The other day--walking down the sidewalk on the way to a local restaurant (to celebrate Joyce's birthday)--I saw a grasshopper, hanging out (was he waiting for grass to grow?). And for some reason I flashed back (again!) to my Oklahoma boyhood and thought about how, back then, we thought grasshoppers spit tobacco juice.
I asked Joyce if she'd heard that story, too, as a girl growing up in Akron, Ohio. She had. She did a little quick iPhone research for me, and she found this reference in the New York Times (it has a weekly "Science" section on Tuesdays). Here's what the Times said (it's in a Q&A format from December 1, 1982--a Wednesday, by the way):
Q. When I was young, we used to hold a grasshopper to make it spit "tobacco." What is it?
A. The brownish liquid, which does resemble tobacco juice, is a substance the grasshopper secretes as a defense mechanism against some possible predators, said Dr. Stuart Green, an entomologist at Cambridge University.
"You were stressing it, and it was not happy at being seized," he said. "The stuff it spits out is not very pleasant, and is harmful or at least offensive to birds and spiders."
The secretion is not made from tobacco but comes from a special gland, Dr. Green said.
The liquid is probably not effective against something as large as a human being, he said, though "if you drank a cup of it, it probably wouldn't do you any good."
Against bird-sized predators, however, the substance might act as a repellent, he said.
So ... it's a defense mechanism. Not tobacco juice. (Duh.) Yet another childhood fantasy destroyed!
Well, that was thirty-five years ago, that Times info. What's been going on since? The picture at the top of this post is one thing on the web--and there are many pix you can find of this phenomenon. And here's a link to a YouTube video showing someone getting a grasshopper to "spit" (the video didn't look too good on my machine--maybe better on yours?).
And here's some more detailed information about the phenomenon from a Purdue site. LINK
I think--years ago--I tried tobacco-chewing once. Hated it. But I had some Oregon/Washington relatives (all male) who did it--and one college friend (later on). Can't say I ever saw the appeal of it.
But I remember the ubiquity of grasshoppers in the summer back in Oklahoma; I remember the thud when they hit the windshield of our moving car, sometimes leaving legs and wings behind for us to remove at our next stop. (I know: gross.)
And--shame, shame--I remember ... some years ago ... eating a chocolate-covered grasshopper in a package of chocolate-covered insects. It wasn't all that bad. Crunchy. Chocolatey.
Lesson: Wrapped in chocolate, even a grasshopper tastes great!
Image below is from a website where you can buy them ...