Insect Insight: Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

Well, it’s officially summer in Houston and we are literally buzzing with insect activity. Some species are off to a slow start due to the harsh winter, but they are sure to catch up soon. I love the summer! I can definitely tolerate it being hotter than all get out,  a lot better than the cold and I love to see the outdoors come to life. Millions of little creatures scurrying here and there doing their jobs to keep our environment working the way it should. How can you not appreciate that?

One insect you may be lucky enough to run into is the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper. Although I’m not terribly clear on the role these funny little guys play, it may just be to entertain people like me! These grasshoppers are commonly referred to as the clowns of the insect world. They are large, colorful, extremely clumsy, and just plain funny to look at!

Lubber grasshopper
Creative Commons License photo credit: JoelDeluxe

There are several species of Lubber grasshoppers. Most of them are found in South America, but luckily we have a few species here in North America. They are among the largest grasshoppers found in the United States. The term “lubber” refers to stout and clumsy individuals. You may have heard the term landlubber before, which means a clumsy or inexperienced sailor. This name fits them quite well. Most lubber grasshoppers are horrible jumpers, cannot fly, and are pretty slow at walking. You would think that this would put them at a disadvantage, but they have enough chemical and physical defenses to put off a large majority of predators that would threaten them!

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Clowns! Eastern Lubbers
Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

The Easter Lubber or Romalea guttatta is probably the most well known grasshopper in the Southeastern United States and is definitely the largest! They can be called the clowns of the insect world due to their coloration. They usually have a combination of yellow, red and black and their colors can vary. They have these colors for a reason. They are known as aposematic or warning colors. This coloration can also be seen on animals such as coral snakes, poison dart frogs, bees, wasps, ladybugs, monarch butterflies, etc. This is a way of warning predators to stay away, or get more than they bargained for. This can mean poison, venom, a bad taste or other unpleasant consequences.

The bodies of Eastern Lubbers do contain toxic chemicals that have been known to cause death in certain bird species and cause small mammals like opossums to wretch violently and feel sick for quite some time after. Of course there are some animals that are tolerant of their poison.

If their coloration does not work, they have an arsenal of other defenses. They will lift their wings, displaying their bright red color. This is often followed by a loud hissing noise as they force a bubbly frothy liquid from their spiracles (breathing holes). This substance contains some semi-toxic chemicals which are irritants. They can also regurgitate plant material that has been recently eaten and digested. This liquid is brown in color and also contains some semi-toxic compounds from the insect’s crop. It is often referred to as tobacco spit and many grasshoppers are able to do this. Wow, if  an insect was doing all that to me, I would probably freak out! I have been working with Eastern Lubbers for years and have never ever seen such a thing. They must not find me very threatening!

Juvenile Eastern Lubber
Creative Commons License photo credit: vladeb a nymph

If you’re wondering where to find these beauties, well, your guess is as good as mine! They prefer moist, densely wooded areas, but as they mature, they will disperse and can be found in almost any suitable habitat. I have collected them several times out at Bear Creek Park. Sometimes they will disperse into gardens and become a bit of a pest. They will eat a wide variety of wild plants but are fond of amaryllis and related plants in gardens.  However, despite their size, they have a very small appetite, so the numbers would have to be great to cause a problem.

The nymphs tend to be gregarious and they look quite different from the adults so they can often be mistaken for a different species all together. They are all black with a narrow yellow, red, or orange stripe running from their head to their abdomen. If you happen to run into these grasshoppers, take some time to observe them. We are so lucky to have such an amazing insect native to our little part of the world.

In the mean time you can stop by our Entomology Hall to see them on display. I’m fortunate enough to be fully stocked up with plenty of adults and nymphs to last me through the summer! Until next time, happy grasshopper watching!

36 thoughts on “Insect Insight: Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

  1. A little dawn dish soap and water kill these… plant eating monsters…

  2. What’s the recommended substrate (type and depth) for breeding these little guys?

  3. Hi Lauren!

    They’re not too picky about the substrate. You can use a coconut fiber type substrate, they are available at most pet stores and come in a block you pour water over to expand and break it up. You can also use soil, or a mix of soil and sand or coconut fiber and sand. I wouldn’t recommen just sand though. The substrate should be at leat 3 inches deep and a little deeper than that won’t hurt. Once they lay eggs, make sure the substrate does not dry out because that can kill the eggs. They should hatch about 5-6 months later. Good luck!

