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Genus Melanoplus

Melanoplus sanguinipes? - Melanoplus sanguinipes - female Melanoplus arizonae - male Chiricahua Short-winged Grasshopper - Melanoplus chiricahuae - male Two-Striped Grasshopper - Melanoplus bivittatus - female GH10-24 - Melanoplus ponderosus - male Grasshopper - Melanoplus bivittatus - male Melanoplus punctulatus - female Possible Pine Tree Spur-throat Grasshoppers - Melanoplus punctulatus - male - female
Classification
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Orthoptera (Grasshoppers, Crickets, Katydids)
Suborder Caelifera (Grasshoppers)
Family Acrididae (Short-horned Grasshoppers)
Subfamily Melanoplinae (Spur-throated Grasshoppers)
Tribe Melanoplini
Genus Melanoplus
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Monopterus Fischer von Waldheim, 1846 [nomen obitum]. Type species not designated? [according to Eades, 2002; from OSF] "Depending on type species and lectotype designations, this could be a senior synonym of Melanoplus, Podismopsis or Chrysochraon"
Pezotettix subgenus Melanoplus Stål, 1873 [nomen protectum]. Type species: Acrydium femur-rubrum De Geer [=Melanoplus femurrubrum (De Geer, 1878) Scudder]
Melanoplus (Stål) Scudder, 1878
Aeoloplus Scudder, 1897. Type species: Caloptenus regalis G.M. Dodge [=Melanoplus regalis (Dodge) Bruner]
Bohemanella Rehn, 1950. Type species: Gryllus frigidus Boheman [= Melanoplus frigidus (Boheman) Hebard]
Explanation of Names
Author of name is Stål, 1873. From Greek melano dark, plus suffix -plus, meaning "clad in dark armor" (1) (Pests, Plagues and Politics--Michael Burgett, Oregon State University).
Numbers
Arnett (2) mentions 239 North American species.
Identification
CAUTION: Please note that many of the species identifications are qualified. Many of the species look very similar, while only a relative few are uniquely distinctive looking. Positive identifications for many species can only be achieved by examining the male genitalia on an actual specimen. Images alone are often not enough to reach a conclusion.
Small to relatively large, relatively smooth, most often brownish, grayish, yellowish, or greenish Spur-throat Grasshoppers (with a spur on the prosternum between bases of front legs), often with a wide dark band that extends back from the compound eyes. With face not strongly slanting, and vertex of head rounded in profile. Pronotum relatively smooth, and rounded from top into sides (sometimes a bit of a faint ridge in this location), with median carina a low raised line, but at least partly distinct. Wings varied in size and shape, but when fully developed with hind wings usually clear to bluish or yellowish and not distinctly patterned; tegmina slender when long, rarely strongly patterned, but may have a pale stripe and/or rows of irregular small dark or light spots. Males with top edge of subgenital plate (viewed from side) distinctly and abruptly curving upward near base (as apposed to approximately straight).
Several related genera are similar, but most are distinctive enough to distinguish by appearance. Most similar looking are Paroxya (with a very long pronotum and long antennae), Aeoloplides (almost always found on plants of the Chenopodiaceae and with two narrow dark stripes on top middle of pronotum), Asemoplus (with the rear top edge of the pronotum distinctly concave in outline), Phoetaliotes (with a large head), and Oedaleonotus (very stout with lateral ridges at top sides of pronotum, and lower half of hind leg "knee" totally pale in color).
Range
All of North America, and much of Eurasia. Apparently all species occur in North American, with only one (M. frigidus) ranging widely into and across Eurasia.
Food
Most species favor herbaceous or shrubby Dicots. Some also eat wide-leaved herbaceous Monocots (such as Corn, Sorghum, Iris, etc.). Several species will use a wide range of plants, while others are restricted to (or strongly favor) plants in one or few families. Many species use almost exclusively Composites (family Asteraceae). A few feed primarily on Conifers. Some species can be serious agricultural pests, but most are not.
Life Cycle
Varies somewhat with species, but most lay eggs (which overwinter) in soil; or, sometimes in cracks in rocks, in soft wood, borer holes, or even in animal dung. Eggs mostly hatch in spring or early summer. Nymphs of most species look similar with a pattern characteristic of the subfamily (see photos), but those of some species are very distinctive. Most go through 5 instars (sometimes 6). Adults are present sometime from late spring to first autumn freezes. A few species may produce more than one brood per year in southern regions (i.e. M. femurrubrum & M. sanguinipes are suspected of such). It is quite probable that many species, especially in arid regions, may be capable of remaining in the egg stage for up to several years.
