Melanoplus femurrubrum (DeGeer)
Link directly to photos of adults, nymphs,
Distribution and Habitat
M. femurrubrum continental distribution map
Wyoming distribution map
The redlegged grasshopper, Melanoplus femurrubrum (DeGeer), ranges
over most of North America except for high mountain altitudes and the frigid
north. It is the most widely distributed species of the major crop grasshoppers.
Its favorite habitats include tall vegetation of grasslands, meadows, crop
borders, reverted fields, Conservation Reserve Program lands, and roadsides.
It favors low moist weedy areas where its host plants abound.
The redlegged grasshopper is a crop pest. During outbreaks of the species,
it may severely damage alfalfa, clover, soybeans, and small grains. It
has destroyed second crops of clover and has caused losses of 20 to 25
percent to individual fields of oats. In the eastern United States and
Canada, it is the most abundant species of grasshopper. It becomes a pest
not only of legumes and small grains but also corn, tobacco, and vegetables
- especially beans, beets, cabbage, and potatoes. Large numbers develop
in meadows and damage forage grasses. In laboratory tests the redlegged
grasshopper ingested 25 percent of the foliage that it removed from six
different host plants and wasted 75 percent. It is a medium-sized grasshopper.
Collected from a roadside in Platte County, Wyoming, males averaged 289
mg live weight and females 389 mg (dry weight: males 87 mg and females
The redlegged grasshopper feeds on a wide variety of forbs and on several
kinds of grasses. Depending on availability of host plants in the habitat,
it may be either forbivorous or a mixed feeder ingesting significant amounts
of both forbs and grasses. Known host plants consist of legumes (birdsfoot
trefoil, white and yellow sweetclover, lespedeza, milkvetches, and alfalfa);
composites (dandelion, chicory, Canada goldenrod, kochia, and western ragweed);
and grasses (Kentucky bluegrass, barley, oats, wheat, smooth brome, Japanese
brome, timothy, and reed canarygrass).
Experiments show that host plants vary in their capacity to provide
good nutrition. Although alfalfa is readily eaten, a sole diet of this
plant causes a high nymphal mortality of 70 to 90 percent. Of three plants-
corn, lettuce, and radish-tested for growth and performance of nymphs and
adults, lettuce yielded the most favorable results which included high
survival of nymphs, heavy weight of adults, and high egg production. A
mixed diet of the three plants provided the best nutrition. This fact is
significant because analyses of crop contents show that the majority of
individuals collected from natural habitats consume two or more plant species
in a single meal. Laboratory observation of the redlegged grasshopper has
revealed that newly hatched nymphs do not begin to feed until three or
more hours after eclosion. During the prefeeding time nymphs in the field
climb nearby vegetation. Later they feed on a host plant that they have
climbed and on which they have come to rest.
The redlegged grasshopper has strong powers of flight that allow the adults
to disperse and find new habitats. In years of drought, the adults develop
longer wings, fly more, and make lengthy flights often in company with
the migratory grasshopper.
The flight of flushed individuals is swift, even, and 3 or 4 feet above
the vegetation. The insects generally fly distances of 30 to 40 feet.
Adults of the redlegged grasshopper are medium size and have a bright yellow
underside and bright red hind tibia (Fig. 6 and
7). Rarely, the hind tibia is colored yellowish-green or blue (Fig.
8). The bulbous subgenital plate and the shape of the cercus (Fig.
9) are diagnostic characters of the male. The nymphs (Fig.
1-5) are strikingly marked yellow and black. They are identifiable
from their spots and color patterns:
(1) Compound eye brown to burgundy with light yellow or tan spots, more
spots on dorsal half than ventral; lacking transverse dark band.
(2) Front of head with dark vertical band in center; light yellow band
on each side of the center band; the two yellow bands come together below
on the clypeus.
(3) Gena with broad pale yellow crescent continuing on pronotal lobe
to first abdominal segment and fading along the rest of abdomen.
(4) Dorsum of head to end of abdomen with median pale yellow stripe.
Broad black stripe on either side of the median pale yellow stripe. Pronotal
lobe with black band or markings below the yellow crescent.
(5) Hind femur with black stripe entire, not interrupted by pale band.
Stripe fills upper medial area of hind femur except at proximal end. Stripe
encroaches a third or more on the lower medial area.
(6) Hind tibia mainly pale yellow or pale gray, front black; tips of
(7) General color contrasting yellow and black.
Eggs of the redlegged grasshopper begin to hatch three weeks after the
eggs of the twostriped grasshopper. The period of hatching lasts approximately
52 days. Because females oviposit throughout the habitat in a scattered
pattern, the eggs are subjected to a range of soil temperatures and moisture
Nymphal development begins in late spring and in early summer when host
plants are usually green and succulent. In approximately 40 days the nymphs
become adult, developing at rates approximately the same as the twostriped.
