Lubber Grasshoppers: zombies of the garden

There are a few things you can count on in Florida: snowbirds in the winter, thunderstorms in the summer, and, all year long, bugs that will haunt your dreams.

What palmetto bugs are to the average cockroach, lubbers are to the sprightly green grasshoppers I’m told folks have up North.

I dislike lubbers.

Now let’s get one thing clear – I’m pretty fair to most of the bugs in my garden. I don’t spray pesticides. I actively encourage my honeybees and other pollinators. I take care not to disturb the spiders who spin their webs on my trellises. Heck, I even leave palmetto bugs alone if I find them in the great outdoors (in my house is another matter). But lubbers? Lubbers. Must. Die.

It’s not just because they are big and gross looking, with a face only a mother could love and the eery habit of hopping in directions other than the way they’re facing: it’s also because they eat their body weight daily. Every single day. Every single one of them. From they day they hatch until they’ve mated, laid a thousand eggs, and died.

Or until a bird gets them.

Or until I get them.

They actually start out kind of cute – if you find one by itself. They’re small and black with an orange or yellow stripe, with antennae that are proportionate and faces that you can’t see clearly. Usually however they congregate in big creepy shifting masses. But this is to your advantage. You can kill them more efficiently that way. In the spring time, when you happen across a few dozen or couple hundred or so baby lubbers, you must drop what you are doing and kill them. Immediately. It doesn’t matter what you were doing, it doesn’t matter that you’d rather do something else than kill lubbers, and at this stage it doesn’t even matter what shoes you are wearing: it will never be easier than this. Stomp them. Stomp the living daylights out of them. Annihilate them.

When they’re a bit bigger it’s harder. You have to fight your own revulsion, because once they’re bigger they make an audible crunch as you squelch them underfoot, and they… have guts. So many guts for such little bugs. It’s stomach turning. They use this to their advantage. In your moment of weakness, as you hesitate, dreading the crunch and ooze, they hop away. Not necessarily in the direction they were facing. Now you must hunt them down again. If you’re lucky, and you find them a second time, you must hold your breath and resist the lurching in your stomach and do it quickly. Because it’s still easier now.

When they are full grown, they look like something out of a bad horror movie. Part insect, part alien, part demon possessed garden zombie, all fangs and antennae. Yellow and greenish brown and orange, slightly shiny, with visible, ugly, creased faces and constantly moving mouth parts. Usually, their wings grow too short to fly. But not too short to raise them and ruffle them audibly, then hop away on their legs in the moment gained while you dropped your pruning sheers to cover your head with your arms. Or, if the wing flutter doesn’t work, they’ll hiss and even spit. Worse still, when they are full grown, you cannot stomp on them. Or, rather, you can, and as soon as your entire body weight is lifted they’ll merrily hop away. My theory is that lubbers equip themselves with Kevlar as a sort of rite of passage into adulthood. They can no longer be crushed by anything as feeble and soft bodied as you.

I have, in my decades living in Florida, learned two and only two ways to kill adult lubbers in the garden: foaming wasp spray which can stick to them long enough to kill them (a no-no in my pesticide-free garden), and pruning sheers. One lubber plus pruning sheers equals two lubber halves, each of which can reasonably be expected to continue twitching for thirty minutes or so.

Haunt. Your. Dreams.

If I weren’t growing things I care about, I’d run the other way rather than deal with them. But since I am, and since they can do a LOT of damage in a short amount of time, I put on my game face and slaughter them as bravely as I can.

Every once in a while I discover one in the middle of the road while I’m driving. I’m glad to swerve slightly to crush it under my car, knowing that it’s weighty enough to destroy the creepy little monster without me having to hear the crunch or watch the twitching legs and oozing guts. I feel a small victory is mine in those moments, and I am satisfied to know there’s one less demon bug to worry about.

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  1. Another post on lubbers « Temple Terrace Garden

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