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Why was this katydid thinking of nipping my hand?

It would be fun to handle a katydid alive and exam it close up. After this encounter, I am not so sure now. What was he about to do before I chickened out?


One Last Note...
For those of you curious about what orthopterans really like to eat when we're not looking, thought the following page over at the Singing Insects site might be of particular interest. (I'd also say suspicions confirmed insofar as my personal wariness about meadow katydids taking painful nips is concerned!):

And for Nick Mirro: You are welcome, and if you ever feel like feeding katydids in the field, those freeze-dried cubes of brine shrimp or tubifex worms are even more convenient to carry and just as enticing to the nippy little devils as are the fish flakes.

That's all. Or as Jiminy's cousin down below there would say: Dismissed!

(photo from the 'Combats de grillons' section at, a fun French site about crickets)

I still can't access your video, but presume from the comments that it shows a katydid who is standing on your hand or arm lowering its head and tasting your skin with its palps. If so, you were right to feel mild concern. I am now convinced that all orthopterans like a bit of meat with their veggies (the naturally predacious species excepted--they like meat all the time) and that all of them can and do bite!

The funny thing is that it wasn't until I started keeping wild-caught katies and others as pets and then raising them that I started getting bitten. I usually can't get wild orthopterans to stay on my hand for long--they're way too wary and always seem to remain tense...too tense to worry about tasting anything and eating, I think. Sometimes a meadow katydid will stretch out to enjoy the warmth of my skin and stay a bit, but that's it. Captive ones that have gotten tame and lost all caution and fear, though, they're a whole different story!

The worst bite I've gotten so far from any orthopteran was from a black field cricket...yes, your common Gryllus pennsylvanicus. This species can get very large when captive-bred and almost obnoxiously tame, much tamer than house crickets (Acheta domesticus) which I've always thought odd, considering that house crickets are virtually a domestic animal. Anyway, I first began noticing their penchant for exceptional tameness when they stopped 'shooing' whenever I put my hands into their terrarium to retrieve a food or water dish for cleaning, etc; instead of scooting off, some of the adult crickets began lifting their heads and waggling their palps and feelers at my fingers. I thought this was really cute and a sign that they were becoming friendly. I was wrong. What they were really doing was starting to take note of all the nice juicy meat that occasionally and mysteriously invaded their quarters. My illusions were shattered the first time I encouraged a big fat female to climb up onto my palm. She waddled out onto the end of my middle finger, palped the soft pad right on the underside of my fingertip and...YEOW!!!...she didn't so much bite me as try to EAT me! I haven't tried to handle a tame adult female field cricket with my bare hands since. I just don't trust 'em anymore!

The second worst orthopteran bite I've gotten was from an adult female two-striped grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittatus). Same sort of deal... I let what I thought was a charmingly friendly insect step up onto my hand and she proceded to walk all over my arm, occasionally lowering her head to tap my skin with her palps until she found just what she was looking for: the tenderest, juiciest part on the underside of my wrist. THAT attempt to chow down on my flesh resulted in a red welt and a grasshopper getting a rocket-launched boost across the room when I screamed and jerked my arm up in response.

I'm somewhat humiliated to confess that I've also since gotten bitten on the big toe by a female field cricket (argh! AGAIN!) who got loose in the house and crawled out of hiding from under the coffee table to lauch her lightning strike and by numerous small grasshopper nymphs, ones who've have been captive-bred and who accidently bounce onto my arm or hand when I'm reaching into their cage to replenish their food. This is tied, I'm sure, to grasshoppers having a surprisingly high capacity for associative learning when it comes to all things food-related. The little monsters land on my bare skin and with some, it seems to stimulate them into an automatic "Oh boy! Fresh meat!" sort of response and they suddenly just chomp down. Not that they can do much damge--it feels like a mosquito bite at worst--but grasshoppers... Who would think you'd have to worry about getting bitten by baby grasshoppers? :(

I haven't been bitten by any of my tame katies yet, but that's only because I've finally gotten wise to what tapping palps mean and either don't give them any opportunities to try and eat me or use fish flakes to bribe them away from my tasty, tasty skin. As long as their jaws are kept busy chewing up a tropical fish flake or some other similar delicacy, I figure I'm safe. I especially don't ever want to be bitten by my meadow katydids because they look in many ways like miniature conehead katydids to me and coneheads are supposed to be about the worst, most powerful biters of all katydids. That's a potential experiment I'll leave to one of you other nuts, er, I mean, enthusiasts to pursue...

[i]and coneheads are supposed
and coneheads are supposed to be about the worst, most powerful biters of all katydids.
Really? I caught one just the other day - a nymph, but a later-stage nymph, had decent-sized wing stubs, and accidentally bent one of its antenna in the process. It gave me a good chomp for that, which I figure I probably deserved, but it didn't break skin - and I'm pretty sure it was trying to do as much damage as it could, seeing as it was trying to get away from something that, for all it knew, was probably going to eat it.

