Zonocerus variegatus

Physical characteristics: The variegated grasshopper has a yellow-green body 1.4 to 2.2 inches (35 to 55 millimeters) in length, with yellow, orange, white, and black markings. The wings are usually very short, covering only half of the abdomen, but long-winged individuals are also known. Larvae are black with bright yellow speckles.

Geographic range: Variegated grasshoppers are found in sub-Saharan Africa.

Habitat: They live in savannahs, pastures, and agricultural fields.

Variegated grasshoppers are serious pests of cassava, maize, and other crops in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. (Illustration by Bruce Worden. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: They feed on a variety of plants, especially relatives of peas. They take bad-tasting chemicals from these plants and use them in their own body tissues as part of their own defense strategy. The bright colors of these grasshoppers advertise the fact that they taste bad. Because they eat many kinds of plants with little or no bad-tasting chemicals, some grasshoppers may not taste bad at all. For example, they are commonly roasted and eaten by people living in southern Nigeria.

Behavior and reproduction: The larvae feed in groups, forming clusters of tens or hundreds of individuals on a single plant. Both the larvae and adults are slow moving. Even the fully winged adults are reluctant to fly, apparently relying on their bright warning colors to discourage most predators.

Females lay their eggs in foamy egg pods and bury them in the soil.

Variegated grasshoppers and people: They are serious pests of cassava, maize, and other crops in Africa south of the Sahara Desert.

Conservation status: This species is not endangered or threatened. ■

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