Arthropods 9

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Southern California Arthropods (Mostly) #9: Grasshoppers & Allies
© W.P. Armstrong Updated 23 November 2010
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Order Mantodea

Mantid Family (Mantidae)

Mantids were once placed in the large order Orthoptera, along with grasshoppers, crickets,
katydids, and cockroaches.  They are now placed in a separate order called the Mantodea.

A preying ("praying") mantis or mantid in its defensive pose.
(I prefer "preying" rather than "praying" because I don't think these insects are that religious.)

  Sexual Suicide In Mating Behavior Of Praying Mantid  

A small mantispid and a preying mantis, an example of convergent evolution.

A male California mantis (Stagmomantis californica).

Juvenile California mantis, probably (Stagmomantis californica).

Large female mantid on rusty fence at San Diego Safari Park.

On 29 September 2021, I noticed a large, green, female praying mantis (mantid) catching honey bees on a hummingbird feeder hanging from my pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana). At least three species occur in San Diego County: California mantid (Stagmomantis californica), Arizona mantid (S. limbata), and Mediterranean mantid (Iris oratoria). Several other similar-appearing mantid species are reported from the California region. We also have tiny ground mantids in our local hills and valleys. Mantids have also been purchased at nurseries and released as an effective method of biological pest control.

The large, female mantids at Wayne's Word also come in brown! This large, brown female with a voracious appetite was catching honey bees on flowering Lantana in October 2021.

  Sexual Suicide In Mating Behavior Of Praying Mantid  

Male Mantid On My Kitchen Window & Screen

Hanging by a thread: A preying mantis looking through my kitchen window. It is hanging by the single strand of a spider web adjacent to the glass.

Mantid on window screen outside of my house.

Ground Mantid In Anza-Borrego Desert

A well-camouflaged ground mantid in Anza-Borrego (Litaneutria minor).

Ground Mantid (Litaneutria minor) On Owens Peak

A ground mantid (Litaneutria minor) on Owens Peak. If you take your eyes off one of these small, fast-moving, well-camouflaged insects, it is difficult to spot it again! See above image.

Order Phasmatodea

Family Diapheromeridae

Indian walking stick (Caurasius morosus) photographed in Solana Beach, California. This well-camouflaged species has escaped from captivity and has established itself in coastal San Diego County. They were first discovered in La Jolla in 2001. This insect is parthenogenetic and doesn't require a mate to reproduce. One female can lay more than 1500 eggs during her lifetime of about 18 months. Since they develop without fertilization, the offspring are haploid with one set of chromosomes! There are apparently no males, although gynandromorphs with male and female tissue are occasionally reported.

  See Wayne's Word Page On Parthenogenesis  

Order Orthoptera

Katydid Family (Tettigoniidae)

Nymph of a fork-tailed bush katydid female (Scudderia mexicana).

A fork-tailed bush katydid female. This appears to be Scudderia mexicana. Note the upcurved ovipositor at the end of abdomem. Adult of the multicolored nymph is shown in previous photo.

Broad-winged katydid. This appears to be Microcentrum rhombifolium, although M. retinerve is very similar.

Broad-winged katydid (Microcentrum rhombifolium). After taking the previous picture on a light box, this insect was released onto a shrubby Arbutus unedo. It slowly moved into the very camouflaged pose in above image.

Portrait view of a broad-winged katydid Microcentrum rhombifolium.

Grasshopper Family (Acrididae)

Gray bird grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens), one of the largest wild insects in southern California. Females of this species may reach almost 3 inches (7 cm) in length. It is often found feeding on garden plants and ornamentals. Unlike its destructive relative, the desert locust (S. gregaria), our local southern California species does not occur in great swarms. The desert locust was responsible for the Biblical plagues and is a major pest in Africa and the Middle East today; however, another gregaroius (massing) grasshopper Melanoplus devastator does cause considerable crop damage in California.

Gray bird grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens), one of California's largest insects.

Immature, wingless Schistocerca technically referred to as nymph.