  4. You have some great info here. I have really enjoyed reading this. I live in a subdivision for 22 years and over 10 years ago the black and red ones showed up here and Have reeked havoc ever since. I use to spray them to kill them but find it easier to step on them. Every year they increase in numbers. I have killed over 300 this year.
    The worse part is when they have grown as big 2 inches plus it is gross to step on them. I am an avid gardener with alot of Amaryllis. I don’t see anything pretty about these grasshoppers.
    Thank you for the info as I knew the red definitely meant “Stay away”.
    My son wants to use them for fishing bait. Do you think that is a good idea? Thanks again for the insight. It took me all these years to finally find out what kind they are.
    Sandy

  5. Hi Sandy!

    Well, I am sad to hear that you kill them, but I do understand that not everyone appreciates bugs eating plants in their garden! I would, however, like to save some of them from being squished! If you’d like to bring some in and donate them to the museum, we’d be happy to take as many as you can bring. They are great for outreach and display and I enjoy caring for them! I have room for quite a bit and I know the zoo would probably like some too!

    As far as using them for fishing bait, I’ve heard of this before. Their toxicity depends on what they eat and affects animals differently. I’m sure they would be fine for your son to use. I hope you will consider sending some of them our way! If you’d like to, contact us at blogadmin@hmns.org. Thanks and I’m glad the article was helpful for you!

  6. Here we go ahh’ Lubbering…Mmmmmmmm..! Oh, my gracious, the fully grown Lubbers are hated in Florida. WHY ? Because of their destructive nature. Devouring every green leaf in sight. So many local garden blogs continually ask,” HOW DO WE GET RID OF THESE DESTRUCTIVE PESTS ?” Their numbers, at times, overwhelming. One hundred Lubbers, attacking a lucious, green plant…not a pleasant sight. An outside walk in late afternoon, hearing green leaves crying for help.” PLEASE…GET THESE THINGS OFF ME.”
    Garden Bloggers share ingredients tried to kill the lubbers. Still, they come. Lubbers aren’t harmful to people. Birds, when eating a Lubber, will likely ingest their deadly toxin. When caught or bumped…a disgustingly u-g-l-y, Lubber attribute is exhibited. Spitting their “dark-brown-tobacco-juice” So gross.
    To give gardeners a different perspective, I created several lubber dioramas. This change contributes to an entriely different lubber perspective. Transformation into an, AMERICAN LUBBER IDOL, a LUBBER on the LAKE, LIZZY LUBBER SITTING IN A SWING,UNDER A TREE, COMPUTER-NERD LUBBER, DIVING DAN LUBBER and others. The Tampa Tribune Garden Editor came out, with a local television photographer, and did a Lubber print and television piece. This brought much interest. Friends, phone calls and email. The reason for my Lubber venture was to give everyone a differnt perspective of the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper. With loads of disgust, aggravation and garden destruction accumulated, a light moment was enjoyed and appreciated. Ah, yes…To laugh at this destructive pest.
    The Lubbers have migrated. Sending “Lubber Companies” into five or six additional states. So, all wishing to meet this not-so-nice pest…your wait may be shorter than expected. Go ahead and enjoy them “from a distance.” As they “move-in” and begin their “green plant snacking ” I just surmise the warm-Lubber-fuzzies will cool. In the meantime…we’ll continue urging the Lubber-Gang to “Keep on Moving Along.”

  7. Hi Erin, interesting site. I never knew what these big grasshoppers were called, thanks!
    Years ago we were living in Stuart Fl, and I chanced upon one of these huge (at least 4″!) grasshoppers.
    Having emigrated from New England I was ignorant about Lubbers, but fascinated by this giant, colorful and slow moving insect. I carried it home to show my wife and we found it loved baby carrots, methodically munching them down as its abdomen expanded.
    The big lug seemed happy to sit on our knees or the back of the couch while we watched TV. He spent the night in a spare bird cage (our parakeets didn’t seem to mind its presence in the house). Tiger (because of his coloration) was nearly as large as the parakeets, but produced only an occasional hamster-sized dropping which was easy to clean up.
    I realize that gardeners may view Lubbers as pests, but frankly Tiger was a very quiet, well behaved little pet and never exhibited any of these defensive responses. He would amble back and forth across the couch to be near us, swaying from side to side to allow its compound eyes to identify its favorite human (whoever was snacking on a yummy treat). A very polite, social bug.
    I’ve had a number of pets but as you can tell, we both enjoyed our time with this surprising little guy.

