Neosho Daily News - Neosho, MO
  • RUSSELL HIVELY: Grasshopper season

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  • I have begun seeing grasshoppers on my walk along Wildcat Boulevard each morning. The scissor-tailed flycatchers seem to relish the idea of grasshopper season.
    The little wren who keeps a perpetual nest in the bird house on our clothes line pole has been feeding this batch of babies the smaller, bright green grasshoppers.
    The other day when I was hanging out some clothes I saw her with at least three different grasshoppers for her brood. The little ones in the birdhouse certainly make lots of noise when she enters with a grasshopper in her beak.
    Grasshoppers start showing up in late summer and early fall. Some people claim they are more abundant when we have dry weather.
    When I was in grade school, some of the boys caught grasshoppers and made them spit tobacco. The kid would catch a grasshopper and hold it in his hand and soon the grasshopper would spit a wad of brown tobacco-looking stuff.
    A computer search revealed that the brown spit is used as a defensive mechanism by the grasshopper and spitting it will sometimes ward off an attacker. The computer encyclopedia also said the “tobacco” was not harmful to humans.
    The legend that the grasshopper spit was really chewed tobacco came from the areas where tobacco was grown. Grasshoppers did invade the tobacco fields and chew on the tobacco leaves. No one mentioned that grasshoppers spit tobacco in areas where no tobacco was grown.
    In the old days when we plowed the small grain fields each fall, the last round or two or plowing would send hoards of grasshoppers jumping here and there. They seemed to gather in the last strip of land we plowed and waited until the very last moment to escape.
    Watching a bird trying to catch a grasshopper can be fun. A grasshopper can jump high and long, and fly, too. It takes a quick bird to chase a grasshopper down.
    I can never forget how Laura Ingalls Wilder described the grasshopper plague that hit their farm one year. I recall her telling how they devoured every living plant, stripping each plant so only the stalk remained.
    I also recall her telling how the Ingalls laying hens went nearly wild chasing and eating the abundance of grasshoppers. Even in a plague the hens ate well.
    Take a walk, take time to watch the grasshoppers, use those signal lights, and see what you notice while passing along Wildcat Boulevard.
    Russell Hively writes a weekly column for the Daily News.
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