Earlier last week, I collected 45 tiny grasshopper nymphs from the gravel shoulder of a busy road, to raise indoors for later release. Most were second instars, several were still in the first stage, and all are a fairly uniform pale blue-grey or slightly sandy colour and show markings which I thought typical of Carolina grasshopper or Dissosteira carolina
nymphs. With one exception: The youngest nymphs had almost solid black hind legs that really don't match any first instar nymph photo for this species which I've been able to find...instead, they looked more like this orangelegged grasshopper nymph...
...at least insofar as the hind legs were concerned. Since capturing the little things, they've already molted on into a more representative-looking second stage, but I'm still a little puzzled as to why they had those black legs...do the Carolina nymph photos maybe not show the first instar after all or do I just have some oddball-coloured nymphs? Or maybe they were females and this was their earliest 'extra' stage? (I've read somewhere that some female grasshoppers sometimes go through one more molt than do the males.) Not a big deal, and I'm still pretty sure all these little hoppers will go on to grow up to be Carolinas...just wondering if anyone else has ever noted this. Interestingly, when those youngest nymphs molted, the extensive black pigment on the hind legs came 'off' on the shed exoskeletons, preserving a little record of the variation. I've also noted that these little nymphs sometimes molt while just sitting on the ground, like crickets, instead of climbing grass stems, etc, to do so like most grasshoppers.
One probable good reason for all the black and the 'flash' marks on the hind legs of the nymphs: They do seem to signal to each other quite a lot, by first drawing their hind legs forward and up, then swinging them outward and down in a very distinctive way that really exposes and draws attention to those markings! Still not entirely sure of whether the gesture means some variant of "Go away! This is my turf!" or "Come on over. There's food, warmth and company here.", but within the confines of a terrarium at least, I'm guessing the latter, as the nymphs are proving quite gregarious and affably share their food and the hot spotlight in their home. Whether that'll last, though, as they get older...dunno!