Sympathy for a Grasshopper


Even when my car’s covered in mud or dust — which happens frequently — I keep the windows clean: the better to see other drivers, as well as whatever might be blooming alongside the road.

Recently, another advantage of clean windows presented itself. While stopped at a traffic light in Fredericksburg, this little gem — a differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) — emerged from the security of its hidey-hole beneath the wipers and stared at me through the windshield.

When the light changed, I felt certain the grasshopper would fly off as I accelerated. Instead, it gripped the glass ever more tightly and stayed put: staring at me through ten, fifteen, and twenty-five miles per hour. By thirty-five, things were getting iffy, and finally, at forty-five, a look of what I imagined to be a combination of supplication and terror crossed the insect’s face.

I pulled over, captured this somewhat unusual view of the creature, and then stepped out of the car. Sensing its opportunity, the grasshopper flew off while I, in turn, returned to the car and drove off: happy for my own unusual opportunity.


Comments always are welcome.

80 thoughts on “Sympathy for a Grasshopper

    1. Aren’t those details wonderful? I never imagined I’d get a good look at the underside of a grasshopper. Never say never, I guess — and it certainly was a happy ending.

    1. I do enough east/west driving early and late that I keep the windows clean mostly to avoid the glare caused by smudges. In this case, I gained a wholly unexpected benefit from my routine; you might say the grasshopper photo was lagniappe!

    1. I did, indeed. Thank goodness it wasn’t the proverbial gift horse, or my windshield would have been shattered rather than clean. I looked up the history of the gift horse saying, and found some interesting details here.

      1. Something to do with not checking its teeth to determine its age (and whether they need to be ‘floated’), I imagine.
        On the other hand, is it really ‘free’ if it’s going need a major investment in maintenance? (Sorry, ever the pragmatist, lol)

  1. It’s a wonderful picture. It never ceases to amaze me how insects can cling onto a surface like a windshield on a speeding car. And when you stop they don’t always vacate their spot. They often seem quite willing to hang on for the ride. Good thing they are not territorial I suppose.

    1. I’ve noticed that spiders and lady beetles can be especially clingy, and you’re right that they don’t always seem eager to leave. It’s interesting to ponder how many insects, lizards, snakes, and whatever else we spread around via our vehicles; I’m sure we have more traveling companions than we know, especially out in the country.

  2. What an experience! I’m glad it got to fly away. I had a mouse drop from the glove compartment once, but never an insect staring me down through the windshield.

    1. Now, that raises questions. I’ve seen evidence of mice or rats in my cars, usually in the form of gnawed wiring or air filters, but I’ve never seen one of the critters itself. I hope you weren’t driving when your mouse appeared; that could have been unnerving — at best.

      1. It was a little brown and white field mouse and it had shredded the maps in the glove compartment for a nest. And yes, I was on the interstate, driving to a college class…

  3. That’s a great shot! I wonder how long the grasshopper had been in its hidey-hole and how far it had traveled with you?

    I’m typically reminded to clean my windshield by the glare from the rising and setting sun. My street runs east-west, so I get frequent reminders but I forget as soon as I turn onto the north-south running highway. You clearly do a better job of remembering.

    1. My guess is that I picked it up locally: maybe around Willow City, where I was stopping frequently and stirring up a lot of grasshoppers as I roamed the ditches. This one was a fine example of their kind — big, and really quite handsome.

      I have that east/west issue to contend with, too. The haze that develops on the inside of the glass is more annoying that dirt on the outside, and the way people drive around here, I need every advantage I can muster.

  4. I don’t know if the kids in Texas call it “skitching,” when a skateboarder latches on to your bumper, to hitch a ride. Although this is actually “car surfing.”
    I’ve always gotten a kick out of these guys, even though they look like something dreamed up for a sci-fi movie. It says something nice about you, Linda, that you could see past its alien look, and tell when it got scared and pleaded for you to stop! What a great shot!

    1. They do call it skitching. I don’t know how common it is here, but just last month a skateboarder in Houston was videoed while being pulled at about 30 mph by a car down one of the main thoroughfares. I’m not sure why anyone would want to try it in Houston — the streets are so full of potholes it’s dangerous for cars, let alone skaters.

      There’s something remarkable about being eye-to-eye with an insect and realizing that there’s some sort of consciousness at work there, too. It was pretty clear that life in the fast lane wasn’t this one’s first choice — I was happy to offer him a way out of his dilemma!

    1. Thank goodness he didn’t hop in and then suddenly emerge while I was driving. There’s no telling where we would have ended up in that case — it could have been the ditch. This way, it worked out for both of us, with no broken wings or bruised egos!

    1. Doesn’t he, though? I’ve never paid grasshoppers much attention, but I will from this point. For one thing, I had no idea we have so many species in Texas; some of them are even more beautifully patterned and colored than this fine fellow.

  5. That’s a great view and if nothing else, I admire that you had your camera with you! You have to wonder what they think in that sort of situation: flight or fight. I guess it was flight.

