Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Sidney, Montana » Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory » Pest Management Research » PMRU Docs » Grasshoppers: Their Biology, Identification and Management: » ID Tools | Apps » Field Guide » FG Life Cycles

FG Life Cycles
headline bar

Field Guide to Common Western Grasshoppers: Life Cycles

by Robert E. Pfadt

List of Species Fact Sheets (60 Species)


Life History

There are probably as many grasshopper life histories as there are grasshopper species. Each species appears to possess a unique set of ecological and physiological adaptations that allow it to grow, survive, and reproduce in its environment. The habitat furnishes individuals with nutritive food plants, adequate living space, satisfactory soil conditions for the eggs, and favorable or tolerable physical and biotic relationships for all the life stages. Because of the distinctive habits and behaviors of grasshoppers, the particular facts of their life histories will be discussed later in treatment of the individual species.

Life Cycle

All grasshoppers begin their lives as eggs. Yet eggs represent the least known stage of the grasshopper life cycle. They are laid in the soil of the habitat and develop hidden from the view of humans. Eggs of a few species, however, have been studied in both field and laboratory (Fig. 9).


Figure 9. One intact and one broken egg pod, exposing the eggs of the migratory grasshopper, Melanoplus sanguinipes (Fabricius).

Incubation of eggs begins immediately after females deposit them in the soil. The embryo, at first a tiny disc of cells laying on the ventral side of the yolk surface and at the posterior end of the eggs (Fig. 10), grows rapidly, receiving nourishment from the nutrient stores in the yolk.


From left to right: Stage 1 (5%) Stage 3 (10%) Stage 7 (20%) Stage 10 (30%) Stage 12 (40%) Stage 19 (50%)

Diagram showing from left to right Stage 1, Stage 3, Stage 7, Stage 10, Stage 12, Stage 19.

Figure 10. Selected stages in the development of a grasshopper embryo (Melaoplus sanguinipes) held at a constant temperature of 30 C. Left two figures show whole egg; other figures show embryos removed from egg.  (Illustrations adapted from Riegert, 1961; stages identified and designated for embryos of Aulocara elliotti by Saralee Visscher, 1966).

In seven days the embryo of the migratory grasshopper, Melanoplus sanguinipes, held at an incubation temperature of 30½C, reaches Stage 19. In this stage the embryos of many rangeland species such as Aulocara elliotti and Camnula pellucida cease growth and begin a diapause. The embryo of the migratory grasshopper, however, continues to develop and at Stage 20 actively moves from the ventral to the dorsal surface and revolves 180° on its long axis (see Figure 10, Stage 20). After 15 days the embryo has grown to Stage 24, having achieved 80 percent of its development. It then ceases growth and enters diapause.

The embryo of the twostriped grasshopper, and probably others also, enter diapause at this stage. Exposed to favorable incubation temperatures, the eggs of a few rangeland species, such as Arphia conspersa and Xanthippus corallipes, develop completely and hatch during the same summer they are laid. The immediate cause of cessation of embryonic growth (diapause) in eggs of the majority of rangeland grasshoppers appears to be the shutdown of growth hormones. The embryos remain physiologically active as transfer of nutrient materials from the yolk into the embryonic fat body and other tissues continues. Cold temperatures of winter, however, slow or end this process and embryos enter a dormant period.

For eggs laid in temperate regions to reach their maximum development before diapause, they must receive sufficient heat, usually measured as day-degrees of heat accumulated in the soil at egg depth. Eggs deposited late in the season or during a cold summer may not receive this amount of heat, especially in northern areas such as the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. Eggs that do not reach their potential stage of development have reduced hatchability the following spring and thus do not contribute as much to the maintenance of a population.

During winter, low ground temperatures eventually break egg diapause. As soon as the ground warms above threshold soil temperatures of 50 to 55°F in spring, the embryos are ready to continue their development. Research has shown that for the few species studied, eggs need 400 day-degrees by fall to attain maximum embryonic growth and another 150 day-degrees in spring to initiate hatching. For completion of embryonic growth from start to finish, eggs require totals of 500 to 600 day-degrees.

In spring the emergence of hatching grasshoppers may be readily observed. All embryos of a single pod usually wriggle out one after another within several minutes. Once out, they immediately shed an embryonic membrane called the serosa. An individual hatchling, lying on its side or back and squirming, takes only a few minutes to free itself (Fig. 11). During this time the hatchlings are susceptible to predation by ants. After the shedding of the membrane the young grasshoppers stand upright and are able to jump away and escape attacking predators. In spring, young grasshoppers have available green and nutritious host plants. The majority of individuals in grasslands are grass feeders, but individuals of some species are mixed feeders, eating both grasses and forbs. Others are strictly forb feeders.


