The naxian Cave cricket

Caves provide highly specialized living conditions for their inhabitants. The environmental conditions are unusually stable: temperature and humidity change very little. Plants cannot exist in caves because of the lack of light, and thus food is scarce for animals as well. Accordingly only a very few specialized species can exist in the stringent conditions found in caves.

In the caves of Naxos lives an interesting insect: the endemic Cave Cricket Dolichopoda naxia. The Southern European genus Dolichopoda consists of about 30 species. Each of these occurs only in a small area, sometimes only in one single cave. In the hot and dry climate we have nowadays in the Mediterranean area, the sensitive animals cannot survive outside their caves and so they can no longer reach other caves. Thus the populations of different caves are isolated from each other. Their geographic isolation led to the emergence of many different species in a relatively small area. The Cave Crickets came into the Aegean probably about 5,5 million years ago during the miocene age. Genetic analyses indicate that the Naxian species has been isolated for about 3 million years. Its closest relatives live on Samos and Kalimnos, while larger differences may be found in the more distant Cretan species.

Cave Crickets belong to the order Ensifera (crickets, katydids and bush crickets) which are characterized by their long antennae. The antennae―and also the legs of the Cave Crickets―are especially long. Cave Crickets can jump, but they usually just walk rather slowly. In their long adaptation to underground life their wings became very much reduced and they cannot fly. As a consequence they cannot chirp either (the Ensifera produce their songs by rubbing their wings), and accordingly they have also lost their hearing organs. The females can be identified by their long ovipositor.

Crickets develop by an incomplete metamorphosis (hemimetabolism), which means that the larvae resemble the adults from the beginning and grow gradually more alike them with each moulting. In one year the larvae moult about ten times. The adults live only one year. Cave Crickets are omnivorous: in this environment with very little food they have to take whatever they can get.

On Naxos the Cave Crickets occur also in the emery mines which often correspond to natural caves. They can only be found in larger numbers in places with sufficient humidity.

Emery mines below Kóronos; the mine where we found the most Cave Crickets lies behind the tree visible in the back of the picture above the truck.

the entrance to the mine

in the mine

Numerous Cave Crickets sit on the walls and especially under the roof.

The brownish animals have no wings but very long legs and antennae.

female with ovipositor

The small larva already resembles the adult.

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Grasshoppers and crickets

Grasshoppers and crickets belong to the insect order Orthoptera that is divided into two big suborders, the Ensifera characterized by their long antennae and the Caelifera with short antennae. Worldwide exist about 20,000 grasshopper and cricket species.

Grasshoppers are typical insects of open vegetation and dry habitats. Accordingly they are very common in the mediterranean countries. In central Europe they are getting rarer due to the intensification of agriculture. Many species are easily overlooked because of their excellent camouflage. Often you will become aware of their presence only by the chirping, while you notice the animal itself only when it flies or jumps away.

Most people don’t like insects very much. However, some species are very pretty.

Grasshoppers usually sit on a surface similar to their body coloration. In many species, the coloration of the individuals can vary between e.g. gray and brown. Here a blue-winged grasshopper.

The anatomy

Like in all insects the body of the grasshoppers consists of three parts, the head, the chest (thorax) and the abdomen. These are each made up of several segments that initially had an identical design. The head (out of five fused segments) bears antennae, chewing and biting mouthparts (mandibles, maxillae), compound eyes and small ocelli (simple eyes). The chest carries three pairs of legs (it consists of three segments) and two pairs of wings, of which the front ones (the tegmina) are more rigid and serve as covers for the membraneous hind wings, with which the grasshoppers fly. The strong and long hind legs are used for jumping. The abdomen consists of eleven segments.

female Southern Wart-biter

Female grasshoppers and crickets have an ovipositor protruding at the end of the abdomen (particularly striking in the Ensifera). With it they lay the eggs, usually into the earth. The embryonic development can take several years, e.g. up to five years in the Great Green Bush Cricket. The larva moults five to seven times until it reaches the adult stage.