Remarks
As currently defined, this is the most species rich genus of Orthoptera in North America. Several distinct groups of related species may be distinguished, but defining the limits of these groups can be problematic, and authors disagree somewhat on which species are related to which. Even so, it is likely that this genus will eventually be split into more than one. Some species are distinctive enough to easily identify on sight. Certain species groups (such as the Viridipes Group) are very different looking from most other species of Melanoplus. However, these are the exceptions; large numbers of species look very similar and differences are difficult to see without close examination. External parts of the end of the male abdomen are most often distinctly different between species, but sometimes internal genitalia must be examined to be sure. Females are often much more difficult to identify than males, and often photographs are not enough to make a certain identification. Length and form of wings often help with identification (but in some species wings vary in development), and some species have the "spur" on the prosternum ("throat") distinctively shaped, while others may have a distinctive feature shared by few other species, such as a bump under the thorax, a unique shape of some body part that is easy to observe, etc. Information about where an insect is found can be very helpful.
Nymphs of most species tend to be rather similar looking, yet nymphs of many species are distinctive enough that they can be identified with familiarity and knowledge of where they were found. However, there is little or no published information available on nymphs for most species, and first hand experience is usually needed.
This genus contains many of the economically important species of Grasshoppers in North America, and some are of historic significance, such as the (presumed extinct) Melanoplus spretus, which before 1900 periodically swarmed across the mid-sections of the continent in plague proportion swarms, just to mysteriously (at least seemingly) vanish by 1910. Certain species can actually be considered beneficial due to preference for weedy species of plants, while most are locally occurring species of little economic importance.
Some groupings of species that share common features, and whose members might be confused are listed here, but this list isn't even close to exhaustive, and any implied kinships may or may not be real. On the other hand, it is probable that some related "species" included in the same group are in reality only subspecies of one another. These groups are not "legal" taxonomic units, and they are not derived directly from other authors, but were compiled here by David J. Ferguson to show similarities. They do correspond loosely to some of the groups that have been outlined by others. A majority of the species most likely to be observed are included in the groups listed below. There are many species not listed here, most of which are small to medium sized, rather dull of coloring, with short to very reduced wings.
Bowditchi Group (+ Cinereus & Herbaceus Groups of some authors) - Slender smallish to medium species, mostly grayish or dull brownish, but often tinted green or rich bluish gray and yellow (M. herbaceus is usually greenish). Wings long and slender; male furculae mostly nearly parallel, long (well over half of length of supra-anal plate); cerci slender, mostly tapering toward the tip (some narrowed in center with tip somewhat wider). Most are associated with woody Asteraceae most often in sandy places. Includes: M. bowditchi, cinereus, complanatipes (incl. canonicus), flavidus, herbaceus (incl. elongatus), pictus,, etc. Perhaps several of these are regional variants of only a few species.
Femurrubrum Group (+ Mexicanus Gp.) - Mostly non-descript grayish, brownish, or greenish with yellowish below, smallish to medium in size, and average of build. Wings usually well-developed, tegmina overlapping when folded, but from shorter than abdomen to very long. Pronotum with metazona and area to it's front about equal in length (except in M. dawsoni). Male furculae well-developed, triangular, diverging. Male and female cerci mostly moderately wide and short, and roughly triangular (tapering toward usually blunt tip). M. fasciatus has long strap-like cerci, and furculae short for the group. Male (and sometimes female) in M. arizonae, bruneri, sanguinipes, spretus, & often devastator with a distinct median bump on mesosternum. Includes: M. arizonae, borealis (incl. madeleineae), bruneri, dawsoni, devastator, fasciatus, femurrubrum (incl. propinquus), gaspesiensis, sanguinipes (incl. atlantis, bilituratus, & mexicanus), spretus, etc. These are often very difficult to tell apart, especially the females.
Angustipennis Group (+ Packardii Gp.) - Mostly similar to previous in appearance or often "smoother" and shinier looking, mostly medium to large (for genus). Pronotum with metazona distinctly but not greatly shorter than part in front of it. Long-winged. Male furculae well-developed but much shorter than supragenital plate, slender, triangular, divergent in most. Male cerci mostly slender, rounded at tip, narrowed in middle. No bump on mesosternum. Many of the species favor sandy habitats. Includes: M. angustipennis (incl. impiger), bispinosus, fluviatilis, foedus, packardii, stonei, etc.