  8. I have a small one that has a red stripe on it, about an inch tall is it really related???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  9. I just recently purchased a home and found these HUGE grasshoppers everywhere they don’t bother me and I could careless if they eat my plants, I’m not green thumb by any means. I have a 5 year old son and if anyone out there has kids especially boys they know how very curious kids are well my son use to catch them and I figured it couldn’t harm him well the adults don’t bother him at all but If he handles the younger babies he will end up with massive abdominal pain along with diarrhea it’s happened more then once and now I feel like I should be killing these beautiful creatures is this normal? please any words of advice would help..

  10. Alexandre, I’m sorry,no one alerted me of this question! The babies or bymphs are black with a yellow, orange, or red stripe. So, more than likely, they are related!

  11. Jamalam51,

    Hello! this is odd! If what you have around your house are lubber grasshoppers then yes, they can be and are more than likely poisonous to ingest, but not to touch at all. There are a couple of things that might be happening. 1. Your son is eating them or putting them in his mouth (I hope not!) or 2. the grasshoppers are expelling defensive chemicals either from their bodies or mouths (refer to article above for defensive behavior), and he is getting that stuff on his fingers, then putting his fingers in his mouth. This might be the most likey scenario. I would keep an eye on how he interacts with them and make sure he keeps his hands out of his mouth and washes his hands afterwards. I would definitely not kill the grasshoppers as they are doing nothing wrong besides maybe trying to protect themselves!

  12. Erin, I truly wish that I could enjoy your enthusiasum, but I just prumed, (an understatment) my palms or should I say what was left of my palms after an attack of these horrible creatures. And anyone that believes that dawn for dishes and water kills the babies, is wrong. Because early in spring I went after them as soon as they were born because of the bout that I had with them last year. I sprayed every morning. It may have shooed them away but kill them no. So now they are in the “nymph” stage as you put it and hungry. I was noticing that my palms were being consumed by something, however since I had or thought that I had killed the lubbers didn’t suspect them. Then I went to prune the cold damaged and half eatten frowns from my palms and I ran into about fifty or so about one inch in length. I won’t break your heart by telling you how I dispensed of them this time. My reason however for coming to your site was to ask if they are dangerous to pets because oneday I was weeding or doing something in the yard and my little dashound was in the yard with me. We went inside and he just collasped to the ground and went limp. He was lightly moaning and I honestly thought that he had been poisoned the way that he was acting, so I rushed him to the vet. he layed lifeless in my lap all the way there which is so not like him. When we got there I surrendered him to the doctor and they also said that he acted like he had ingested some sort of poison. He had no control of his bowels which were like water. He moaned and just layed on the gurny, as far as I knew I was losing him right there. Then about ten minutes later he started to come around. He got up and walked. and his vitals checked out ok. So I took him home and watched him carefully but I went outside to see if I could find anything suspicious. Laying there on my pool deck was a half eatten grass hopper. Nymph stage. That had to have been what it was. So people take care not to let your pets get a hold of them. As far as I am concerned that yellow black and red is there for a very valid reason. Even when it’s only black and yellow first.

  13. OMG the just appeared at my house. I have lived in FL for 20 years and this is the first time. I always had really nice great green grasshoppers, one or two and they were nice and friendly, we lived in peaceful toleration but one day my fence was loaded with these little timy black things looking like baby grasshoppers, this never happened before. I have a live and let live attitude and these little things grewq and grew and grew and not I see the stripe and looked in internet and sede that they are the lubbers OMG I like my green grasshoppers and wonder if they will be back since these are here. Also my fence is the only fence with these things. WHY? I live in a small subdivision and I do not see these on any other fences. They like to sleep on the fence at night also in little groups, well not so little anymore as they have grown. I do not like to kills things so I hope next year they will be gone….and my flowers they eats will come back also.

