What’s the Difference between a Grasshopper and a Locust?

Grasshopper eating a leaf

You may not often see grasshoppers or locusts—both can be solitary insects. But you will see the damage they leave behind. You may notice extensive damage to the stems and leaves of plants, ragged holes, and other indications of infestation. But if you don't see the bugs, you may not know if you're dealing with a small grasshopper problem or a brewing locust storm. So what's the difference between these two?

The Grasshopper Family

Speaking scientifically, locusts are grasshoppers. However, locusts are a sort of amped-up version of grasshoppers. They have wings and they mostly fly around, while grasshoppers are mostly ground-bound. Locusts are grasshoppers that have gone through a specific behavioral change due to environmental factors.

Both bugs feast on plant matter, typically woody plant stems and leaves. And when locusts do it, things can get really bad. Locusts are grasshoppers that have entered a gregarious phase. They gather together in enormous social groups and form swarms. Large swarms of vegetation can do massive damage. Grasshoppers, meanwhile, pretty much go it alone. But when it comes to your garden and landscaping, you don't want either of these insects around.

The Swarm

locust swarm in a field with cattle

In worst-case scenarios, locusts form enormous swarms of insects due to the behavioral change that makes them crave social grouping. Swarms can be large enough to be clearly visible and can strip entire fields bare of vegetation in very short order.

Swarms of locusts are mentioned in the Bible as a plague on humankind because they actually can be devastating to crops. Farmers and people who grow their own food must act quickly if there is locust activity. Locusts can do extensive damage quickly, so it pays to know how to recognize them and how to manage them once they have infiltrated.

Identifying Which Is Which

locust on a leaf with ridged legs

Locusts and grasshoppers do look different. Locusts have longer, more noticeable wings and smaller bodies than grasshoppers. There's another big difference that sets locusts apart: color. While grasshoppers are primarily green, locusts can be bright yellow, black, orange and red, in addition to green.

The behavior is the best way to distinguish between these two types of insects. In other words, you can tell which is which by paying attention to how they act. Grasshoppers are ground-dwelling, primarily solitary insects that are rarely seen and stay fairly sedentary much of the time. Locusts not only group together but they like to move. They fly around, move around and go from plant to plant. They feed a lot and seek out feed a lot.

Managing Grasshoppers and Locusts

grasshopper on a leaf

Grasshoppers are pesky little buggers that will feed on your garden areas until you're ready to declare war. Manage grasshoppers by keeping your garden and landscape areas free of weeds. You can also make your own garlic spray by boiling 10 cups of water with two cups of garlic. Let this sit overnight, then dilute it with one part garlic mix and three parts water in a spray bottle.

Locusts can be much more difficult to get rid of. One effective way to remove them is by hand-picking them off plants, which can be a tedious task. You will need to kill them after you remove them, which can be a bit of a gruesome undertaking if you have a lot of locusts.

Try planting calendula or horehound. Both are natural barriers that repel locusts. You can also try smoking them out. Burn green branches to make a smoky fire. Attend the fire at all times! You need to exercise extreme caution when working with fire and smoke. Make sure the wind is blowing away from where you are standing so that you are breathing fresh air, not smoke.

You can also keep chickens, ducks, or geese in your yard to serve as organic pest control. They will eat grasshoppers and locusts as part of their natural diet.

The best way to prevent pests is to keep plants healthy and strong. Remove weeds when you see them, prune away dead and dying areas of plants and keep garden and landscaping beds neat and free of debris.