Just so you understand where this confusion comes from, consider what we’re dealing with. There is an estimative minimum of 1 million insect species in the world. That’s how many we’ve already identified. The most conservative estimates add another 1 million of still unidentified species, while the wildest ones offer a 30 million margin.
With potentially 30 million insects worldwide and many of them looking alike, it’s not hard to see how you can confuse 2 insects like grasshoppers and planthoppers.
That being said, the 2 are different species of insects, each with its unique characteristics. These include:
Grasshoppers are generally slender-looking with long, thin, and segmented bodies. Their hind legs are thin and as long as the grasshopper’s body, with fine thorns covering the sides. The grasshopper has a large head with long antennae and bulky, black eyes.
Their wings generally span across their bodies and are powerful enough to propel the insect for miles. To have a clearer picture, think of locusts. Locusts and grasshoppers are extremely similar in appearance, with only minor physical distinctions.
Planthoppers make for a large group, as there are 13 families in North America alone. Together, these make for a lot of insects, many of which look completely different. Planthoppers have pointy or angled heads, large wings closing at an angle, forming a tent-like structure on their backs, and chameleon-like eyes.
The nymph looks completely different, and you could hardly consider it a living being at a first glance. Picture popcorn with a lot of tiny legs moving around. That’s exactly what it is. No discernable head, torso, or other physical characteristics would help you identify the thing as a living creature. It’s just white popcorn with legs.
Appearance-wise, grasshoppers and planthoppers are nothing alike. Once you’ve learned what they look like, there’s no way you can confuse the 2.
Diet and Feeding
Grasshoppers have a reputation for being voracious, thanks to their cousins, locusts. Since grasshoppers can morph into locusts under the right circumstances, it’s safe to say that these two species share a variety of similarities, one of them being the appetite. Grasshoppers consume primarily plant-based food, not much different than the locust, except not at the same scale.
Since grasshoppers don’t swarm, their feeding habits aren’t really a danger to human populations. The interesting aspect is that grasshoppers will sometimes consume animal protein from dead insects or other animal matter. That’s only when they lack the food they need and require a surplus of protein.
They will primarily eat grass and grains like oats, rice, rye, or barley.
Planthoppers are built different since they don’t have mouths like grasshoppers. Their mouths are somewhat similar to the butterfly’s proboscis, except not as long. They will use this straw-like appendix to suck sap from various plants. Planthopper nymphs will feed on plant root fluids and even fungi in some situations.
The planthopper’s flight pattern will vary depending on several factors. These include the species of planthopper, the available food, the weather conditions, etc. Studies show that short-wing brown planthoppers, for instance, can’t fly at all.
They will just crawl around the rice fields throughout Asia and stick to the food nearby. Long-wing planthoppers have various flight patterns which can extend to 9-30 hours in some cases.
Some only fly in short bursts, while others will leave for longer distances in search of food. The average planthopper will fly around one mile if the local food resources are unsatisfactory.
The grasshopper, albeit inferior to the locust in terms of flying capabilities, has its own aces up its sleeve. The grasshopper’s preferred means of locomotion is jumping and crawling, but it will also fly if the situation requires it. The insect can travel at around 900 feet above the ground and travel around 60 miles in 24 hours.
Once it turns into a locust, things change dramatically. The locust will travel at 1.000 feet or more above ground and can cover more than 80 miles daily, at speeds of up to 10 miles per hour. They can also remain in the air for a long time if necessary.
Both the grasshopper and the planthopper follow the same standard life cycle, yet with defining differences nonetheless. The 3 core phases are:
The grasshopper female will lay the fertilized eggs in midsummer, slightly under the sandy soil. They will stay there around 10 months, which is pretty much unheard of among the insect kingdom.
Another impressive fact is how many of them will be. The female will cover the eggs with a sticky substance designed to protect them from the weather and predators. This will create an egg pod that can contain between 15 to 150 eggs.
And the female will create around 25 pods. That’s several thousand eggs at once. Many will perish to natural predators, but many more will hatch, contributing to the next generation of grasshoppers.
The planthopper female is less productive than the grasshopper, but she will still lay around 100 eggs. You will find the eggs mostly in the open on plant leaves or wherever the female will reach.
Grasshopper nymphs look pretty much like adults with minor differences, like lacking wings and reproductive organs. The nymphs will undergo 5 molting phases known as instars, marking their growth pattern. The nymph will gradually grow wings and grow its body with each molting phase, with the entire transformation process from nymph to adult lasting around 5-6 weeks.
During this time, the nymphs will consume a lot of food, eating pretty much around the clock.
Planthopper nymphs are different from adults because they have some hairy filaments growing out of their abdominal segments. For all intents and purposes, nymphs look like unfinished insects. The nymph can jump just like the adult to avoid predators or look for better food sources.
The adult grasshopper is stronger, more agile, and more mobile than the nymph, although its wings will fully form within a month. The adult insect is the result of 5 or 6 molting phases and it’s ready to mate and reproduce.
The same goes for the adult planthopper.
Planthoppers don’t inflict too much plant damage since their feeding pattern doesn’t destroy crops like locusts do. That changes when talking about brown planthoppers, which are renowned and feared pests in Asia especially. The brown planthopper doesn’t fly too well, but it doesn’t need to either since it can live its life once it reaches a rice field.
Brown planthoppers are notorious for destroying entire rice cultures and even cause famine due to the devastating outbreaks. The insects will suck the plant’s vital juices, causing it to become brown and wither. The phenomenon is known as hopper burn.
Grasshoppers are nowhere near as devastating. Their feeding patterns are less intrusive since they don’t form swarms like locusts do. The problem arises when grasshoppers become overcrowded, and food sources decrease. They will then turn into locusts, and their entire feeding behavior changes.
Locust swarms are known to grow into billions, wreaking havoc everywhere they reach. Because locusts eat throughout the day and swarms are known to contain hundreds of billions of insects, the outcome is grim.
Grasshoppers and planthoppers are different in some aspects and similar in others. They can both be harmless and become pests under the right (or wrong?) circumstances.
If you’re interested in any of these two insects and wish to learn more about them, post your question below, and I’ll make sure to answer soon.Grasshoppers, Planthoppers