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The Sassy Sandpiper: Much Ado About Lubbers

Eastern Lubber grasshopper | Sassy Sandpiper | Gardening

The Sassy Sandpiper copes with the forces of nature vs. the desire to nurture.

By M.R. Wilson, Columnist, TB Reporter

The war started last spring. Strolling around the front yard, I was aghast to find my amaryllis gone. Their bed next to the papyrus, where more than a half dozen bulbs sent forth wide green leaves, was empty.

Someone stole my amaryllis!

This was an absurd notion in a neighborhood where the splendid lily flourishes. Upon closer inspection, I discovered horror worse than theft:  My amaryllis had been eaten alive – devoured by Romalea microptera, Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines lubber as a “big clumsy fellow,” an apt description of these ’hoppers on steroids that can grow up to four inches in length and as big around as my middle finger. Lubbers are slow moving, making them even more ominous. They seem to be plotting something in their no-hurry way.

I dug up the amaryllis bulbs, not a glimmer of green left, and repotted them hopefully in a safer area on my deck. They’ve nearly drowned in heavy rains of late, so I’m relocating them. Again. Amaryllis are hardy.

Baby lubbers, known as nymphs (demon spawn), appear in late winter. Clustering together like co-conspirators, they are black with a reddish stripe down their backs. Despite my Zen-Earth Ecstatic nature, murderous thoughts overwhelmed me. I already knew what these creatures were capable of as adults, long before they destroyed my amaryllis. Death by stomping was an option, but what if one jumped onto my leg? Saints preserve us! I could at least annoy them with a strong burst from the hose, the brass nozzle set on water cannon. The little monsters scattered, then regrouped.

Fast forward a few months. All grown up, they are striking in yellow mottled with black, and hideous, stubby salmon-colored wings. Grasshoppers vs. Godzilla! I was the dinosaur, of course, ponderous and lurching. I’m not prone to killing things, except mosquitoes and cockroaches. Lubbers are just so darned big. They have tough exoskeletons that make an audible, sickening crunch when crushed or cut in two. I’ve done the deed with small clippers but prefer long-handled parrot shears (not for shearing parrots, mind you, but for the strong, beak-like blades) that put me a little more distance from the slaughter.

I honestly have no stomach for this. So I tried to think of something redemptive about lubbers. Nope. Wasn’t it enough to be another living entity? No. I considered more humane termination, like freezing them in Ziploc bags. But they’d probably chew their way out. I’d faint dead away to find them lolling about in my Boca Burgers and veggies. Catch and release? I made a habitat. The enemy evaded capture.

Eastern Lubber grasshopper | Sassy Sandpiper | Gardening

Just when I’d formulated a peace plan (sort of), the grasshoppers disappeared. Were they convening their own war council? Not before subjecting me to one final outrage:  In the rustle of ficus leaves, I witnessed a mating ritual. Grasshoppers live about a year. Maybe this was their last hurrah. Girls are bigger. Revulsion, meet Repugnance.

So much for peace. Another nymph horde will emerge next year. I’m expecting my order of Nolo Bait (organic, safe for everything but lubbers and crickets) any day now.

Eastern Lubber grasshopper | Sassy Sandpiper | Gardening

Editor’s Note: Regular readers of the Sassy Sandpiper know that she is in the midst of cataract surgery. She has now had surgery on both eyes and is doing well. She says she is “very grateful” humans have only two eyes.

Photos courtesy of M.R. Wilson.

M.R. Wilson | Sassy Sandpiper | Gardening | Amaryllis | Grasshoppers | Eastern Lubbers | Tampabay News | News Tampa

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