I’m going to apologize for this story right up front, but you should know that I don’t actually mean it. It’s your own fault if you read all the way to the end of it.

We have in Florida a species of grasshopper called a lubber. They emerge as nymphs in spring, dull black with red or yellow stripes. The adults are brightly colored and emit a foul smell and a toxic, foamy secretion when disturbed.

The nymph of a lubber grasshopper, black with yellow striping
Image by Colin Blenis (License)

Nothing preys on them. That’s unfortunate, because the lubber is an incredibly destructive pest. A swarm of lubbers will strip all the leaves off a plant in short order. My wife, who adores all of nature, orders them murdered on sight.

I noticed lubber nymphs by the pool equipment last month, so we spread a bait that controls their population somewhat. Impossible to get them all, though, so occasionally they still turn up.

Fortunately, they tend to be slow. The name “lubber” comes from the old English word “lobre,” meaning lazy or clumsy. Easy to catch and kill if you see them. That duty usually falls to me.

Couple of days ago, my wife noticed a pair of nymphs in the white sapote tree out front. She asked me to kill them, but because they had not achieved their bright, adult coloring, I couldn’t spot them.

“Where?” I asked. I looked on the ground, having seen motion that turned out to be a lizard.

“In the tree.”

I looked up, fixing my gaze on the first branch I came to, near the tip. Nothing.

The inability to spot things in a crowded background has been a problem for me since childhood. It drove my mother crazy. She would grab my head and turn it toward whatever she wanted me to see. Often, I still couldn’t see it.

My wife knows this about me, and so she began giving me specific directions. Find the second branch from the bottom nearest me. Now go in about a foot from the tree trunk. Then, up three branches.

And there they were, right in plain sight. I should have seen them. But as you must have realized by now…

I was looking for lubbers in all the wrong places.

Adult lubber grasshoppers mating
Image by (license)