and locusts, as well as a range of other pests.
Finally, if you are looking for an insecticide that can be used across a number of environments, including crops, pastures, gardens, and turf, a product formulated with spinosad serves as an excellent option. This active ingredient is naturally derived from living organisms that work to control caterpillars, locusts, and other pests.
We recommend the Surefire Preserve 120 SC Insecticide, a suspension concentrate suitable for application in water via aircraft, ground rigs, or knapsacks. It controls insect pests that are resistant to conventional insecticides through dual-action contact and ingestion exposure. The active constituent, spinosad, is derived from the fermentation of a naturally occurring micro-organism and has low toxicity to mammals, birds, fish, crustaceans, and many predatory insect species. Surefire Preserve may be used in integrated pest management (IPM) and conventional insect control programs. Exposed insects will stop feeding almost immediately after ingestion or contact, but may take up to three days to die.
While grasshoppers and locusts can be extremely challenging to control during plague times, with the right knowledge, and the right insecticide fit for your own specific circumstances, there is a fantastic chance of successful eradication.
At Specialist Sales, we offer a range of insecticidal solutions no matter your budget or the area you are treating. If you need expert advice on eliminating grasshoppers, locusts, or other pests, please get in touch with our experienced customer care team.