We have entered the micro-season of “The Grasshopper Sings”. This is the third micro-season of the mini-season of Cold Dew. The micro-seasons within Cold Dew are:
- The Geese Arrive (Oct 08 – Oct 12)
- The Chrysanthemum Flowers (Oct 13 – Oct 17)
- The Grasshopper Sings (Oct 18 – Oct 22)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
As a way to celebrate this season, we will learn about grasshoppers and stridulation. Then we will read seasonal haiku by Basho, Issa, and Buson.
Grasshoppers are part of the taxonomic suborder Caelifera within the order Orthoptera, which is suspected to be over 250 million years old.(1) There are an estimated 11,000 different species of grasshopper worldwide.(1) Crickets and katydids, while similar to the grasshopper and within the same taxonomic order, are in their own suborder called Ensifera.(2)
Grasshoppers typically live in “lowland tropical forests, semiarid regions, and grasslands.”(3) They can range in color from green to brown and may have yellow or red markings. Grasshoppers are herbivores and a few species have been known to damage crops.
The grasshopper is probably most known for its ability to jump. Some jumps are approximately 20 times the grasshopper’s body length. Grasshoppers will jump for various reasons including to escape predators, launch into flight, or simply get around.
How Grasshoppers Sing
Before discussing how grasshoppers sing, it should be noted that at this time of year you are probably not hearing grasshoppers signing but crickets. While this may highlight a slight discrepancy in the 72-season calendar, both crickets and grasshoppers use the same process, which is called stridulation, to make their sounds.
Stridulation is the process of making sounds by rubbing two body parts together. The two parts used in stridulation are commonly known as “the scraper” and “the file”. In the grasshopper, the hind leg is the scraper and the adjacent forewing is the file. In crickets, one wing is the scraper and the other is the file.(4)
While stridulation is mostly associated with insects, other animals such as some fish, snakes, and spiders, also use this process.(4)
Stridulation in Grasshopper
Both male and female grasshoppers stridulate. However, the males are much more active in this process than the females.
The grasshopper’s songs are used as a means of communication. The intention for the song can range from a way to attract a mate to the desire for “social cohesion.”(1)
The Marsh Meadow Grasshopper, which is widespread in much of the United States, uses stridulation to produce “a rapid series of about thirty-five very high pitched raspy notes.”(6) You can listen to the Marsh Meadow Grasshopper at Songs of Insects website.
Stridulation in Crickets
Stridulation in crickets is primarily done by males. Many female crickets do not have the necessary anatomical adaptions to be able to make sounds.(7) The reason for crickets to sing is primarily to find a mate or to ward off competition.
The Carolina Ground Cricket is a common cricket in the United States. Its song is described as “A rapid, buzzy trill with a stumbling or sputtering quality, as if the singer is never quite able to get on track.”(8) You can listen to the Carolina Ground Cricket at Songs of Insects
The World Kigo Database tells us that “chirping insects” and many species of grasshoppers and crickets are autumn kigo. Below are a few singing insect haiku.
in the fish market, from among the little shrimps, a cricket sings (translated by Sam Hamill)
every morning practicing to improve a cricket (translated by Jane Reichhold)
Then there are these two translations of the same haiku.
Alas for mortality! underneath the helmet a grasshopper. (translated by Donald Keene)
so pitiful - under the helmet a cricket (translated by David Landis Barnhill)
on a branch floating downriver a cricket, singing. (translated by Jane Hirshfield)
Grasshopper's song in moonlight - someone's survived the flood. (translated by L. Stryk)
crickets chirping in a scarecrow's belly. (translated by R. Hass)
the cricket climbs up the pothook - cold, cold night (translated by Michael Haldane)
A Haiku Invitation
This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references grasshoppers or crickets singing.
Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!
- “Grasshopper”; Wikipedia
- “Orthoptera”; Wikipedia
- “Grasshopper”; Brittanica
- “Stridulation”; Wikipedia
- “Stridulation”; Amateur Entomologist Society
- “Marsh Meadow Grasshopper”; Songs of Insects
- “Cricket”; Wikipedia
- “Carolina Ground Cricket”; Songs of Insects
- Insects (mushi); World Kigo Database
Basho’s haiku were retrieved from “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” editor: Gábor Terebess. Issa’s haiku were retrieved from “Poetic Entomology: Insects in Japanese Haiku” by R. R. Dunn and Poetry Foundation. Buson’s haiku was retrieved from “Haiku of Yosa Buson” Terebess Asia Online.