When reared in cages at a constant temperature of 85°F, the redlegged
requires a nymphal period of 28 days and the twostriped 29 days. Because
of the extended period of hatching, some nymphal grasshoppers can be found
nearly all summer long.
Adults and Reproduction
Adults of the redlegged grasshopper are active from early summer to the
middle of fall. Although dispersal flights occur, most individuals stay
close to where they hatch. There they feed, reproduce, and face many mortality
factors throughout the summer. After fledging, caged females require a
preoviposition period of 9 to 15 days at 86°F before beginning to lay
eggs. In nature the females have been observed ovipositing into sod. The
pods are distinctly curved, three-quarters to one inch long and one-eighth
to three-sixteenth inch in diameter (Fig. 10).
The top third is dried froth, the bottom two-thirds contain 20 to 26 eggs.
The eggs are 4.1 to 4.4 mm long and pale yellow. Caged redlegged grasshoppers
fed a nutritious mixed diet of green leaves produced 336 eggs per female.
Under similar conditions twostriped grasshoppers produced 412 eggs per
female. The redlegged grasshopper has one generation annually.
Historical records from the late 1800s till the 1980s indicate that a center
of distribution of the redlegged grasshopper is present in a 78,000 square
mile area composed of sections of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
A center is an especially favorable zone where the redlegged grasshopper
is abundant and outbreaks are frequent. In such a distribution zone, populations
respond quickly during spring and summer to reduced rainfall and warm temperatures.
Within one to two years small populations may increase to outbreak numbers.
Densities in these years reach peaks of 200 to 500 nymphs per square yard.
Outbreaks last for two to three years until normal rainfall and cool spring
temperatures reduce populations back to low noninjurious numbers. The periods
of low densities range from two years to over five years.
In western states densities of the redlegged grasshopper fluctuate widely,
apparently in response to annual changes in weather. Large populations
develop in irrigated fields of alfalfa and along roadsides, particularly
in patches of sweetclover. This species may also add considerably to the
density of outbreak assemblages of the migratory, twostriped, and differential
The redlegged grasshopper is active during the day. At night adults roost
on the tops of grasses and weeds. Close to 6:30 a.m. they begin to move
from their perches and begin feeding about 7 a.m. Between 4:30 and 5 p.m.
they start crawling up vegetation to roost. By 5:30 p.m. the majority are
roosting and have settled down for the night. In marshes this grasshopper
has been observed at times to feed between 8 p.m. and midnight. Correlations
of these activities with temperature have not been made.
Bailey, C. G. and M. K. Mukerji. 1976. Consumption and utilization of various
host plants by Melanoplus bivittatus (Say) and M. femurrubrum
(DeGeer) (Orthoptera: Acrididae). Can. J. Zool. 54: 1044-1050.
Bailey, C. G. and M. K. Mukerji. 1976. Feeding habits and food preferences
of Melanoplus bivittatus and M. femurrubrum (Orthoptera:
Acrididae). Can. Entomol. 108: 1207-1212.
Bellinger, R. G. and R. L. Pienkowski. 1987. Developmental polymorphism
in the red-legged grasshopper, Melanoplus femurrubrum (DeGeer) (Orthoptera:
Acrididae). Envir. Entomol. 16: 120-125.
Bland, R.G. 1981. Survival and food detection by first-instar Melanoplus
femurrubrum (Orthoptera: Acrididae). Great Lakes Entomologist 14: 197-204.
Cantrall, I. J. 1943. The ecology of the Orthoptera and Dermaptera of
the George Reserve, Michigan. Misc. Publ. Mus. Zool. Univ. Michigan, No.
Drake, C. J. and G. C. Decker. 1938. Grasshopper outbreaks in Iowa.
J. Econ. Entomol. 31: 583-586.
Gangwere, S. K. 1958. Notes on the feeding periodicity of various Orthoptera.
Papers Michigan Acad. Sci., Arts, Letters 43: 119-132.
Larrimer, W. H. and A. L. Ford. 1922. The daily maximum feeding period
of Melanoplus femurrubrum. Can. Entomol. 54: 141-143.
Mulkern, G. B., J. F. Anderson, M. A. Brusven. 1962. Biology and ecology
of North Dakota grasshoppers. I. Food habits and preferences of grasshoppers
associated with alfalfa fields. North Dakota Agr. Exp. Stn. Research Report
Shotwell, R. L. 1938. Species and distribution of grasshoppers responsible
for recent outbreaks. J. Econ. Entomol. 31: 602-610.
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