Nature’s notebook

Buggy times in the Uwharries

Grasshopper. Photo: Steve Hall

A few years back, the N.C. Natural Heritage Program did an insect survey of the Uwharries. Insects are a good indicator of high quality habitats because they are often specialized. They are also an indicator of well integrated landscapes, because populations come and go and survival depends on being able to move between habitat units.

In the survey, several main habitat types were chosen, including hillside seepage bogs, longleaf pine habitats, mesic forests, canebrakes, wet hardwood forests, dry woodlands, and basic forests. Species specific to those habitat types were sought and in many cases found. In other cases those likely candidates were not found in the habitat types where they were expected.

Eotettix pusillus is a cute little grasshopper. The nymphs have a red head and black legs, and adults are a yellow-green. They are also known as seepage grasshoppers and are found in seeps and boggy areas. Unfortunately none was found in the survey areas of this study.  Another grasshopper species, Mermiria picta, is related to longleaf pine habitats, associated with shrub and ground cover. None was found in the study either.

The young Eotettix pusillus grasshoppers have a red head and black legs. Photo: Steve Hall

One species of grasshopper appeared to be Melanoplus hubbelli, though it needs some additional confirmation. That is a grasshopper that is a montane disjunct, which means they are mostly known from the mountains. Those grasshoppers are members of the spurthroat grasshoppers and are a watch list species in North Carolina. Melanoplus is a large genus of grasshoppers – the largest of this species reaches 2 inches in length.

The dark-sided grasshopper, Melanoplus nigrescens, is found in dry woodlands and glades. They were the most widespread of the flightless grasshoppers in the Uwharries and appear to be scarce elsewhere in the state. They are also a watch list species in North Carolina. Its abundance in the Uwharries indicates the presence of good quality habitat as well as an intact landscape, with many connections still linking habitat units together, at least for the drier ridgetop forests.

The study identified 692 species. Of those, 37 were odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), 42 were orthopterans (grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, locusts), 60 were butterflies, and 519 were macromoths. Of those species, seven were significantly rare, 14 were watch list species and 75 were habitat or landscape indicator species.

Ultimately, some of the insects that were expected to be found in specific habitat types were found and others were not. That does not mean it is too late to enhance habitats for those species. The best ways to protect those habitat indicator species are to target clusters of habitat units, conserve linking habitats between units, and restore units within the gaps. And it’s important to remember that benefits to insects are beneficial to the entire ecosystem.