Melanoplus differentialisDifferential Grasshopper

Geographic Range

Melanoplus differentialis, commonly known as differential grasshoppers, are found throughout most of the United States. They are not found in the southeastern, northeastern, and northwestern parts of the country or near the coasts. Their range extends into southern Saskatchewan and British Columbia in the North and Mexico in the South. (Boone, 2019; Capinera, 2001; Milne, 1992)


Differential grasshoppers live in grasslands, open woods, lush vegetation, and wet crop areas. They can be found in wet meadows, creek-bottom lands, and herbaceous vegetation. Eggs are often found on field borders and roadsides. (Boone, 2019; Milne, 1992; Pfadt, 1994)

Differential grasshoppers live in grasslands, open woods, and wet crop areas. They can be found in wet meadows and creek-bottom lands. Eggs are often found on field borders and roadsides. (Boone, 2019; Milne, 1992; Pfadt, 1994)

Physical Description

Male differential grasshoppers are 28-37 mm in length, while females are 34-50 mm in length. They are shiny and brownish-yellow in color. Their antennae are brownish-yellow or brownish-red. Their faces have herringbone markings and their compound eyes are brown with light spots. The hind femora (upper hind leg) is yellow in color with a black herringbone pattern. The hind tibiae (lower hind limbs) are yellow with black spines. They have yellowish tarsi. Protonum and forewings are glossy and uniform. The shape of males cercus differs from those of females. (Boone, 2019; Milne, 1992; Pfadt, 1994)

Some adults may be nearly black in color. This polymorphic form is found mostly in Colorado and northeast to South Dakota and Nebraska. However, they can be found randomly in other populations. (Boone, 2019; Pfadt, 1994)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    28 to 50 mm
    1.10 to 1.97 in


Differential grasshoppers have a well-synchronized development, with most individuals passing through life stages in parallel. Females lay eggs in the late fall. Embryos enter diapause when their development is 54% complete. They remain in diapause through the winter. Most eggs hatch within a two week period in the late spring. Nymphs grow rapidly in the warm temperature of early summer. They pass through four instars of development. Differential grasshoppers undergo incomplete metamorphosis to become adults. Many nymphs mature to adults within a few days. Adults are found from July to October. (Boone, 2019)


Differential grasshoppers have seasonal breeding and produce one generation in the early summer. Females lay eggs in masses and press 8 egg masses into the soil. Each egg mass contains up to 11 eggs. Eggs are often found along field borders and near roadways. (Milne, 1992)

  • Breeding interval
    Differential grasshoppers breed once yearly.
  • Range eggs per season
    200 (high)
  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


Differential grasshoppers live for 2-3 months after hatching. (Milne, 1992)


Differential grasshoppers are mobile in their nymphal and adult stages. They live in large groups. Nymphs in their first and second instars tend to stay close to the place where they hatched. After reaching their third instar, the nymphs will crawl and hop towards their next food source, typically fields of barley, alfalfa, and species of the wheat genus. They all move in one direction in an unbroken band until they reach their food source. Differential grasshoppers become nomadic as adults. They are very strong fliers; adults can fly 10-100 yards to reach their next food source. (Milne, 1992; Pfadt, 1994)

Communication and Perception

Differential grasshoppers have compound eyes. Not much information is known about their communication and perception. They likely use tactile, visual, and chemical channels of perception. Tactile, visual, and chemical methods of communication are possible. (Boone, 2019)

Food Habits

Differential grasshoppers are polyphagous insects that feed on grasses, forbs, crop plants, and fruit trees. They will eat corn, alfalfa, barley, soybean, wheat plants, and members of the family Asteraceae, including giant ragweeds, blood ragweeds, common sunflowers, and prickly lettuce. Differential grasshoppers prefer eating damaged or wilted sunflowers, possibly because of changes in the chemical composition of the plants. (Boone, 2019; Lewis, 1984; Milne, 1992)

Differential grasshoppers eat many kinds of plants, including grasses, forbs, crop plants, and fruit trees. They will eat corn, alfalfa, barley, soybean, wheat plants. They also eat members of the family Asteraceae, including giant ragweeds, blood ragweeds, common sunflowers, and prickly lettuce. Differential grasshoppers like eating damaged or wilted sunflowers, possibly because of changes in the chemical makeup of the plants. (Boone, 2019; Lewis, 1984)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves


Differential grasshoppers are preyed upon by thread-waisted wasps, field crickets, and beetles of the family Carabidae, known as ground beetles, tiger beetles, soldier beetles, and blister beetles. They are also preyed upon by flies, such as robber flies and bee flies. Birds are important predators of all grasshoppers, including this species. (Capinera, 2001)

  • Known Predators

Ecosystem Roles

Differential grasshoppers eat many types of plants, including grasses, forbs, crop plants, and fruits. Nymphs and eggs are preyed upon by thread-waisted wasps, field crickets, robber flies, bee flies, and beetles of the family Carabidae. Adults and nymphs are preyed upon by birds. Flies in the families of root-maggot flies, tangle-veined flies, flesh flies, and parasitic flies are parasitoids that attack nymphs and adults. (Boone, 2019; Capinera, 2001)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Differential grasshoppers are a notorious crop pest. They are known to destroy crops of alfalfa, corn, soybeans, cotton, vegetables, and deciduous fruit trees. Dense swarms of adults can destroy a cornfield in 3-4 days. Nymphs may attack small grains, alfalfa, and hay. (Milne, 1992)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status


Deena Hauze (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


a period of time when growth or development is suspended in insects and other invertebrates, it can usually only be ended the appropriate environmental stimulus.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Boone, M. 2019. "Species Melanoplus differentialis - Differential Grasshopper" (On-line). Bug Guide. Accessed July 03, 2020 at

Capinera, J. 2001. Handbook of Vegetable Pests. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Academic Press.

Lewis, A. 1984. Plant Quality and Grasshopper Feeding: Effects of Sunflower Condition on Preference and Performance in Melanoplus Differentialis. Ecology, 65(3): 836-843. Accessed July 03, 2020 at

Milne, L. 1992. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. New York: Knopf. Accessed July 03, 2020 at

Pfadt, R. 1994. "Differential Grasshopper Melanoplus differentialis (Thomas)" (On-line). Grasshopper Species Fact Sheets Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin. Accessed July 03, 2020 at