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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Northern Grasshopper

This past summer, this beautiful grasshopper held still long enough for me to take some cool macro shots. She (I learned you can tell male and female grasshoppers apart by the shape of the base of their abdomen) was perched on a bench, basking in the sun, something grasshoppers apparently like to do. By scouring through internet grasshopper field guides, I determined which of the hundreds of North American grasshopper species she is: she's a member of Melanoplus borealis, a species whose scientific name translates directly into their common name, Northern Grasshopper.

The Northern Grasshopper inhabits much of the northern United States, dipping down a bit in the central US, as well as occurring across a large portion of Canada. The bright red hind tibiae (lower portion of hind legs) are one of the characteristic field marks. I like this labeled sketch of grasshopper anatomy. I do a lot of bird identification, but it's always interesting and challenging to try and identify a species of a genus or family I'm unfamiliar with, whether it be a tree, insect, flower, or mammal. Some of my favorite labs in my college biology courses dealt with taxonomy and using or developing identification keys to narrow down species IDs. The true biologist and naturalist in me emerges, since thinking about species variation and taxonomy raises questions not only about evolution and species diversification and the processes that cause speciation to occur, but also about how we see and classify the world around us.

This grasshopper is just another one of the many inhabitants of the Mar Vista grasslands. The petition to preserve Mar Vista is only 19 signatures shy of our goal of 500, so please sign if you haven't already and encourage your friends to sign today so progress on protecting this special property can be made!

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