Giant Grasshoppers!

2 minute read

The headline spotted on Boing Boing today: Polk City residents hopping mad over giant grasshoppers{.broken_link}. I had to click through. I just had to.

You see, we lived in Jacksonville, FL for a number of years when I was a child. It was warm and sunny. There were alligators and coral snakes in the backyard and roaches the size of your hand in the dishwasher. The trees literally dripped with mite-infested Spanish moss and the blue jays would assault you at the merest hint that you had a peanut somewhere on your person. This, you understand, is about as close to paradise as a kid can get.

During these years my siblings and I would run around in the backyard playing with sticks or ride our training-wheeled bikes around the cul-de-sac. Big fun. The most fun came for the short period each year when the giant grasshoppers would come to town.

Such grasshoppers! Four inches long! Yellow and spotted, either like a very small banana or a very much smaller leopard! And the wings! Such a brilliant shade of pink. If you held them between two fingers you could fed them blades of grass. Their mandibles would munch and crunch their way through the entire stalk. If you really pissed them off they’d spit this dark brown bubbly stuff, but it was harmless really. Like a Democratic Congress, it was mostly just there for show and didn’t do very much. Sometimes we could catch a number of these critters and spend the day with them. Tiny leashes would be fashioned. The birdbath was converted to a swimming pool and racing matches would be held there. Which grasshopper could reach the other side first?

They were large but surprisingly easy to capture, even for kids. Slow, yes, but mighty. If you weren’t careful when picking them up then those powerful back legs would kick out and catch you in the fingers. Doesn’t sound so bad? That’s only because I forgot to mention that the legs were spiked and traveling at an incredible velocity.

These grasshoppers were great and comprise some of my happiest memories of life in Florida. Until today, when I saw the story linked above, I never knew what they were called: Lubbers!. It’s the same animal, yellow, spots, pink and all. It made my night to see them in action again. They are, to my eyes, incredibly cute and appealing and I find myself missing them. Still… Oh, the irony of our Naval base being infested with a plague of surly lubbers…

This news story actually makes me somewhat sad. Kids being afraid to go outside with the lubbers around? And that man, the one in the story, he actually steps on a couple of lubbers, intentionally, right there on camera! Nooo! That’s no mere bug! That’s a magical little playmate hidden in a colorful exoskeleton! Sure, they might eat a few things. But hey, mister, so do you. No one goes stepping on you, do they? Do they? I thought not.

Every child ought to have their personal version of the “giant grasshopper” in their history. I’m very glad that mine took this form. It’s just a shame that it’s not appreciated by everyone.

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