Class Hexapoda Orthoptera Graphic
Order: Orthoptera
Common Name--Grasshoppers, Crickets, and Katydids

The order Orthoptera is pronounced " or-THOP-ter-a". This scientific name stems from the Greek words "orthos", which means straight, and "ptera", which means wings. The order name refers to the relatively long and straight front wings of many species.

Picture of lubber grasshopper Grasshoppers get their common name from their hopping ability and their eating of grass and other plants. Some species of grasshoppers that mass together in large numbers and migrate are called locusts.

Picture of a tree cricket There are many different kinds of crickets. The brown house and field crickets are the ones familiar to most people. Other crickets include mole crickets, which burrow in the soil; camel and cave crickets, which are wingless and hump-backed; and tree crickets, which live in bushes and trees.

A katydid Katydids get their name from the way their songs sound. Some katydids have been called long-horned grasshoppers because of their long and slender shape. However, all katydids are more similar and related to crickets than grasshoppers.


There are about 12,500 species of Orthoptera found around the world. An estimated 7,000 more species have never been named and described. The United States and Canada have almost 1,100 species, of which about 600 are grasshoppers.


Adults and nymphs of camel crickets Most Orthoptera are found in grassland areas because of the types of plants found in open fields. Many species of crickets and katydids that feed on trees are found in forests. Camel crickets are found often in dark moist places such as cellars and under logs and stones, and some even are found in caves. Pygmy mole crickets occur along the shores of streams and ponds where they burrow in the sand and soil. A few species of Orthoptera associated with aquatic plants have adaptations for swimming freely in water or skating over the surface film of water.

Form and Function

Rotate a Grasshopper 360 degrees 1.7mb Quicktime VR File

Most Orthoptera are between one-half to three inches long, but some can be as long as six inches. They are generally elongated and cylindrical and have a leathery exterior. The mouth parts are designed for biting and chewing. The enlarged hind legs are the most conspicuous feature of both adults and nymphs. The hind femur is filled with muscle to enable jumping very high and far.

The American grasshopper, <I>Shistocerca americana</I>, in flight Two pairs of wings are usually present in adults, but sometimes the wings are short or even absent. The front wings are usually narrow and thickened, whereas the hindwings are broad and membranous. The hind wings, which have many veins, are folded like a fan under the front wings when the orthopteran is not flying.

Some grasshoppers have hindwings colored with yellow, orange, reds, green, or blue. Other Orthoptera have more subdued colors, such as various shades of browns and greens. Some species of katydids, which usually are green, have a genetic variation that results in individuals with bright pink bodies and wings.

Tympanum (at arrow) on first segment of grasshopper's abdomen Grasshoppers are very different from crickets and katydids. Grasshoppers have antennae that are much shorter than the length of their body. Grasshoppers make sound by scraping a row of pegs on their hind legs against their wing or body or by snapping their hind wings while flying. The grasshopper's hearing organ is a large membrane, or tympanum, on the first segment of its abdomen.

File on left wing and scraper on right wing of katydid Katydid with tympanum on each foreleg Crickets and katydids have very long antennae, usually longer than their body. Crickets and katydids create sounds by rubbing a scraper on one forewing against a file on the other front wing. The hearing organ of crickets and katydids is located inside a slit on their front legs. Listen to some cricket sounds.

Mole cricket with front legs modified for burrowing Mole crickets (Gryllotalpidae and Tridactylidae) have front legs that are modified for digging in the soil. Each front leg resembles a shovel or the foot of a mole.

Life Cycle

Orthopterans have incomplete metamorphosis (egg-nymph-adult). Female grasshoppers usually lay their eggs in the soil. Katydids and crickets lay their eggs in many places including the soil, in stems of plants, and in bark of trees.

Nymph of grasshopper Nymphs are very similar to the adults, except they are smaller and lack fully developed wings. The nymph goes through several molts (generally five), gradually developing into an adult.

Different species of Orthoptera have different songs for attracting mates. It is common to hear the different songs of four or five species at the same time during the night. The male is usually the one who makes the sound to attract the a female of the same species. The sounds are produced by rubbing body parts together, a process known as stridulation. Some species have drums or resonating chambers associated with their wings or abdomens to further amplify the sound.

Food and Feeding Habits

Chewing mouthparts of grasshopper Most orthopterans are plant feeders and have chewing mouth parts designed for feeding on leaves. Some eat only certain plants, such as grasses, whereas others will eat just about anything that is green. Mole crickets, which live in the soil, feed on roots of plants.

Leaf-rolling cricket, <I>Camptonotus carolinensis</I>, tying a leaf with silk Some camel crickets are predators, and they come out at night to feed on other insects. Leaf-rolling crickets make silk with their mouths to tie a leaf into a roll in which they hide during the day. However, at night they come out of their leaf-roll to feed on aphids and other insects.

Common crickets, such as the house cricket and field cricket (Gryllidae), will feed on plant and animal matter. These feeding habits, similar to those of human beings, are termed "omnivorous."

Natural Enemies

Natural enemies of Orthoptera include birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, spiders, insects, mites, fungi, nematodes and even bacteria.

