Harvard University's Caribbean Insects: Thysanura

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The order Orthoptera, which means "straight wing" in Greek, includes the grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, and katydids. Orthopterans are found in almost every conceivable habitat, from dark caves to deserts. They range from tiny crickets which live only live in ant nests and grow to only 3mm in size, to giant, flightless wetas of NZ that reach lengths of over 80mm and can weigh 71 grams.

Many orthopteran groups have complex calls and singing behavior, although in almost all groups sound production is confined to males. Different orthopterans produce sound in different ways, but most involve rubbing one part of the body (typically a wing or a leg) over a textured surface on another part of the body (usually a wing but occasionally the side of the body) in a process known as stridulation. Orthopterans may have been the first land animals to use sound for communication, as orthopteran fossils from the Permian show stridulating structures.

Orthopterans are hemimetabolous insects, meaning that they do not undergo complete metamorphosis. Nymphs look like smaller, wingless adults. Wing pads gradually increase in size at each instar, but only adults have wings. Many orthopterans are wingless, however, so not all unwinged crickets and grasshoppers are nymphs.

In older taxonomic treatments, the order Orthoptera frequently included mantises, walking sticks, and cockroaches. Most modern classification schemes place these other groups in separate orders.

Over 25,000 species worldwide. 1,080 species are found in North America. Neotropical diversity is poorly documented.
Economic Importance:
Orthopterans are typically herbivores, although some are predaceous and many are omnivores. Many orthopterans, and especially grasshoppers, are major agricultural pests. Grasshoppers are held responsible for over 80 million dollars of damage to forage crops in the U.S. every year. Some orthopterans are reared commercially for use as fish bait.

Recognizing Orthopterans:
Orthopterans can be easily recognized by their greatly enlarged hind femora, well suited to jumping. Antennae are always threadlike, but may be short (as in the grasshoppers) or long (as in the crickets and katydids). The majority of species possess four wings. The forewings, called tegmina (singular, tegmen), are long and usually thickened. The hindwings are membranous and used for flying. At rest, the hindwings are usually held folded underneath the tegmina.

Collection and Preservation Methods:
Orthoptera are abundant, and most are relatively easy to catch. Most species can be caught by sweeping foliage with nets. They can also be caught in baited traps. Specimens can be frozen or placed in a killing jar charged with acetone. Adult specimens should be pinned following collection. Precise pinning methods differ from family to family (see below). Soft-bodied adults and nymphs should be preserved in alcohol. Collecting nymphs is not recommended, since they usually lack the characters important for species identification.
Grasshoppers (Acrididae) should be pinned through the posterior of the right prothorax. The left wing should be extended (mount your insect temporarily on a pinning board to accomplish this) because wing banding and coloration can provide important identifying information.
Crickets (Gryllidae) and Katydids (Tettigoniidae) should be pinned through the right tegmen. Take care not to obscure the stridulatory region of the wings, as these acoustic characters are key to specimen identification.


Hewitt, G.M. 1979. Orthoptera: grasshoppers and crickets. Berlin: Gerbruder Borntrager.

Otte, D. 1994. Orthoptera species file : a systematic catalog. Philadelphia, PA : Orthopterists' Society : Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Orthoptera - General information from the Tree of Life project

Orthoptera Species File Online - Searchable database of Orthoptera, including images

Singing Insects of North America - information about crickets and katydids including pictures, keys and extensive reference lists

Rehn, J. A. G. 1903. Notes on the West Indian Orthoptera, with a list of the species known from the island of Puerto Rico. Trans. Amer. Entomol. Soc. 29: 129-136.

Taxonomic key to Orthoptera families

Wetherbee, D. K. 1996. Historical list of the discovery of orthopteroid insects in Hispaniola with type-localities in Hispaniola in the 19th century. In: D. K. Wetherbee, La Xaiba Prieta and la Xaiba Piñita (Epilobocera, Decapoda) in Hispaniola and 20+ Further Contributions on Hispaniolan Fauna. Printed by author, Santo Domingo. Pp. 209-224.


Please browse and download our Field Guides to insect families and see our Caribbean Taxonomic Literature lists for available PDFs.


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