Bivittatus Group (+ Clypeatus & Ponderosus Gp.) - These are relatively large, often "smooth" looking species; with the male furculae vestigial at best; cerci large, approximately boot-shaped (or at least wide apically). Females of most have the 8th abdominal sternum prominently notched on each side at the rear margin (next to the front of the ovipositor). Pronotum with metazona distinctly shorter than the part ahead of it. Wings well-developed, covering most of but sometimes not reaching the tip of abdomen. Likely a natural grouping. Includes: M. bivittatus, clypeatus (incl. furcatus, pegasus & symmetricus), differentialis, eumera, macclungi, ponderosus (incl. viola), punctulatus, splendidus, sumachrasti, thomasi, tunicae, yarrowii, keeleri, (smaller than the rest; incl. luridus), etc.
Nigrescens Group (+ Texanus Gp.) - Similar to and perhaps should be included with previous, but mostly somewhat smaller (still mostly larger than average for the genus), with wings usually from about as long as pronotum to little longer than pronotum. Head, often with pale marginal stripes along the top. With male cercus widening beyond base and mostly somewhat curved up (but often less distinctly boot-shaped). Includes: M. alabamae, calidus, fransiscanus, nigrescens, querneus, walshii, alexanderi, angularis, dakini, inconspicuus, oklahomae, texanus, warneri, etc.
Occidentalis Group (+ Discolor, Glaucipes & Keiferi Gp.) - Small to medium in size, relatively stocky; with usually well-developed wings varied in length but usually much longer than pronotum, often longer than abdomen, with tegmina overlapping above abdomen when folded; coloring varies with species; male furculae inconspicuous or very short and finger-like with wide bases; male cerci large, wide, appearing very roughly oval or reniform, and connected below center to one side. Includes: M. chimariki, cuneatus, discolor, glaucipes, keiferi, lithophilus, occidentalis, rugglesii, etc. It is likely that species in this group are not all closely related to one another.
Infantilis Group - Small, rarely over an inch; coloring usually grayish; tegmina slender, wings usually longer than abdomen. Male furculae short nubs. Male cerci wide at very base, remainder slender curving with tip pointing down and lobed at top of curve. Favoring cool northern or higher elevation grasslands. Includes: M. alpinus & infantilis.
Lakinus Group - Smallish species of average build and pattern, mostly grayish or brownish, sometimes greenish or flushed with warm colors; dark postocular bar of pronotum and interrupted dark band on each side of abdomen often well-developed (may connect into dark bands crossing top of abdomen); with white diagonal stripe above base of legs behind pronotum usually pronounced; hind femora with dark bands crossing top, often continued diagonally on outer face, often orange or red on inner face toward lower side; hind tibiae blue. Wings usually short (most often about equalling or longer than pronotum); tegmina tapered to narrowed almost pointed tip, overlapping or at least usually touching when folded, often paler on top than on sides; sometimes long-winged (at least M. lakinus), and then very like Femurrubrum Group (except then metazona of pronotum disinctly shorter than part in front). Male cerci short, nearly round, with a narrow lobe pointing up from top and bent inward; with furculae developed but short and narrowed toward the tip. Includes M. lakinus, platycercus, & rileyanus. M. tuberculatus is long-winged, similar to M. lakinus, but with prozona closer to equal in length to metazona, with dark markings usually not bold.
Viridipes Group - Small with pale lower sides to head and pronotum, with wide near black band extending back from compound eye across upper part of sides of pronotum. Wings short, mostly equaling or shorter than pronotum. Front and middle femora green or at least distinctly greenish. Hind femur either green or distinctly cross-banded brown to black. Hind tibiae green to bluish. Eastern, mostly in weedy growth in openings or near edges of forest or woodland. Includes: M. acrophilus, beameri, benni, cherokee, deceptus, eurycercus, hubbelli, lilianae, longicornis, pachycercus, similis, sylvaticus, viridipes, & gracilis. Most are closely similar to one another, likely representing regional variants of few species, and resemble Appalachia, Booneacris, and Dendrotettix; however, M. gracilis is most different, and resembles Paroxya rather closely (except with short wings).
A few longer-winged species stand out as distinctive, relatively easy to recognize, but unique enough not to be particularly close to any other long-winged species. These more distinctive species include M. confusus, gladstoni, impudicus, kennicotti, regalis, etc. The males of these are easily recognized by external genitalia, but females of M. confusus, impudicus & kennicottii are rather average looking Melanoplus, and the last two and gladstoni are probably related to various short-winged species. M. aridus is a species or group of closely related species that is very common in the Southwest, and fairly easy to recognize.
Print References
Lockwood, p. 29 (1)
Arnett, pp. 169-177 (2)
Internet References