Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Grasshoppers, Grasshoppers, Grasshoppers!

We're surrounded by grasshoppers.  As I mentioned in a previous post, we can't take a step in the high grass without dozens of the little critters leaping away from us, only to leap again in a moment when we take another step or two.  Some are so small and quick we hardly see them as individuals -- it's more as if the grass is one organism with a bunch of small pieces moving at once, like lights blinking on some machine.  Others are large, and when they fly make a sound like the one my bicycle used to make when I clipped a baseball card to it, just where the spokes would strike it repeatedly.  They're black or grey when still, easily mistaken for pebbles, but when they fly they display a bright red or blue color.

Grasshopper on ocotillo
At first we thought we had so many because we let weeds grow.  We're a little anarchistic, I guess; and sympathetic to anything trying to make a go out of it in a drought-plagued desert.  But apparently it's actually that a combination of the excessive heat and the drought have decimated the predators that would normally gobble these fellows up with delight. 

A little more than a year ago, visiting our new home before we could actually move back here, we photographed a couple of grasshoppers mating on a rose-leaf.   They were there for hours, catching the rich light as the sun fell toward the West Mesa, and not shy, so we took a bunch of X-rated photographs.  (Sometimes they're at it for more than a day, I've read.)

This guy looks particularly relaxed
This week, as the ocotillo leaves turn yellow or disappear, grasshoppers have been hanging out a whole lot on one of the ocotillo that's still green.  They're well-camouflaged there.

DG - Grasshoppers at Sunset
Monday night around sunset we shot some pictures of them.  (Dael took the one at right, and others with "DG" in the captions in this post.) 

DG - back-lit grasshoppers on tile
Tuesday morning I shot more.  Then, as I walked back toward the house, I spotted another grasshopper on a sunny rock right by the back door.  I looked closer and realized he was eating.  Looking still closer, I saw what he was eating: another grasshopper.  It looked to be days dead.

The still camera's video function works pretty well when you're lying flat on the ground and can rest your hands and the camera on a convenient rock:

By the way, it's probably better to play the video without maximizing its size, because of the lower-quality it has to be saved at for posting here. (The occasional sound on the video isn't the grasshopper, but sighs attributable to the strain of holding a very old body in a very awkward position while concentrating on some stupid insect.  Both the insects and the crawling around on the ground ought to be the business of someone many years younger, I guess.)

Anyway, we're inundated with grasshoppers.  Seems neat, at first -- until you realize the pomegranate, the Mexican Elder, and other trees seem to be losing their leaves a few weeks before the season would take them, which ain't healthy.   Some folks say to spray soapy water on the leaves, others to use chile oil (or garlic oil), so we bought a plastic spray bottle and filled it, so the leaves of several of our trees are now both soapy and spicy, a taste combination which seems to appeal to the grasshoppers about as much as it would appeal to me.   Still, we can't spray everything, so this morning we abandoned non-violence.  It feels a bit savage to stomp on critters whose portraits you took such care to shoot a few days earlier; but.   
I'm certainly grateful to 'em for showing up, but it's rather too much of a good thing by now.
Where are the families of quail that waddled up to the dishes of water Dael set out for them during the heat of the summer -- now that we could use their help?  Should we rent someone's chickens?  Let them devour the devourers?

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