Tachinid flies (Tachinidae) and flesh flies (Sarcophagidae) are parasites of Orthoptera. When the eggs of the fly hatch, the developing maggots eat their way into the body of the grasshopper or cricket.

Grasshopper egg masses in the soil are attacked by larvae of some bee flies (Bombyliidae), blister beetles (Meloidae), and ground beetles (Carabidae). When the soil is wet, fungi in the soil also can kill the eggs.

Some wasps use Orthoptera as food for their young. Some solitary wasps (Sphecidae) provision their nests with paralyzed crickets as food for their larvae. The nest of a single wasp may store as many as 18 crickets in the nest cells of the developing young.

Olympic Feats and Other Strange Facts

The Rocky Mountain grasshopper, Melanoplus spretus, was a plague in the American mid-west during the 1800's. Swarms contained millions of grasshoppers. This migratory locust now is considered extinct as it has not been seen since the early 1900's.

During the late 1800's in the United States, swarms of locusts sometimes traveled 1500 miles or more and could do so at a rate of 20 miles a day.

A law was passed in Kansas in 1877 that required able-bodied men between the ages of twelve and sixty-five to assemble to fight locusts. This was known as the "grasshopper army."

Grasshoppers in the genus Dicthyphorus secrete bubbles of a blistering fluid to protect themselves from certain predators.

It is possible to obtain a close estimate of the outside temperature in Fahrenheit degrees by listening to the chirps of a Snowy Tree Cricket, Oecanthus niveus. The following formula, known as Dolbear's Law, is used for finding the temperature:


"T" is the temperature and "n" is the number of chirps per minute. Count the number of chirps per minute, subtract 40, divide this number by four, and the addition of 50 will give you the temperature. There are other formulas for other species that have different songs. The formula for the Katydid, Cryptophyllus perspicalis, is:


Some katydids are shaped and colored in such a way as to look like a leaf, either a green leaf complete with veins or a dried, crumpled leaf. As many leaves have spots of damage from disease and insect feeding, the wings of some katydids also mimic these imperfections in the leaf.

The Ant cricket (Mymecophilus acervorum) is found only in certain types of ant nests. This cricket licks the ant's body to feed on its secretions.

The Good and The Bad

House or field crickets, Gryllus sp. Some Orthoptera have beneficial uses. Common crickets (Gryllidae) are reared in large numbers and used for fish bait. Migratory locusts, which can be serious pests, are eaten by many people in Africa, and there are festivals associated with the coming of a grasshopper swarm. They have also been dried and fed to poultry for a highly nutritious feed.

Grasshoppers and crickets have long been used in art and literature, and Jiminy Cricket has become a well-known character. Grasshoppers have used as models for weather vanes and crests in England, and crickets have been considered symbols of contentment.

Crickets have been kept for their singing and fighting ability in China and Japan. Cricket boxes for these pets were made from bamboo or metal and often were ornately decorated. Imitations of these cricket boxes are sold in the United States where they are used for decoration or storing small things. More information on the Chinese cricket culture can be found in the Cultural Entomology Digest.

Many Orthoptera are serious pests of vegetable and grain crops. The desert locust (Shistocerca gregaria) is one of the most destructive insects in the world. These grasshoppers are found in Africa, India, and the Middle East, and a large swarm of them can eat 3000 tons of green plants a day. These crop losses have resulted in severe famines which have caused many deaths from starvation. The desert locust is the same grasshopper that plagued the people in Egypt in Biblical times.

Families of North American Orthoptera

Tetrigidae (pygmy grasshoppers)

Eumastacidae (monkey grasshoppers)

Tanaoceridae (desert long-horned grasshoppers)

Acrididae (short-horned grasshoppers)

Tridactylidae (pygmy mole crickets)

Tettigoniidae (long-horned grasshoppers, katydids)

Gryllacrididae (camel crickets, cave crickets, and others)

Gryllidae (crickets)

Gryllotalpidae (mole crickets)

Selected References

Evans, H. E. Life on a Little-known Planet. New York: E.P.Dutton & Co., Inc., 1966.

Blatchley, W.S. Orthoptera of Northeastern America. Indianapolis, The Nature Publishing Co., 1920.

Helfer, J.R. How to Know the Grasshoppers, Cockroaches, and their Allies. Pictured Key Nature Series. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Co., 1972.

Borror, D.J. and R.E. White. A Field Guide to the Insects of America North of Mexico. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.


For an extensive list of Hemiptera Web sites, go to the Links Component of the module.

Picture Credits

Dr. Ross E. Hutchins (Deceased)
Mississippi Entomological Museum

Lubber grasshopper, Romelea guttata. This species cannot fly.

Tree cricket, Oecanthus sp.

Katydid, Amblycorypha sp.

Adults and nymphs of camel crickets

American grasshopper, Schistocerca americana, in flight

Tympanum (at arrow) on first segment of grasshopper's abdomen

File on left wing and scraper on right wing of katydid

Katydid with tympanum on each foreleg

Mole cricket with front legs modified for burrowing

Nymph of grasshopper

Chewing mouthparts of grasshopper

Leaf-rolling circket, Camptonotus carolinensis, tying a leaf with silk

House or field crickets, Gryllus sp.

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