. . then it calmed down and meandered around my hand nibbling. Granted my experience is far from vast, only a handful of species, and nymphs of most of those, but most katydids I've handled have been perfectly happy to just nibble - especially if you're sweating. I think they like the salt. If they try for a few dead skin cells too, I'm unbothered. Scudder's Bush Katydids seem to be the most likely to get, um, overenthusiastic? I've had their nibbling verge on painful, but still, no blood drawn. I think crickets are a good deal more omnivorous than most species of katydid.

I have, however, seen meadow katydid nymphs catch and eat gnats - not accidental munching of something that was sitting on a plant, but actual predatory behavior, I've seen them pounce, like ittybitty little kittens. So I'll concur that some species of katydids generally thought to be herbivores are in actuality probably omnivores, at least as nymphs - I've just never had one make a serious attempt to make a meal of me.

I've never considered keeping
I've never considered keeping one at home. It sounds really fun. They are pretty dramatic when they are flying. Not so sure how Phoebes would feel with one of those huge helicopters flying through the house!


"She waddled out onto the end of my middle finger, palped the soft pad right on the underside of my fingertip and...YEOW!!!...she didn't so much bite me as try to EAT me!"

: - ))) this is hysterical. I'll bet it didn't waste any time trying to turn your skin into mush.

The fish flakes idea is really helpful. I think I'll bring some down to the trinity river next time I go. Here is another way to see the movie if you're interested. You'll have to download it though. Not sure what youtube's problem is. Thanks for a great reply. My wife and I read through it twice.

A grasshopper tasted my finger once. I felt a scraping on my skin. It decided I was not a plant.

My Two Cents
and probably not worth that. Dogs, cats, etc, have to use their sense of smell along with their eyes and birds use their beaks to check things out because they don't have hands, all their senses are involved in checking their environment. Perhaps this is the way the bug is checking you out.

Perhaps it was tasting salt o
Perhaps it was tasting salt or some other nutrient being exuded by your skin; critters often have to supplement their diets, just as we do.

Thanks John. Does anyone who
Thanks John. Does anyone who's handled katys know that they will not take an actual bite of human skin? Seems unlikely for a leaf eater but I find I became much less confident when it was actually mouthing my skin.

The more I'm out there, the more I want to pick up different critters. How can you tell which are inclined to bite or impale you?

What about leaf-footed bugs?

A friend of mine was studying omnivory in grasshoppers. I listened to him talk about the ecological forces behind switching from herbivory to carnivory while one of his cherub-faced katydids sat on my finger. Suddenly it gave me a nip strong enough that I was no longer interested in this theoretical discussion. It didn’t actually break the skin, but I now regard the whole of Orthoptera as voracious, man-eating carnivores not to be trifled with!

Don't tell Sarah...
...that they bite. SHe might think I set her up :)

Perceptions of “Danger”
Isn’t it odd how so many people experience fear of spiders while comparatively few are worried about grasshoppers and katydids? A spider will bite you if you squeeze it- fair enough. But there are those arthropods that bite unprovoked. Why don’t people worry that they may be envenomated by a lacewing larva, attacked by thrips, or macerated by a grasshopper? Even I think this is a cute picture, despite knowing that the poor child could have been eaten alive!

Well this is really a confide
Well this is really a confidence booster! You might tell Sarah that her bravery helped me to not be so afraid. (truthfully its just the peer pressure. anyone here still playing with bugs has clearly never grown up : )

Hmm... I hadn't considered t
Hmm... I hadn't considered that orthos do occasionally eat their own. I forgot about that. Did it sting? Aw heck, only one way to find out.

The only ones . . .
I can come close to playing with are jumping spiders, and only some kinds of those. They take the initiative, jumping onto my hand or onto the camera (sometimes leaving a web trail on the lens). Ladybugs and their larvae can bite, but it doesn't amount to much.

I try not to touch the critters. It's too easy to hurt something that small. When a flying insect lands on me and sucks up liquid from skin, I wonder whether it'll poison itself with sunscreen. When I unwrapped honeybees struggling in spider silk, I held them because there was no other way.

Thats interesting. Good poin
Thats interesting. Good point about all the chemicals on our skin. I have deet, sunscreen and mineral oil on my ankles to keep the chiggers off. Probably a toxic soup to them.

I don't see anything wrong with handling these critters. If your hands are clean, they are probably pretty tough and won't be hurt from gentle handling. Definately not from letting them crawl on you. I'm more afraid of not knowing what they think they are crawling on.

Aren't jumping spiders really great? Something about those 2 human looking eyes that makes them seem too smart to bite. : - )

It's not just the 2 eyes, it's the other 2, and . . .

Aww, they're just so cute, stop me before I get all mushy and unscientific in front of these proper Ph.D. folks.

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