The Texas Hill Country outside of Austin is filled with the authentic sounds of Texas country music. It also happens to be filled with a good handful of rare grasshopper species that researchers from Mississippi State University have been trying to track down and catalog, including in and around the legendary town of Luckenbach TX made famous by appearances by Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, and others.
All the more reason that when researchers were running around Central Texas looking for undiscovered bugs and listening to the music of the region, they were inspired to name some of the new species they found after the local heroes. This is what Dr. JoVonn Hill of Mississippi State and the Mississippi Entomological Museum has done with a couple of new Grasshopper species.
In a recent study published in the science journal Zookeys, seven new grasshopper species were identified. This included Melanoplus nelsoni and Melanoplus walkeri, named after Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker respectively. “The names were to honor the good memories we had listening to their music, and to help bring attention to the biodiversity and conservation of the hill country,” said Dr. Hill.
Two of the species were also named for the Comanche and Tonkawa Indians who are part of the local indigenous nations. “I think it’s important to recognize that connection culturally and spiritually.”
The difference between the newly-discovered grasshopper species and previous ones is the males don’t rub their legs together or flap their wings to make sounds to attract their mates. There is actually a delicate lock-and-key component to their reproductive organs that deem whether they can reproduce with females or not.
Waylon Jennings might be most identified with Luckenbach TX after he recorded the song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” and had a #1 hit with it in 1977. But at the time, Waylon had never been there, neither had songwriters Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons. It was Jerry Jeff Walker who really put the tiny little town on the map when he recorded his legendary album Viva Terlingua! there in 1973. Willie Nelson also made occasional appearances in Luckenbach, located about 70 miles from Austin.
A new statue featuring Jerry Jeff Walker and Luckenback mayor/imagineer Hondo Crouch was unveiled in October of 2022 on the Luckenbach TX grounds.