Insects have no internal supporting structures (such as the bones of the vertebrates), but an exoskeleton made of chitin, which supports the body and protects it against water loss and other damages. The exoskeleton cannot grow, so the larva must shed it from time to time and replace it by a new larger one (moulting). In the grasshoppers the larval development takes place without a pupal stage in which the body changes radically (metamorphosis, for example in butterflies), but the larvae grow with every moulting gradually more like the adults (hemimetabolous development).

tiny Great Green Bush Cricket (early larval stage)

Larger larva of the same kind with the small wings visible on the sides of the body

Here is the adult animal. The Great Green Bush Cricket has particularly long antennae.

Here’s another tiny larva.

Grasshoppers go through several larval stages, during which the animal’s form is gradually approaching the adult’s shape. Some of the adult’s features are recognizable in the larvae as well, others differ so much that it may be difficult to recognize the species. In the Egyptian Locust the larva is green whereas the adult is gray. In this middle larval stage, small wing buds are already visible.

an adult Egyptian Locust

Grasshopper in the process of moulting. Prior to the hardening of the chitin, the grasshoppers are particularly vulnerable and in danger of predators.

The chirping of the grasshoppers

The continuous chirping and buzzing of the crickets and grasshoppers (and cicadas) is the sound of the Greek summer. Most species sing and all have a specific song. The song is used to attract the females and to defend the male’s territory. Sometimes the animals produce different vocalizations for different purposes. The Ensifera produce the chirping (stridulation) by rubbing the front wings that have on their bottom edge a row of tiny teeth which is rubbed over the top edge of the other wing. In the Caelifera the hind legs are rubbed against the front wings.

According to the importance of their songs, grasshoppers have well developed hearing organs, which lie in the Ensifera mostly on the tibias (lower part) of the front legs and in the Caelifera on the first abdominal segment.

In this Great Green Bush Cricket the hearing organ (tympanal organ) is visible as a small green oval membrane on the “knees” of the front legs.


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The vegetation of Naxos

For visitors from Central Europe, the island of Naxos seems in many places at first glance rather barren and dreary.

low dwarf shrub vegetation at Ágios Dimítris

The impression is deceptive, however, and will be revised quickly with a visit, for example, to river valleys like that of Potamiá, Kinídaros or Myrísis, or with a hiking tour through the Tragaía in the center of the island or the green valleys around the mountain villages Apíranthos, Kóronos or Komiakí. Here, grows a rich vegetation in the extensively used cultivated areas as well as in wild thickets and bushland.

valley with lush vegetation near Skepóni

abandoned gardens at Kóronos

Apart from the cultivated areas, most of the island of Naxos – mountain slopes and abandoned terraces and fields – is overgrown with low dwarf shrub vegetation (garrigue or phrygana). Especially in the eastern and southern part of the island large areas are covered by an open bushland of small trees and tall shrubs. In addition more or less natural low forest is found, both in the southern part of the island in sheltered valleys and in some places in the mountain valleys. Along several rivers of Northwest Naxos grow dense riparian forests, and many small springs on the mountain slopes are shaded with wild Plane trees.

phrygana at Kinídaros

Juniper macchia

small forest of Kermes Oak at the Stavró Keramotís

riparian forest at Skepóni


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The landscape of Naxos

Naxos has a lot to offer, its nature as well as its culture. The landscape is especially varied: there are barren slopes where hardly any plants can survive and lush river valleys with dense vegetation; there are high, remote peaks and small cultivated plains. The island has gentle valleys with olive groves, green terraced vineyards and paradise gardens with vegetables and fruit trees of all varieties, it has steep rugged mountain slopes, sometimes bare and bleak, sometimes overgrown with oak forests or low bushes, with hidden springs surrounded by plane trees and deep, green canyons. The coast is diverse as well: you can find small, hidden bays with beautiful white pebbles between inaccessible, sheer marble cliffs; elsewhere there are extensive sandy beaches sometimes with unique juniper-covered dunes.

Cape Stavrós and the islands in the east

the castle of Apalírou

the venetian tower Agiá

chapel near the Chóra

sandy beach in Psilí Ámmos south of Moutsoúna

marble bay close to Ágios Dimítris

And Naxos has just the right size: the island is small enough that you can explore it easily in day trips, but big enough to hold a surprising variety of landscapes: Each area of the island has a character and charm of its own.


