Beach Hosts Strange Visitors – Grasshoppers

OCEAN
CITY – Thousands of grasshoppers swarmed the ocean and beach in Ocean City and
up and down the coast last Friday, no doubt leaving many to wonder if the end
of the world was near, but it is now believed the unusual event was just the
result of a “perfect storm” of favorable conditions.

Beachgoers
last Friday likely encountered thousands of the insects swimming in the ocean,
hopping over their towels, beach chairs and umbrellas and crawling on the arms
and legs and even in their hair. While there was certainly no panic, the
bizarre incident led to hundreds of inquiries to the Beach Patrol, beach stand
operators and others on the front lines and more than a few phone calls and emails
to local media wondering what caused the sudden onslaught.

Mike
Raupp, professor of entomology at the University of Maryland,
this week said he has seen pictures of the unlikely invaders and believes they
were a species of grasshopper called melanoplus differentialis, more commonly
called differential grasshoppers. According to Raupp, it is not unusual for the
grasshoppers to swarm en masse as they migrate to new feeding and breeding
areas, particularly in the Midwest where they
are known to descend on and destroy crops, but a mass migration in the coastal
mid-Atlantic area is less common.

“Clearly,
it’s an omen or a sign of the Apocalypse,” he said jokingly. “Honestly, it
appears to have been a freak event, a perfect storm of very good conditions.”

Raupp
explained the species of grasshopper is known to frequent wet grassy, weedy
areas along roadsides in rural areas where they reproduce rather quickly and
migrate to new areas when they begin to exhaust their food supply. He said
conditions in the mid-Atlantic area have been favorable for their reproduction
this spring and summer.

“It’s
been a really good year for grasshoppers with wet weather and lush, green
plants to feed on,” he said. “They had a rocking spring and summer and the
conditions were just right with lots of food, low mortality and favorable
weather.”

However,
differential grasshoppers, like most creatures, know when a good thing is
coming to an end and often migrate en masse to different areas, which is likely
what prompted the phenomenon on the beach and in the ocean last Friday. The
invasion was reported as far south as Assateague and as far north as Bethany
and Rehoboth.

“This
species is migratory and when they reach really high numbers and they’ve
started to deplete their food source, they just get up and go all at once,” he
said. “In this case, it looks they all decided to pack up and leave at the same
time and they were deposited in the ocean by a strong west wind.”

The
grasshopper invasion began sometime early Friday and the pesky jumpers hung
around for much of the mid-morning, according to several individual witnesses.
By late afternoon, there was little evidence of the invasion.

“They
were probably just as surprised to find themselves in the ocean and getting
washed up on the beach as the people on the beach were to see them,” he said.
“In this case, it appears to have been a harmless phenomenon and they
reorganized and cleared out just as fast as they came.”

Ocean
City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin said his crews fielded tons of questions
about the grasshoppers. Very few if any were complaints and most were just
curious and wanted to know what caused the sudden invasion. Arbin said it is
not unusual to see swarms of different insects on the beach during the summer,
particularly when the wind switches around to the west, but he couldn’t recall
seeing thousands of grasshoppers suddenly appear.

“It’s
not unusual,” he said. “What was unusual about this was the type of bugs they
were. We often see those biting green flies or flying ants, and I’ve seen tons
of lady bugs show up on the beach, but I don’t remember seeing grasshoppers
like this.”

At
least one segment of the beach population seemed to enjoy the rare phenomenon,
according to Arbin.

“The
tide was full of them,” he said. “It was a big nuisance for the people on the
beach, but the seagulls were having a feast.”

The
grasshopper invasion in Ocean
City last week was more
of a pesky nuisance than real health or safety concern, but the invaders are
known to cause real problems in other areas of the country. According to Raupp,

a migrating swarm of grasshoppers often descend on crops in the Midwest and eat until they get their fill before moving

on again.

 

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