Back in late March, the Lubber grasshopper, also known as the Devil’s Horse, made its annual appearance at Camp Salmen. From the very beginning they were exact, tiny versions of their big, full-grown adult-selves – little half-inch glossy black miniatures with six tiny, spindly legs and a tiny red racing stripe that makes them look quite “boss.” Some remain black and others develop yellow patterns.
At first you find them in clusters, presumably close to where they emerged together from the underworld, where their mama had laid them. Even in this diminutive size they’re scary little things, with all those legs and their jerky, mechanical movements. They remind you of what a delirium tremens nightmare must look like.
At this earlier stage they seem to prefer open areas, like garden paths, so they can startle you when you suddenly find them scattering under foot. Since nothing much wants to eat them, they have no reason to hide. Gradually they spread out and spend summer days discretely nibbling away and fattening up on the park’s prodigious plant life.
By late summer they are huge, two to three inches long. When the braver children visiting the park try to pick them up, the bug lets out a hiss of complaint. They also ooze a toxic “tobacco juice” from their mouth. Raccoons and possums that rashly attempt to eat them are known to upchuck as a result. This is one of the ways they maintain their numbers to the point there are still enough of them left to mate shamelessly in the bushes, in full view of park visitors. Mama backs the eggs into the ground and there they spend the winter as larvae, getting ready to begin their annual cycle next spring.
(Ben Taylor is the caretaker at Camp Salmen Nature Park, which is located on Hwy. 190 across from the Grand Theater, and will be writing a weekly column to talk about some of the features that the camp offers, which is open to the public.)