Grasshoppers are often considered to be more harmful than helpful when it comes to their interaction with vegetation and crops, but whether they are indeed harmful or helpful depends upon the species. There are an estimated 11,000 to 20,000 grasshopper species worldwide.
Grasshoppers are winged insects with powerful hind legs that enable jumping and also produce sound by rubbing against the body. They are related to crickets, katydids and locusts, and can grow to be four to five inches long. Some grasshoppers can also use camouflage to disguise themselves.
As herbivores, grasshoppers will feed on any vegetation that is available. Their populations thrive in warmer, drier seasons, and they can generate substantial crop damage, especially if other food sources are scarce. However, some species survive on grass, and thus don't destroy crops or other vegetation. Grasshoppers typically cannot survive the cold.
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Grasshoppers are found worldwide. They are extremely migratory and will go to wherever they find food. In the United States, the short-horned grasshopper, also known as a locust, tends to wreak the most damage in the central and northwestern states.
As herbivores, grasshoppers can and do contribute to the environment. Their droppings return nutrients to the earth, acting as fertilizer for the local vegetation. Also, as they are a favorite food item for birds, rodents and other creatures, they help other populations survive.
In various parts of the world, grasshoppers are eaten either as a delicacy or consumed as simply another source of protein.