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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