  14. Anne,

    These grasshoppers are not so different from your green grasshopper friends. They are only bigger and therefore have a bit of a bigger appetite. I’m not sure why they are congregating in your yard. More than likely the mother fancied it and laid her eggs there. The nymphs have probably not dispersed because they like whatever food you have for them. They would not drive other grashoppers away, they pose no threat to any other grasshoppers. These are really fascinating, beautiful insects. I don’t really understand why they make people so angry. So they eat plants…a lot of insects do! The plants will come back, don’t worry!

  15. These vile creatures are gardeners enemies. Yes most plants will grow back, meanwhile we’re left with ugly leafless stalks. They have eaten 1/3 of the way into several bulbs that weren’t cheap. Still waiting to see if they’re going to come back. My gardens and flowerbeds are an investment of my time & money, so it’s a There is no plant that is safe from their ravenous appetites. I can deal with the mosquitoes better than these demons.
    If I wasn’t such a lady, I’d tell you how I really feel about them! LOL
    I enjoyed the article and comments!
    Sherry

  16. Hey Erin,

    My daughter went to a Nature camp and had the chance to take these home as a pet. Just a few questions for you. We were told to feed them lettuce or strawberries, would any green leafy and fruits work? How long do they live? Is the female larger than the male? They were mating and they are laying eggs now, so I’m just assuming. My daughter likes to hold them, I saw in your previous post that she should wash her hands after in case they spray her. Any other concerns there?

    Any other helpful pet info would be great! Thanks!

    Nikki

  17. Hi Nikki!

    These are fun critters to take care of! They need leafy greens more than any other fruit or veggie because in the wild, their diet consists of mostly foliage. Romaine lettuce is a very popular choice because they absolutely love it! They will also eat Kale, but mine have never been to into any other leafy greens. I would only offer fruits in moderation, but they will nibble on just about any other fruit or veggie. They should live about 6 months once they reach adulthood, sometimes more, sometimes less. It just depends! The females are certainly larger than the males. If they seem to be tame when your daughter is holding them, I wouldn’t worry too much about them getting anything toxic on her. They only do this when they feel threatened. Mine are usually fine when being handled! Also, these grasshoppers in captivity lose their toxicity because you are not feeding them poisonous plants, you’re feeding them lettuce, so they are no longer poisonous! It is never a bad idea, however, to have her wash her hands afterwards because they can sometimes go to the bathroom on you! Have fun!

  18. hey guys i was wondering if know how too (and what to) feed a eastern lubber i found one and i want to keep as a pet and i cant find out what they eat :( but i was hoping somebody here would know

  19. Hi, I live in southern Alabama. Just yesterday my kids and I were at a park along Mobile Bay. We found a bunch of these little guys and were quite intrigued by them. I placed my hand in front of one and he climbed aboard! But I got frightened as I was not expecting the prickliness of his feet. Almost as soon as he climbed on he went to take a nibble of my finger (we had just eaten lunch). I didn’t wait to see if it would hurt, so I immediately flung him off. My question is, do these guys bite??? I would like to let the kids play with them, maybe even take them home as pets. But i want to be sure they won’t hurt first. :)

  20. Harrison,

    Please read the comment right above yours which tells what to feed them!

  21. Hi Tiffany!

    Well, these grasshoppers do not bite out of aggression, however, they are capable of biting since they have chewing mouthparts. They are very curious and will sample many different things to eat, including fingers! I have had this happen quite a few times when handling them. They will try a quick nibble (it doesn’t hurt, just a little pinch) but usually find out right away that your finger is not food. To combat this, I always have a leaf of lettuce to offer them when I’m handling them. If I notice their mouthparts moving towards my skin, I stick the lettuce in their face! It works every time.

  22. At the end of a peaceful walk my son’s eye started hurting and then swelled up so frightening big that I took him to the emergency room. We came to the conclusion since he had no bites and isn’t allergic to anything that it was from the grasshoppers he was holding in his hand. One had spit on his finger and he must have rubbed his eye. The white part of his eye was so swollen that it was overlapping his pupil. With a liter of saline solution his eye got better. I never knew about this “spit”. So yes parents, kids need to be cautious when playing with grasshoppers. I will do my best to prevent this from happening again. No damage was done to his eye but it was painful and as parents we don’t want our children to have swollen eyes!! Someone might get a wrong idea of how it happened.

