Like a Grasshopper
By Glenn I. Teves, County Extension Agent, UH CTAHR
In the popular television show, “Kung Fu,” Master Po refers to his student as “Grasshopper,” a term of endearment for one who is young, has a lot to learn, and whose mind jumps around “like a grasshopper.”
We probably have to more to learn from the grasshopper than he can learn from us. Few other insects have caused greater direct loss to crops worldwide than have grasshoppers. From ancient times to now, grasshoppers have caused the death through famine of millions of human beings. Damage is worse in areas with low rainfall when food is sparse.
Grasshoppers are difficult to control because they move in waves and will multiply quickly. There are more than 600 species of grasshoppers in the U.S., and over 8,000 species worldwide. The most notorious of them are the locusts, a kind of grasshopper.Young grasshoppers differ from the adults only by size and the fact that they can’t fly.
The ability to fly long distances makes grasshoppers especially destructive because they can migrate over a large area in a short time, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Once in an area, their large back legs allow them to jump around, hence the name grass hopper. They love to eat members of the grass family including grains and corn. Together with their wings and large legs, they can move faster than a human can walk or even run at times.
In parts of the mainland, they will live in fields adjacent to crops and wait for crops to emerge in the spring. Eggs are laid in the ground in the fall in anticipation of the spring flush and crop plantings. One strategy farmers will employ is plowing fields before winter to disrupt egg laying activities.
In Hawaii, grasshoppers can be a year-round problem, but can be especially troublesome after a wet winter when fields are flush with growth, and fields start to dry, such as now. There have been sightings of grasshoppers in Kalae and also in Ho`olehua. Most can be very difficult to control because they’re polyphagous, or indiscriminate in their eating habits and will eat almost anything that resembles a green plant, although many species have their favorite foods.
One way grasshoppers are controlled in many parts of the world is by creating a demand for them as a food, and is an important protein source in some countries. In Mexico, they’re captured at night using lamps, and scooped up in nets. They’re prepared boiled, sun-dried, fried, and flavored with spices such as garlic, onions, chili peppers, dipped in lime juice, and used in soups. In China, they’re served on skewers. In the Middle East, grasshoppers are boiled in hot water with salt similar to soybeans and peanuts, and eaten as a snack. Tempura grasshopper in dipping saucing, or fried with garlic and chili pepper water would be new options as well.
I recently received an inquiry from USDA about instances where residents were eating insects. This option is being investigated as food gets scarcer, and coming up with innovative recipes is one way of staying ahead of food trends.