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Communications August 7, 2019

Rare Finds at Jones Park: Crested Coralroot Orchid and Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

Grasshopper

Featuring bold colors in shades of red, yellow, and orange, the eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera) is no wallflower.

Known for its awkward movements and large size, the grasshopper is flightless and slow, mostly traveling by walking and crawling. In fact, the insect derives its name from “lubber,” a term sailors used to describe those who hadn’t developed their sea legs.

To ward away predators, the grasshopper relies on its colorful appearance and defensive behaviors, including spreading its wings, hissing, secreting a foul-smelling liquid, and vomiting.

Despite its showy colors, sightings of the insect are rare. iNaturalist documents that this giant insect has only been spotted nine times in Harris County. Fortunately, Jones Park Forester David Jamar recently found one at Jones Park and snapped this photo.

You can look for these insects hiding in leaves and open areas of the forest. Be sure to document your find on iNaturalist to help other citizen scientists find this fascinating grasshopper.

Orchid

Take a walk through Jones Park and you may notice rare native orchids sprouting like mushrooms from decaying material along the forest floor. With light brown stems that tend to blend with leaf litter, the crested coralroot orchid (Hexalectris spicata) is easily overlooked. But those lucky enough to view the orchid up close are treated to flowers with creamy yellow petals veined in magenta and purple. Up to 25 small flowers grow from a single spike that ranges in size from 6 inches to more than 18 inches.

Unlike orchids typically sold in stores, the plant doesn’t grow leaves or contain chlorophyll, the chemical that gives plants their rich green color, so photosynthesis isn’t possible. Instead, the plant feeds on fungi and decaying organic matter.

Native to Texas and much of the Southern United States, this orchid prefers well-drained woodland areas but can grow in swamps, desert canyons, and over limestone and sandstone. Although the plant is listed as globally secure, it is still endangered or threatened in many native states.