  23. Hi! Thanks for this great page. It has great information on it.
    I homeschool my 9 yr old son and we have decided to raise these awesome creatures to document their instars and color change. I have read through most of the comments and I have two opinions. One is all of the negative things the parents have said about these Lubbers.
    As a parent there are things you teach your child very early in life. One- wash hands often especially after touching stuff and being outside Two- Never put hands on face ever!That is how you spread germs. If you need to itch, cough etc., use the inside of your sleeve or shirt. Three- I homeschool, so obviously I watch my child very closely, however EVERY PARENT should be with and paying attention to their child when they are outside?

    The other opinion is- This is obviously a information page you have created because of your FONDNESS of these creatures. Why would someone write anything negative about them being killed or fed to fish . There are a hundred other sites on google and after searching for information, I can say that not all of them are “pro-insect” pages. The people should go write their negative comments on those pages where they will be appreciated.

  24. Andrea,

    I appreciate your comments very much! I’m really glad that you have found this sight helpful! It is true that, as an entomologist, I have an extreme fondness for insects because I respect them and know that they have an immensely important place in this world, every last one of them. Many people who have negative feelings about insects just have no idea what an important role they play in our everyday lives. My goal is to help as many people as I can gain an appreciation for them and it’s a breath of fresh air when I don’t have to try very hard! Keep doing what you’re doing!

  25. Great site! I had a hatch off in my backyard and I want to keep some as pets. Any recommendations for food, or will grass and lettuce work OK? Thanks, Mike

  26. Micheal,

    Lettuce works GREAT! In fact, they love romaine lettuce especially! You can even feed them other fruits and veggies. Have fun!

  27. Hey Erin,
    I’m an outdoor enthusiast. I live currently in Cape Coral, FL. Here, if you haven’t seen a lubber grasshopper you haven’t looked. Had a neighbor once tell me he’s never seen a cockroach in Florida… not sure how that’s possible unless he was taught that a cockroach looks like a panda.
    I have lubber grasshoppers in abundance 3/4 of the year without encouraging them. Spray should not be necessary if these are a concern. Even in nymph phase they are large enough that if you or someone you know goes fishing I recommend live capture. The general Floridian attitude toward lubber grasshoppers is like we’re looking at a cow. I usually handle them like a craw fish. I use recyclable 2-liter bottles or plastic boxes with a few air holes punched in them to capture/keep lubbers in. A bit of grass will keep lubbers a few days, though I prefer to use them right away. They aren’t particularly strong, but have some fantastic gripping hooks on their legs & feet. Both fresh & salt water fish will eat them.
    I prefer to have lubbers around my home rather than some of the other grasshoppers we have in Florida, as some of the other species are 1/3 the size of a lubber & eat 3 times as much. Large size doesn’t mean increased metabolism & in my experience lubbers generally do minimal damage to plant life. Their large size & clumsiness tend to keep them restricted to sturdy plants that can handle both their weight & appetite or grass. Most likely if your plants are getting hit hard & lubbers are around, there’s a smaller species or something else causing it.
    I’ve handled them extensively and have 3 dogs & 2 cats that love to capture & play with the lubber that occasionally gets inside of our lanai. I’ve always washed any lubber grasshopper bodily fluids off, though I’m sure I’ve rubbed at my eye once or twice in the heat without washing. My pets never kill or eat them & avoid the lubber’s spit. I’ve never had or seen any ill effects, which makes me curious…
    Exactly what type of plants cause or increase toxicity in the lubber grasshopper? How toxic could a lubber grasshopper be?

  28. Hey, love your article, I was just curious on how to breed Lubber Grasshoppers indoors. Mine have been mating recently and I understand the eggs overwinter but I was wondering if it was the time or temperature changes that made them hatch. For example, if I were to stick the substrate in the freezer for awhile and bring it out would they hatch or would I just have to wait 5 months? Thanks!

