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A Brief Look at the Anatomy of a Grasshopper by Todd Henson

A grasshopper perched on a pink chrysanthemum.

I recently shared some photographs of a grasshopper on chrysanthemums. Viewing these photographs piqued my interest in grasshopper anatomy, so I’ve zoomed in on certain sections of a couple photographs to take a closer look at some key features. I am not an expert in grasshopper anatomy by any stretch, so this will only be a very brief look.

Head and Thorax

Take a look at the head region of the grasshopper, where you can see its eyes, antennae, and mouthparts. They have more eyes than we do. The compound eyes are easy to identify, they are the large dark objects that look like eyes. But you can also see smaller simple eyes, called ocelli (singular ocellus). These are whitish in color in the photos and are located beside each compound eye and above the antenna. They have another ocellus, which we can’t see in these photos, right on their forehead between the compound eyes and antennae.

A side view of the head and the pronotum over top of part of the thorax. I wonder if that red line on its cheek is a scar from a fight with another grasshopper?

A side view of the head and the pronotum over top of part of the thorax. I wonder if that red line on its cheek is a scar from a fight with another grasshopper?

Naturally enough, the grasshopper gets its sense of taste from organs in its mouth, and its sense of vision from its many eyes. But interestingly, it gets its sense of smell from its antennae. That surprised me.

A good look at the head, and just behind it the pronotum.

A good look at the head, and just behind it the pronotum.

Just behind its head is a feature called a pronotum, which looks like a piece of armor to protest its neck and lower back. And perhaps that is part of its function. It covers part of the thorax, which is the middle portion of the grasshopper where the legs and wings are attached to the body.

Legs and Wings

Moving along the body we next see the interesting patterns in the wings, which are folded along the back of the grasshopper. You can also see the size of its rear legs, which provide it the ability to jump so far. And look closely at the spines along the rear legs. These can be used for defense. At the end of each rear leg is a claw to improve its grip, both when hanging on to something, like the flowers in these photos, and when it jumps.

Look at the claw at the end of the rear leg of the grasshopper.

Look at the claw at the end of the rear leg of the grasshopper.

Details of the grasshopper’s rear leg and wings.

Details of the grasshopper’s rear leg and wings.

End of Abdomen

Finally, we move down to the tail end of the grasshopper where we see part of its abdomen. It’s made up of a number of interconnecting segments that give it some flexibility. In some of these photos you get a better look at the spines on its rear legs.

The end of the abdomen of the grasshopper. Notice the spines along the rear leg.

The end of the abdomen of the grasshopper. Notice the spines along the rear leg.

Look near the very end and there are a pair of interesting features, one of either side. I believe these are called cerci (singular cercus). On one side it almost looks like a horn or a hook of some kind. These are sensory organs that, along with a number of other organs along its body, give it the sense of touch.

At the end of the grasshopper is what I believe to be a cercus, one of its touch organs.

At the end of the grasshopper is what I believe to be a cercus, one of its touch organs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at a grasshopper. They really are fascinating creatures.


Under the Mum by Todd Henson

Sometimes if you spend enough time working a scene you’ll end up with a very different outcome than you’d first envisioned. When I first saw the grasshopper atop a chrysanthemum I pictured creating a really nice photograph showing off the grasshopper’s olive green against the bright warm pinks of the mums. And that is exactly what I did, initially.

Amongst the Mums, a green grasshopper standing atop a pink chrysanthemum.

But I kept shooting, changing my angle, looking for different perspectives. I wonder if, perhaps, the grasshopper was getting tired of my moving around just above it, because it slowly started moving from the top of a mum to the side of the flower. I thought that was also a great photograph, so I kept shooting.

The Grasshopper and the Mums, it’s now shifted to the side of the flower.

And the grasshopper kept shifting, moving away from me, this time hanging upside down underneath the flower. That’s when I began to realize there was another interesting shot I could create.

When the grasshopper went under the flower it shifted into shadow. When I exposed for the grasshopper it ended up raising the exposure of all the flowers, creating this nice high-key image, something I really liked. It gave the flowers a softer feel, while still keeping the grasshopper sharply in focus and the center of attention. This situation is very similar to the Cabbage White butterfly on lace I shared a couple weeks back, where exposing the butterfly properly helped create a soft high-key look to the white lace.

Under the Mum, the grasshopper hangs upside down under the chrysanthemum.

The lesson of the day is one I’ve mentioned a number of times. Don’t stop shooting too soon, even if you think you’ve created a nice image. You never know what else you might create if you keep working the subject, keep exploring, keep experimenting.

So go out there and work your subject, and let me know if you end up with something beautifully unexpected.

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Cabbage White on Lace by Todd Henson

A female Cabbage White butterfly backlit on white lace curtains.

Sometimes you don’t even have to leave the house to photograph wild creatures. They just have a way of getting inside, so why not take advantage of this?

I was visiting my folks house and saw the cat moving around the front bay window. I didn’t think much of it until later when I noticed a little Cabbage White butterfly resting on the lace curtains well above the reach of the cat. The butterfly had seen better days. Perhaps the cat had done some damage, or perhaps it was just nearing the end of its life.

I happened to have my 105 mm macro lens with me so that’s what I used. I cranked the ISO up to 1000 since it was a little dark inside. It was afternoon and the sun was behind the house. The light shining through the window was not direct sun, but it was still fairly bright compared to inside the house.

Macro lenses can naturally give a very shallow depth of field when focusing up close. So I wanted to stop down the aperture to let me capture the entire butterfly in focus. However, I was hand-holding the camera so I couldn’t let the shutter speed drop too much or I’d get a blurry photograph. In the end I settled on an aperture of f/8 and a shutter speed of 1/160 second. This let me expose for the butterfly, letting the background go bright without blowing out any details.

My goal was to create a nice high-key image with the light-colored butterfly standing against a glowing bright white background. I wanted it to feel soft but still have the butterfly in focus. I’m happy with how it turned out. Even if I never do anything more with the photograph than post it here, it was great practice. I pictured how I’d like the image to look then worked on finding the settings that would get me there. I encourage you to practice in the same way.

When I finished photographing the butterfly I gently captured it and let it go outside. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done this, as I later learned Cabbage Whites are not native to this area and are considered a garden pest for the damage done by their caterpillars, and this did appear to be a female based on the number of spots on its wings. Oh well, native or not, it’s still fun observing and photographing these beautiful little creatures.