The eastern lubber grasshopper, a staple of southern childhood.

Prophet skipped into the house, screaming my name, begging to borrow my phone so she could take a picture of the bugs she’d found on a bucket in the yard. In a flash, she was gone, sucked from the room like a helium balloon from an open car window.

Upon her return, I recognized the grasshoppers of my younger years. I remember them as having a distinct, almost rubbery smell. My childhood summers were filled with these sleek black grasshoppers and their sportscar-orange stripes.

I also remember the way they oozed a white, creamy substance all over the hot cement street in front of our house. There was a time when dead bugs demanded mass burials and specially-tailored funeral rites.

EASTERN LUBBER GRASSHOPPER (Romalea microptera)

Now, Prophet asks me to marvel over them as if for the first time. I find myself hating the way marvel has assumed a more cerebral hue- the hunger to give it a name, to find out what it eats, where it lives, why it lingers on buckets and metal pipes.

The eastern lubber grasshopper is limited to the southeastern and south central portion of the United States. The northern boundary is central North Carolina west through southern Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, to Texas.

Our eastern lubbers are juveniles, still too small to boast of wings and more variegated coloration.

We learn that its wings are purely ornamental- too short for flight, running less than half the length of the abdomen. Also, that our friends cannot fly; they move by jumping short distances. Their range of motion is narrow and their style rather clumsy and slow. The eastern lubber’s name reflects this clumsy movement. “Lubber” is derived from an old English word “lobre” which means lazy or clumsy. To call someone a lubber is to brush them with the tar of being big, clumsy, oaf-like, and rather dull-witted. If you’ve ever heard a sailor call someone a “landlubber”, now you understand why it wasn’t a compliment.

Eastern lubber is one of only four species in the family Romaleidae found north of Mexico, but there are many other species in South America, and many are winged and agile, so although some other species in this family are called lubbers, the “lubber” designation is not appropriate for the entire family.

Since eastern lubbers are known to prey on garden plants and flowers, many people make use of toxic sprays to keep the lubbers at bay. Fortunately, there are wiser solutions. If you find yourself swimming in a sea of lubbers, pot a few oleanders and place them in strategic locations to deter pests. Oleander is poisonous to eastern lubbers- but eastern lubbers don’t know this, and will usually die immediately after consuming the flower or its leaves.

EASTERN LUBBER PRINTABLES

Eastern lubber fact sheet (University of Florida Extension)
Eastern lubber handout (Southeastern University)
Lubber grasshoppers (Fresh From Florida)

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