    1. When I’m out and about, I usually have my camera riding shotgun in the front seat. In the refuges, I tend to keep the telephoto lens on, but I’d kept the macro in place this time, and it worked out perfectly. The more I look at the details of this little guy, the more amazed I am. They’re such fascinating creatures. I’m glad he stayed put long enough for a portrait.

  6. Amazing how they can cling to mere glass, even when it’s traveling at what must seem to them like dizzying speeds! Great photo, Linda, and I’m glad he was able to hop to safety — and you to resume your travels without incident.

    1. Your comment led me to wonder how fast grasshoppers do fly, and the answer seems to be around 8-10 mph. This was traveling three times that speed; no wonder he was holding on for dear life. He seemed little worse for the wear, as he flew off lickety-split, heading for the grasses at the side of the road.

    1. He does look suspended, doesn’t he? It’s a bit surrealistic, really — we’re so used to seeing insects grounded in one way or another. I’m sure this one was happy when it finally found a bit of ground and could relax.

    1. Who knows? Maybe he’d come into town to spend time at his Sunday house, and just wanted to get back to the country. City life’s so complicated, you know!

    1. I can’t believe I’ve never heard that Dire Straits cut. They’re one of my favorites, and have been since Wembley ’85. On the other hand, “The Bug” was released on their last studio album in 1990, and I was otherwise occupied at the time. The song’s great, and that cute little black caterpillar stole the video.

      1. I’m glad you liked it! We have been bathing in Dire Straits recently and are gaining even higher levels of admiration and respect for Mark Knopfler and his musical genius. We listened to Brothers in Arms the other night and nearly wept.

  7. What an extraordinary photo! It reminds me of terror movies with Godzilla or something. Aren’t you glad you kept the windows clean? What a face and detail. Well done!

    1. Now that you mention it, can’t you just see this grasshopper atop the Empire State Building with one of the Kardashians in his clutches? I’m not sure that would be a terror movie, though; we’ll have to find a more appealing heroine! Now, if only I kept my windows at home so clean — who knows what I might see if I did?

  8. LOL must have been terrifying! I’ve had a few hitchhiking bugs over the years that have managed to survive short drives between home and office.

    1. It wasn’t exactly terrifying, but it certainly did focus my attention. I kept waiting for him to fly, or be whipped off by the wind, but when it became clear that he wasn’t willing to let go, I decided to give him a brake — and no more pun-ishment!

    1. He never looked back, either. I’m almost certain he landed at a neighborhood watering hole and began regaling the other grasshoppers with his strange tale.

      Speaking of critters, it looks like you’re going to be visited by TD8/Hannah this weekend. They’re still saying it’s going to come ashore as a middling tropical storm, and move on through fairly quickly — I’m glad. I hope it brings some rain to areas that need it.

    1. It’s certainly a view of a grasshopper I never expected to see. On the other hand, I suspect he never expected to be rolling down the road at such speeds, either. Whether insects ‘think’ or not, I have a feeling he was greatly relieved to be able to get back to a slower pace of life!

  9. It looked so surreal. At first, I couldn’t make out why it looked “in the air”. Brilliant. It made for a great shot and I like how you filled the frame and made a diagonal composition. It pays to keep those windows clean.

    1. It does look like it’s floating. I didn’t have any conception of what the photo would look like. I just thought, “Well, as long as he’s here, I might as well have a photo.” It did work out nicely, especially since I had my macro lens at hand — as well as that clean window. It helped that it was a cloudy day, too. I would have been shooting fairly directly into the sun, otherwise.

    1. I’ve never forgotten this line from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: “We have not yet encountered any god who is as merciful as a man who flicks a beetle over on its feet.” No beetle in this story, but the dynamic’s the same.

    1. You know about the importance of clean windows! As for apartments, so for automobiles — there’s always something to see, so we might as well be ready for it.

      1. I had my upper exterior windows cleaned (as well as the rest & even carpet steam cleaning when I ‘temporarily’ moved out) and at the moment, the sparrows keep crashing into the top line of windows. I’ve been trying to get a photo of them, but the camera won’t focus fast enough, even on 11 fps (frames per second).

  10. I am not very grasshopper knowledgeable, Linda, but what is coming out of his/her mouth? I hope it is not a baby grasshopper. It looks like legs protruding or are they her teeth used as a fork or some type of utensil to take food inside the mouth?

    1. You can rest easy, Gerard. I didn’t know a thing about how a grasshopper’s mouth is constructed, but you were spot on with your suspicion that those protrusions are the functional equivalent of a fork and spoon. They’re called ‘maxillae,’ and you can see them on this terrific, interactive diagram. They’re the lime green parts; run your cursor over the ‘maxillae’ link, and they’ll pop up in isolation. The description of them says that they have three parts themselves, and two of the smaller maxillary parts — the Galea and Lacinia — act as fork and spoon to manipulate the grasshopper’s food.

      It’s one of the coolest diagrams I’ve seen — I had a good bit of fun playing with it.

  11. Grasshoppers are a bit kamikaze. Yes, they have wings but they are not exactly that aerodynamic, and their landings are pretty much ballistic, in the original sense of the word — once the rocket fuel burns out, the only control there is over the landing is that exerted by trajectory and gravity. Fortunately, they don’t weigh all that much and they’re covered in chitin.