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The cicada

Greek summer: heat, wind, and draught – and the endless songs of the crickets and the cicadas. Of the cicadas in particular. The screech of Cicada orni tirelessly shrills in the trees all summer long from dawn to dusk. Yes, crickets may chirp, but cicadas shrill. It’s hard to believe what an intense sound this little creature is able to produce.

And their vocalizations are not the only amazing thing about the cicadas. These insects are fascinating. We know about 40,000 cicada species. They live wherever plants grow, and play an important role in the ecosystem and the food chain. Many cicadas are specific to a host plant and are adapted to special environmental conditions so that they are very sensitive to any interference with their natural environment. About half the cicada species occurring in Germany are listed on the Red List of Endangered Species. Cicadas are altogether harmless insects: they cannot bite or sting. In many parts of the world cicadas are actually eaten by humans; worldwide there are more than 70 edible cicada species.

Cicada orni in an olive tree. Note the small antennae and the way the animal holds its wings at an angle.

Here you can see the large eyes and the white abdomen tip.

A cicada head from above with the short, thin antennae, the compound eyes at the sides of the head and the upper two of the three ocelli.


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The birds of Naxos

Typical for islands, the number of breeding bird species on Naxos is lower than on the adjacent mainland. Regardless of this fact, Naxos Island’s avifauna is astonishingly rich and includes a greater diversity of species than most of  the neighbouring islands. This is due mainly to the large size of Naxos and its diversity of landscapes. In addition to the breeding bird species, the migrating birds found on Naxos are of special interest due to the fact Naxos is an important stepping stone between Africa and Europe.

A visitor to Naxos (left), bird watching with Naxos’ most prominent ornithologist, Nikos Promponas (right).

A diversity of bird species breed in the Mediterranean habitats that are not found in Western Europe.

The best site to observe migrating waterfowl is at the lagoon near the airport.

Two-hundred and twenty five species of birds have been observed on Naxos (this is excluding some very old records). This is about half of the 437 species occurring in Greece. Naxos and a few neighbouring islands have 70 nesting species, 4 of these are irregular nesters. Permanent resident species that nest on Naxos number 43, while 27 nesting species are migrants. Close to 90 species are regular migrants in spring or fall and 40 species are winter visitors. 51 species of birds found on Naxos are listed in the Greek Red List of endangered species.

The species of birds found on Naxos are changing, with species such as the Blue Tit and the House Martin no longer found on Naxos in the last 100 years. At the same time, several new species not recorded before, such as the Collared Dove, Cetti’s Warbler, Stonechat, Tree Sparrow and Red-rumped Swallow, have been established on the island. Six of the 70 nesting species that were listed above can be regularly seen on Naxos but do not nest on the island itself but on small neighboring islets. These species are the gulls and shearwaters, Eleanora’s Falcon and the Griffon Vulture (which breeds on nearby Heraklia).

Only in the last few decades have Red-rumped Swallows been established as a nesting species on Naxos, photo by Winfried Scharlau.

The highlights of the Naxian avifauna are doubtlessly the raptors and the waterfowl. Raptors that nest on Naxos or nearby include not only the Common Buzzard and the Kestrel, but the rarer Eleanora’s Falcon, Griffon Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon and Lanner Falcon.

On Naxos, Eleonora’s Falcon occurs in both the light and dark phase, pictured here is the rarer dark phase, photo by Th. Gaitanakis.

Waterfowl that occurs in the Mediterranean Sea are fewer in species and individuals when compared to areas such as the North Sea, but they are of special interest. Most of the waterfowl that occur in the Mediterranean are not seen in many other areas, such as the very common Yellow-legged Gull (the Mediterranean form of the European Herring Gull), the extremely rare Audouin’s Gull (which occurs only in the Mediterranean) and Cory’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters. Naxian nesting waterfowl include Shags, Black-winged Stilts, Stone Curlew and Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers.

Recently, the very common Yellow-legged Gull was split from the European Herring Gull, Photo by Winfried Scharlau.

The Little Ringed Plover nests on Naxos along the sandy shores of lagoons, photo by Th. Gaitanakis.

A few pairs of Stone Curlew nest at the airport lagoon, photo by G. Beriatus.

