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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Northern Grasshopper - Melanoplus borealis

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNR

Agency Status


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General Description
The following comes from Brooks (1958), Vickery and Kevan (1985), Pfadt (2002), Capinera et al. (2004), and Scott (2010). A dark, medium sized grasshopper with wings (tegmina) of variable lengths, and void of any markings. A dark stripe extends from the back of the eye onto the lateral lobe of the pronotum. The outer surface of the hind femur is usually dark to black and the ventral area is usually red, but sometimes yellow. The hind tibia is red, sometimes yellow, with black spines.

Northern Grasshopper eggs remain in the soil for 2 years and begin hatching in late spring to early summer. It is one of several grasshopper species to have a two-year life cycle. Adults occur from July to September (Pfadt 2002, Capinera et al. 2004, and Scott 2010).

Diagnostic Characteristics
The following is taken from Brooks (1958), Vickery and Kevan (1985), Pfadt (2002), Capinera et al. (2004), and Scott (2010). Body length to end of forewings for males is 15 to 21 mm, and females 17 to 26 mm. Wing (tegmina) lengths vary, female wings are usually short, extending over only three-quarters of the abdomen’s length. Male wings are generally longer, extending to or slightly beyond the abdomen tip.

Any number of Melanoplus species can be confused with this species without collecting male specimens for genitalia comparisons to make positive identifications. There are three subspecies (or forms) of the Northern Grasshopper: M.b. borealis, M.b. janius, and M.b. monticola. In Montana, our subspecies is M. borealis borealis.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
Widely distributed across northern North America (hence its name), from Alaska across all the provinces of Canada. In the U.S. it ranges from the New England states, westward to the Rocky Mountain front, dipping southward into the Central states and Colorado. In Montana, it has been collected in 18 counties across the state (Brooks 1958, Pfadt 2002, Capinera et al. 2004, Scott 2010, Vickery and Kevan 1985).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 6

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

The Northern Grasshopper inhabits both lowland and mountain habitats, which include arctic tundra, bogs, moist pastures, margins of streams and ponds, and moist mountain meadows. It occurs at nearly all altitudes and can often be the dominate species found at high altitudes (Vickery and Kevan 1985, Pfadt 2002, Capinera et al. 2004, Scott 2010).

Food Habits
This species feeds primarily on forbs, but sometimes on certain grasses. Favored food plants include lupines, locoweeds, dandelions, thistles, and cinquefoil. Preferred grasses include bluegrass, western wheatgrass (Elymus smithii), and Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis. They will also feed on other arthropods and dead or dying grasshoppers if they have an opportunity (Pfadt 2002).

Reproductive Characteristics
Upon hatching, nymphs pass through 5 instars, and molt into the adult stage in about 30 days, after which they become sexually mature within 3 weeks. Egg pods contain 12 to 16 eggs. There is currently no data relative to female oviposition in nature. Some studies have been made under laboratory rearing conditions (Pfadt 2002).

In mountain meadows this species populations exhibit periodic outbreaks (population irruptions) which can have potential damage to rangeland forage and there have been some reports of “serious damage.” However, outbreak reports are inconclusive, as much is unknown about its population ecology. The pest status of this species is complex and it may also be “beneficial” as it feeds on its preferred host plants, lupine and loco (Pfadt 2002).

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Citation for data on this website:
Northern Grasshopper — Melanoplus borealis.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from