    1. It’s their jumping that amazes me. I read how they do it: like a catapult. Before a jump, the grasshopper contracts its flexor muscles, bending its hind legs at the knee joint. A special piece of cuticle within the knee acts as a spring, storing up potential energy. When the grasshopper relaxes its leg muscles, the ‘spring’ releases, and the grasshopper’s on its way. It really is cool.

  12. I’ve had a few insects ride my windshield and rescued them but never had the presence of mind to grab a shot. And what a shot this is. Besides the unusual perspective, the clarity (you obviously did a great job with the windshield cleaner) is fantastic with such a nice detailed view of all that is a grasshopper. A different look that makes a big difference in this differential.

    1. I’m not sure it was presence of mind as much as sheer impulse: see insect, grab camera. I certainly didn’t do anything to set up the shot — I was pretty surprised at how well it came out. Having the macro lens on my camera and a deeply cloudy sky certainly helped. I love seeing how all those plates are arranged; I never realized how ‘architectural’ grasshoppers are.

  13. I have always thought that some grasshoppers as rather pretty and the one on your windshield is no exception. Suffice it to say that you gave that fella a ride of its life and he found himself transported to a new field of greenery where he could munch happily away.

    1. I didn’t know until I tried identifying this one that we have one in Texas called the red-legged grasshopper that’s really a beauty. I can’t remember ever seeing one, but I confess I usually don’t pay much attention to grasshoppers. I think that will change, now.

      I learned something else about them that you probably know. The munching of grasshoppers leaves ragged edges on leaves and petals, while caterpillars leave nice, smooth margins. It’s one way to tell what’s been eating our plants.

      1. Actually, Linda, I did not know that little tidbit about the difference of the munching habits of the grasshopped and a caterpillar. You taught me something. The things that I learn on blogs!

        1. That’s one reason I enjoy blogging; I learn so much. Beyond that, it’s fun passing on these little bits of information. None of us can know it all (although I’ve met a person or two who thought they knew it all, but that’s another story).

    1. Ha! No, I don’t even own an iPhone, or smart phone of any sort. I had my Canon in the front seat, with the macro lens attached. I got lucky with this one!

    1. I still get a kick out of just looking at all the little details. He looks like he might have been created as a kit for kids to put together. I think he’s cute, too — or she. I haven’t a clue about how to distinguish girl and boy grasshoppers.

  14. What a lovely story! Goodness, the detail is astonishing. I’ve never seen a grasshopper close up, it hardly looks real, almost as though it has a suit of armour

    1. All those armor-like plates are made of chitin: the substance that makes the exoskeletons of various insects. It does look ready for battle, as far as its suit of armor goes, but believe me — it was more interested in getting off that windshield. I loved getting that close look.

  15. That guy puts the exo in exoskeleton. But still, despite the armor, manages to hold onto glass in a 40 mph headwind. Ain’t nature amazing?

    1. It is. I kept thinking the poor beastie would just fly off once I got rolling, but instead I got exhibit A of how some of these insects make it through tough conditions. I’m glad he survived!

  16. Your story and the image gave me great smiles! Can you imagine the stories that grasshopper will tell to its peers? And would they believe those stories?

    If the masses of men followed this example – with a pure heart – then our world would be a serene place.

    1. It was a fun and unexpected experience, but oddly satisfying, too. We often admire rescues of creatures, but turtles, birds, hedgehogs, and such are cuter, and easier to see ‘worthy’ of rescue. Even the grasshopper has a place, and I was happy to be able to put him back in it.

      1. I find myself more and more sensitive – to a fault — even when snipping leaves of mint or moringa or basil.. I always saythanks to the plant, but then when putting the leaves in the hot water I think, “Owch!”

        I’m not so tender when ants find their way to the kitchen! I sweep them toward the front of the building where they explore the plants and |I say, “You have the entire house – don’t enter the kitchen and you can continue to live here!”

        Your ‘little hike/big tree’ is now loaded and I will read it at home.. The images are lovely!

        1. You’ll love the little hike. It’s akin to some of the posts you’ve shared — exploration raised to the next level, with lots of little details shared.

          1. I loved that post, and seeing a magnificent tree like that in its rightful setting is a joy! Your post was exceptional – and you gave others the opportunity to disconnect from the real world and stress and take a calming visit to see the ancients. Thank you, I loved it!

            1. Thank you, Lisa. I’ve added the spot to my regular rotation, although I have so many places I enjoy visiting now, I can’t get to most of them as often as I’d like. Right now, I’m more than ready for the heat to ease. I’m not able to put in good, long days at work during the week and I’m falling behind, which complicates things. People assume winter is my ‘down time,’ but I much prefer what passes for our winter to July and August. Of course, we’re all waiting for October for another reason: the unofficial end of our hurricane season. Storms still can pop up, but they tend to be much less frequent — as you know! I’m looking forward to seeing the oak in autumn. I suspect it will be less colorful than other spots, but I know it will be just as interesting.

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