Obviously, the most interesting nesting species on Naxos for Western European birders are either Mediterranean or Eastern European species. These are for example the Sardinian, Ruppel’s, Orphean, Olivaceous, and Cetti’s Warblers, the Cirl, Black-headed and Cretzschmar’s Buntings, the Black-eared Wheatear, the Blue Rock Thrush, the Woodchat Shrike, the Red-rumped Swallow and the Alpine Swift.

The Cirl Bunting is one of the most common species on Naxos. Photo by Th. Gaitanakis

Cretzschmar’s Bunting is a typical inhabitant of low shrub vegetation. Photo by Th. Gaitanakis

Moreover, several species can be found on Naxos that also occur in Western Europe, but are not very common. These include: Crested Larks, Woodlarks, Northern Wheatears, Corn Buntings, Stonechats, Ravens and Nightjars.

The stonechat occurs regularly on Naxos. Photo by Winfried Scharlau

Finally Naxos nest several bird species that are common in Western Europe but quite rare in the Aegean, making their presence here somewhat surprising. Among these species are Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Wrens, and Nightingales. Much less common, but still observed from time to time are Spotted Flycatchers, Tree Sparrows (which nest in only one small locality), and the European and Great Reed Warblers. Until they were recently discovered on Naxos, these species were not known to breed on the Cyclades.


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The cottages Azalas

the cottages with cape Stavros

Cottages “Azalas” in Agios Dimitrios, Moutsouna (Naxos)

by Astrid Scharlau and Nikos Mandilarás

On the quiet east coast of the island of Naxos we rent four beautifully designed, fully equipped cottages, each 60 m2, suitable for 2 adults and 1 – 2 children. Built in the traditional style of local marble and stone, they are situated directly on the Aegean Sea in a quiet garden with vineyards and olive trees. Each cottage has its own terrace with a breathtaking view of the sea, of Cape Stavros and the surrounding islands.

Since spring 2010 the verandas are shaded by wooden pergolas.

one of the cottages, front

the terrace

the view

The cottages consist of one room divided by a curtain in a bedroom area with two beds and a sitting room and kitchen area with refrigerator and small electric stove. In the sitting room area there is a sofa that converts into two beds, and a fireplace made from beautiful local stone for use on chilly evenings in autumn and winter. Cottage interiors are of wood and tile brightened with hand-woven curtains in traditional designs of the island. Each cottage has a full bathroom with shower and WC. Sheets and towels are provided.

Haus innen, Wohnküche
In the sitting room area is a fireplace that can be used in cold weather. In the background the sleeping area.

Haus innen, Schlafbereich
view from the sleeping area into the kitchen area

the sitting room area with the sofa and the kitchen

The sofa can be opened into two separate beds of 2,00 and 1,80 m length respectively.

In addition to the individual cottage kitchens, all guests have access to a large kitchen with a gas stove and oven, a big fridge with freezer, and a large wood oven. You can also use a washing machine and an internet connection.

Adjacent to the cottages, overlooking the sea, there is a large pergola covered with vines where you can spend the hot hours of the summer days. Here is also a big marble table for outdoor picnics or evening meals. Or if you prefer, you can sit at one of several smaller marble tables in the shadow of the pines and olive trees.

The shady pergola is the best place to spend the hot hours during summer.

A large vineyard and vegetable garden surrounds the houses. Depending upon the season (and the weather conditions), guests may help themselves to our grapes and vegetables. We also provide local organic olive oil and our own excellent wine. Cheers!

the garden in spring

Directly in front of the cottages there is a small, clean sand beach with crystal clear water ideal for swimming and sunbathing. It is quiet and private, used mostly by our guests and a few local residents. Here also stands the small chapel of Agios Dimitrios.

the cottages and the beach
the sand beach; in the center of the picture you can see the cottages

the chapel Agios Dimitris

In the small village of Moutsouna in three kilometers distance, there are several taverns and a Mini market (open in summer, from mid-June until mid-September). If you don’t want to rent a car, you can go by bus from Moutsouna to the next village of Apiranthos and from there to Chora, the main town of Naxos (40 kilometers; the buses operate mainly during school season). We can also shop for you or take you into town when we go.

In Moutsouna you can eat nicely in several taverns right by the sea.

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