I met some new neighbors during my recent stay at our off-grid cabin in Big Bend — non-human neighbors to be more precise. Recent rains contributed to an active population of Western Horse Lubber Grasshoppers. These conspicuously large grasshoppers are hard to miss.
The Horse Lubber is one of the largest grasshopper species in North America. Females are generally larger than males and can grow as long as 3.5 inches. Their habitat ranges from the Chihuahuan Desert of Big Bend and Mexico all the way to New Mexico and southern Arizona.
Horse Lubbers come by their name honestly. From the side, their head resembles a horse’s head complete with a bridle. The red coloration on the underside of their hind wings earned them the popular name Mexican General because of the similar coloring to the Mexican military uniform of old.
Their black coloration with yellow racing stripes, yellow-veined wings, and yellow or orange ringed antennae make them distinctive. This aposematic coloration serves to warn predators that they are not good to eat. This coloration and a toxic chemical secretion they exude from their abdomens are their main forms of defense.
Although they are not good to eat, Horse Lubbers love to eat. They feed on the flowers, seeds, and foliage of low-growing summer desert annuals. They are also opportunistic and cannibalistic carnivores that will eat the cadavers of other insects, including their own species.
Horse Lubbers are too bulky to fly, although males can coast short distances with their slightly longer wings. Their oversized hind-legs do enable them to cover distances up to 20 times their own length in a single jump.
Because they can’t fly and move slowly, Horse Lubbers are especially vulnerable. To avoid being eaten by nocturnal ground predators, Horse Lubbers will roost at night near the tops of desert shrubs. The following morning they descend once again to the desert floor to look for food.
I don’t have a garden at Dos Arbolitos, our little place in Big Bend, so I am not worried about having so many Horse Lubbers hanging around. In fact, I rather like their presence. They remind me that I am actually the intruder in the place they have called home far longer than me. I aim to get along with all of my neighbors — Horse Lubbers included.