Copulating grasshoppers in the Mojave Desert near Victorville.

Jerusalem Cricket Family (Stenopelmatidae)

Jerusalem cricket or potato bug (Stenopelmatus), possibly S. fuscus.

The Jerusalem cricket or potato bug belongs to the genus Stenopelmatus and is is one of the largest native insects in southern California, often exceeding two inches (50 mm) in length. It is not native to Jerusalem. It belongs to the Order Orthoptera along with grasshoppers, katydids and true crickets. This cricket relative is actually capable of making a rudimentary sound by rubbing the inner surface of its hind leg against short spines projecting from the side of its abdomen. Because of its large, bald "baby face," it is also known as "child of the earth" or "ñina de la tierra." Its large size and humanoid head has caused this insect to be the object of superstition and fear by some southwestern and Mexican Indians. Navajo people call it "woh-seh-tsinni," which means "old bald-headed man." Although the strong mandibles can inflict a painful bite, Jerusalem crickets are not poisonous. With their strong legs and chewing jaws, they burrow into the soil and feed primarily on roots and tubers, particularly decaying vegetable matter. They may also feed on dead insects and debris, and may be predatory at times. Although they may occasionally chew on potatoes, they are not a serious crop pest like the true potato beetle. Sometimes they come out of the ground at night and wander around houses. These curious insects are harmless and should not be killed. Please allow them to crawl into a container and let them go free in your garden.

Jerusalem cricket or potato bug (Stenopelmatus), possibly S. fuscus.

  More Potato Bug Images Taken With Nikon D-90 SLR  

Camel Cricket Family (Rhaphidophoridae)

Many interesting insects and spiders show up in my ant traps at Daley Ranch north of Escondido. This is a camel cricket (family Rhaphidophoridae). Members of this family have strongly curved bodies, giving them a hump-backed appearance--hence the name "camel crickets." Unlike true crickets of the family Gryllidae, they lack wings and auditory organs.

Order Blattodea

Cockroach Family (Blattidae)

An adult female Oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis) showing short wing pads. A developing egg case (oothecum) protrudes from the tip of the abdomenen, posterior to the cerci.

American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana)

An adult American cockroach (Periplaneta americana).

Order Blattodea, Family Polyphagidae: Arenivaga sp. (Sand Cockroach)

This is not an ancient marine trilobite from the Paleozoic Era! It is a wingless, female sand cockroach attempting to burrow into the sand. It was found in a burrow on the vertical escarpment of a deeply eroded riverbed. At first I thought it was a large brown sow bug (isopod). The sexual dimorphism in sand cockroaches is remarkable. Males have the normal (familiar) cockroach form with pale-brown, fully developed wings.

Cricket Family (Gryllidae)

Tree crickets belong to the genus Oecanthus in the family Gryllidae. Unlike the larger, black ground crickets that occasionally enter houses, these are small brownish or greenish crickets only 13 mm long (1/2 inch) that live among the leaves of trees and shrubs. On warm summer evenings in southern California, they make the familiar chirping sound that fills the night air, as males rub their wings together to attract females. The "song" is produced by frictional movements of roughened veins at the bases of the forewings. Each species has its own characteristic song. The song of O. fultoni and O. rileyi consists of a pulsed, high pitched "treet-treet-treet," while the song of O. californicus and O. argentatus is a continuos trill. The male featured in the following images is one of the latter two species. The audible volume produced by such small insect is remarkable. In fact, it is very difficult to spot the male making this loud sound even when you are standing near its shrub with a flashlight. Like many other animals, the chirping is a prelude to courtship and mating.

A male tree cricket (Oecanthus) sitting on the leaf of Arbutus unedo.

A ground cricket of the genus Gryllus that sometimes enters houses.


  1. Capinera, J.L., Scott, R.D., and T.J. Walker. 2004. Field Guide To Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.

  2. Evans, A.V. 2007. Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New York, New York.

  3. Hogue, C.L. 1993. Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

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