Figure 11. The lifecycle of the bigheaded grasshopper, Alucara elliotti (Thomas). During summer in bare spots of grassland the female deposits at intervals batches of eggs. As soon as the eggs are laid, they begin embryonic development and reach an advanced stage in which they enter diapause and pass the winter. In spring the eggs complete embryonic development and hatch. The young grasshopper sheds a serosal skin, the exoskeleton hardens, and the nymph begins to feed and grow. After molting five times and developing through five instars in 30-40 days, it becomes an adult grasshopper with functional wings. The adult female matures groups of six to eight eggs at a time and deposits them in the soil at intervals of three to four days for the duration of her short life.

As insects grow and develop, they molt at intervals, changing structures and their form. This process is called metamorphosis. A number of insects undergo gradual (simple) metamorphosis, such as grasshoppers. With this type of metamorphosis the insect that hatches looks like the adult except for its smaller size, lack of wings, fewer antennal segments, and rudimentary genitalia (Fig. 11). Other insects with gradual metamorphosis include the true bugs, aphids, leafhoppers, crickets, and cockroaches. The majority of insects undergo complete (complex) metamorphosis, as the eggs hatch into wormlike larvae adapted for feeding and have a vastly different appearance from that of the adult insect. Before full-grown larvae can become adult insects they must enter into the pupal stage. In this stage they develop and grow the adult structures. Common examples of insects that undergo complete metamorphosis are beetles, butterflies, bees, wasps, and flies.

For young grasshoppers to continue their growth and development and reach the adult stage, they must periodically molt or shed their outer skin (Fig. 11). Depending on species and sex, they molt four to six times during their nymphal or immature life. The insect between molts is referred to as an instar; a species with five molts thus has five instars. After shedding the serosal skin, the newly hatched nymph is the first instar. After each molt the instar increases by one so that the nymph consecutively becomes a second, third, fourth, and fifth instar. When the fifth instar molts, the grasshopper becomes an adult or an imago.

The new adult has fully functional wings but is not yet ready to reproduce. The female has a preoviposition period of one to two weeks during which she increases in weight and matures the first batch of eggs. Having mated with a male of her species, the female digs a small hole in the soil with her ovipositor and deposits the first group of eggs. Once egg laying begins, the female continues to deposit eggs regularly for the rest of her short life. Depending on the species, production may range from three pods per week to one pod every one to two weeks. The species that lay fewer eggs per pod oviposit more often than those that lay more eggs per pod.

Events in the life cycle of an individual species of grasshopper — hatching, nymphal development, and adulthood — occur over extended periods. The eggs may hatch over a period of three to four weeks. Nymphs may be present in the habitat eight to ten weeks and adults nine to 11 weeks. Because of the overlapping of stages and instars, raw field data obtained by sampling populations do not answer several important questions. For example, how many eggs hatched? How many individuals molted successfully to the next instar? What was the average duration of each instar? How many became adults? What was the average length of life and the average fecundity of adult females? To obtain answers to these questions, detailed sampling data must be treated mathematically.The egg pods of grasshoppers vary not only in the number of eggs they contain but also in their size, shape, and structure. Based on structure, four types have been recognized. In type I a stout pod forms from frothy glue and soil surrounding the eggs; froth is lacking between the eggs. In type II a weaker pod is formed from frothy glue between and surrounding the eggs. In type III frothy glue is present between the eggs but does not completely surround them. In type IV only a small amount of froth is secreted on the last eggs of a clutch, and most of the eggs lie loosely in the soil. Grasshopper eggs themselves vary in size, color, and shell sculpturing. Depending on the species eggs range from 4 to 9 mm long and may be white, yellow, olive, tan, brownish red, or dark brown. Eggs of certain species are two-toned brown and tan.


TABLE 4. Life history of the migratory grasshopper, Melanoplus sanguinipes, reared in the laboratory at a constant temperature of 86.5 F.
































Total nymphal period



Average adult longevity




Laboratory data may also be used in studying grasshopper life histories. Table 4 provides information on the life history of the migratory grasshopper, Melanoplus sanguinipes, reared at a constant temperature of 86°F and 30-35% relative humidity and fed a nutritious diet of dry feed, green wheat, and dandelion leaves. The entire nymphal period averages 25 days for males and 30 days for females. Each instar takes four to five days to complete development except for the last instar, which takes seven days. Adult longevity of males averages 51 days and females, 52 days. Longevity of adults in the field is no doubt briefer because of the natural predators and parasites cutting short the lives of their prey.



Previous Section  ~  Next Section

PDF of Field Guide