Issue: August 24, 2002

Is there anything grasshoppers won't eat?

Question:

I have always wondered about the grasshoppers that attack my garden most years. Is there anything I can plant that they won't eat?

Answer:

Dr. Carol Sutherland, NMSU Extension Entomologist, told me that there is a grasshopper to eat any plant you may grow. Not all grasshoppers eat all plants; some are very specific while others are not picky eaters at all.

She says that there are at least 160 described species (implying that there may be even others yet to be discovered and described) in New Mexico. A couple of these prefer to eat weeds and could be considered beneficial. Of the remainder, about 40 species have the potential to become major pests. Some of these prefer grasses, others broadleaf plants, and some both. The extent of the problems we have in our landscapes depends on which species are present (usually more than one), how many of them are present, and what they prefer to eat. I find the following statement from Dr. Sutherland very informative. ăShort of rebar, steel, aluminum, adobe, rock, asphalt, and concrete, I canât think of many substances that will be little damaged consistently by grasshoppers of one kind or another.ä So, in one year we may have less problems; in another year, we may have more problems.

Dr. Sutherland also explains that the weather affects the numbers of grasshoppers. Drought, especially in the early spring, can greatly reduce the grasshopper population, and thus, the damage done by grasshoppers. When we irrigate, we help the grasshoppers avoid the spring drought dilemma. Careful and limited irrigation of landscapes may help, but the river valleys are also escape valves for grasshoppers. If they can make it to the valleys, they will survive and be able to migrate to our gardens.

There are chemicals to use, but their effect is limited by the fact that grasshoppers are migratory. Adult grasshoppers have wings and can fly into our gardens. So, after we kill some, new grasshoppers arrive to continue eating our garden plants. Some people prefer the insect diseases that may be purchased as biological control for grasshoppers. These are effective with some species but not all species. Some gardeners claim great success using guinea fowl, turkeys, and other birds that eat grasshoppers. Unfortunately, the birds (biological grasshopper control agents) also eat garden plants.

Grasshoppers are a difficult problem for gardeners in our area. For the very adventurous gardeners, Dr. Sutherland states that grasshoppers are edible and highly nutritious. I think that is good information for the guinea fowl (I am not yet ready to eat grasshoppers).

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Also, please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly program made for gardeners in the Southwest. It airs on KRWG in Las Cruces Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., repeating Thursdays at 1:00 p.m.; on KENW in Portales on Saturdays at 10:00 a.m.; and on KNME in Albuquerque on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.

Send your gardening questions to Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith NMSU Cooperative Extension Service 9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112 Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays, and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)