  29. Great article!
    I live in the middle of a wooded area surrounded by bayou, and these guys have been my only neighbors for 20 years. We are nearing the end of their time with us this year, and I have noticed some behaviors that I do not remember previously. First, the males are much more aggressive with each other than I have ever seen before. I saw a fight among three, and then a fourth lumbered clumsily to the fray and jumped in. I’ve also seen two males, one on concrete and one in the grass, rub their faces on the ground for over five minutes. Most disturbingly, they twitch violently for several hours before they die from, I was hoping, natural causes after mating. Is this normal behavior I haven’t noticed before, or should I be looking for a change in the environment?
    Thanks for your time!

  30. Hi Leanna! Thank you for your comment! The aggression between males does not surprise me at all and is common in males of all insects, especially if females are scarce! However, the rubbing and twitching before death are things that I have never noticed. I keep these in captivity and they have a very consistent diet and every day is the same, pretty low stress environment, so that may have something to do with it. The only thing I might suspect is pesticide use around your home? Perhaps spraying for mosquitoes. Do you live in Houston?

  31. Thanks for the info! I live in Mississippi, and the trucks that spray for mosquitos have not started for this season. Terminix was here a couple months ago spraying for spiders and termites, but this is more recent than that, just in the last couple of weeks.

  32. I saw one of these over the last month. Thought it was injured because it didn’t jump much, but it was the most beautiful thing. I wanted to take a pic, never quite caught it right. When I came home just now, it was climbing by my the door as if to say, ‘I’m ready, take it now’ . I got the camera, gently coaxed it down onto the grass and now a couple of really close ups (telephone len). When I went to research what it was not a really insect, since I’m not a gardener I will leave it alone and enjoy it’s beauty. I have a Cuban Frog living by my porch and sadly, I’m probably going to Humanely euthanize him before he eats up all by lizard friends.

  33. Hi Erin,

    Thanks for your blog post and for attempting to expose others to the positives about the amazing Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper. I began raising them – inadvertently – when I was about nine. Not surprisingly, they loved my grandfather’s amaryllis leaves and, when he caught them, he would twist their heads off. He did this in front of me exactly once. Why? Because after that, I insisted that he allow me to catch every single one I could find and I promised to take them home with me.He happily helped me and sent me home with about a dozen bright yellow Lubbers packed into a tiny bamboo cage. Convincing the stewardess (yes, that old fashioned name for flight attendants) that I wouldn’t open the cage on the plane was another story, for another time, but thank goodness, it was the Seventies. It would NEVER happen now, but those grasshoppers took the only flight of their life at the end of that week.

    Now these were full grown Lubbers and, before they eventually died of “old age,” some of the females laid their eggs in the dirt/sand mixture inside of the aquarium, which I moved the grasshoppers into when we arrived home in Miami. I dumped the dirt in our backyard and, the next spring, our tiny yard was teeming with itsy bitsy baby Lubbers. I received a directive from my mother to catch as many as possible before they destroyed her amaryllis – and I raised generation after generation of Lubbers for several years afterwards.

    In fact, thirty-five years later, I’ve got three nymphs in a small cage right now – and I’m hoping to catch the rest, as they hatch. We have so many wild birds – which I also feed – that the nymphs don’t stand much of a chance “in the wild.” Erin, have you found that you can handle the Lubbers without them jumping? I can – in fact, the Lubbers have always been very calm around me – but I’ve noticed that they seem to sense the fear or trepidation in people who aren’t accustomed to them, and won’t sit calmly in their palms. Again, thanks for your post. So great to see another Lubber nerds out there!

  34. I am happy to hear that they are easy to breed and get young from! I haven’t seen any in years here in S. Florida since I began to have an enthusiasm for arthropoda. Finally, I found one today that looks to be a female. I sure hope that she was mated as it is quite a drive to where I found her. My 8 year old daughter is in love with her, as I am. I used to be terrified of these creatures! In the past few years I have really found a love for arthropoda of most kinds. After raising several species of mantids, roaches, beetles, spiders,etc. I was able to let her walk all over my hands, after my daughter insisted that we handle her. I am so excited to have found this creature. I never see them in my neighborhood. ;-) She will be spoiled rotten whether she produces young or not. Can you tell me if they will lay infertile eggs if not mated? She will have a substrate anyway. I wouldn’t want her to get eggbound.

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