Popping Hoppers on the Oak Openings Sand

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The sound of popping corn echoed throughout the desert-like Oak Openings sand barrens on a recent hot summer day. But the only thing cooking was the sand – not corn . The sound was small grasshoppers escaping tall human shadows.

Extremely well equipped to blend with the earthy colors and texture of the sand, these insects had no trouble disappearing into the barren landscape once they landed. Making none of the usual melodic grasshopper trills or songs, these animals quietly exist, fueled by sun and prairie grasses.

Incredibly, the two species found at this barren – the longhorn band-winged grasshopper (Psinidia fenestralis) and the mottled sand grasshopper (Spharagemon collare) are examples of insects completely tied for eons to a specific landscape.

These species live in open dune environments with their favorite native host grasses. Both species’ habitats have become very regionally limited to ancient, dry sandy barrens and some of the coastal dunes of the Great Lakes.

Why conserve these species? They are important parts of the ecosystem, as well as indicators of habitat quality. They live among the sand dweller community, side-by-side with hungry tiger beetles, wasps and ground nesting birds. Grasshoppers in different life stages are important links in the food chain, excellent food sources, and certainly add to the long list of wildlife biodiversity within the Oak Openings Region. They are rare native insects that have adapted to this sandy, hot, windblown landscape over time.

And, these hoppers will keep on popping. Conservation efforts such as corridor land connections, natural resource management using prescribed burns, mowing and invasive species control by Metroparks will ensure that these populations remain popping on the sand for future generations.

These animals were found on the newly-acquired Courageous Acres sand barren.

Did You Know?

The mottled sand grasshopper’s face and body appears roughly textured in spots, achieving the look of applied sand grains for better camouflage (see above photo).

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