September 2021 Natural Mystery Answered

Last month's Natural Mystery definitely fell into the category of "specialized knowledge." Two of you clearly had the right expertise and successfully identified these little pellets. Congratulations to Laurie Diane Olesen and Alan Holzer for correctly answering last month’s Natural Mystery, and thanks to them for sharing their insights with the rest of us.

As Diane put it so succinctly, this is “grasshopper poo!”

I’m going to turn it over to Alan for his detailed explanation:

"This is grasshopper frass, from a fairly large grasshopper. Thinking about the size and shape, various rodents come to mind; mice would climb to get something to eat, for example. But I think it unlikely that a mouse would be that high for long enough to eat that much (6 droppings seems to me it would take a while to produce, if I were a mouse I'd carry my food to a location with better cover to eat it).

Grasshoppers and katydids make droppings like this as well, and seem much more likely to be doing so on a garden plant 2-3 feet from the ground. Other insects don't make frass like this—caterpillars are more segmented and tend to look like little round or square pellets, and other insects tend to have smaller droppings that are not long like this. Birds, also would be different—small birds would leave more liquid droppings with while as well as brown colors. I'd go with grasshopper over katydid because grasshoppers are more common in the area."

Here is a little more info about grasshopper frass from pages 157-158 of Charley Eiseman & Noah Charney's Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates:

"Droppings this elongate [about three times as long as thick], or more so, are typical of Orthoptera and stick insects. Bush katydid (Tettigoniidae: Scudderia) pellets we have seen were about 3 by 1 mm; those of short-horned grasshoppers (Acrididae) can be up to four times as long as wide, and perhaps longer. Droppings of the common walkingstick (Diapheromeridae: Diapheromera femorata) are typically 6 to 7 mm long and 1 mm wide. This species feeds high in trees, as a rule, making it difficult to find the source of the distinctive droppings littering the ground below."

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