This beautiful grasshopper is found throughout the U.S. and Canada, and into northern Mexico. Females may grow to 1.4 inches and are larger than males which don’t reach an inch in length. This species has no wings and doesn’t fly.
The rainbow grasshopper has only 17 chromosomes; and only one other grasshopper has a smaller number. Individuals live for one year, with females producing several hundred eggs that overwinter in the soil and hatch in late spring as nymphs that resemble tiny adults. This development process is termed “incomplete metamorphosis,” because it has no pupal stage.
In New Mexico, newly hatched nymphs feed on an aster plant called false willow. The diet of adults includes a variety of plants. Experiments have shown that the rainbow grasshopper is unpalatable to birds. The bright colors act as a protective mimicry which has been shown through experiments to cause striped whiptail lizards to avoid them, even though the lizards had not encountered the rainbow grasshopper before to learn that it is distasteful. Lizards had apparently learned that other brightly colored insects in their habitat were unpalatable and transferred that caution to encounters with rainbow grasshoppers in experiments.
The rainbow grasshopper is abundant and is not considered to be under any survival threat.