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.

Grasshoppers as pest

Many species of grasshoppers and crickets feed on plants (but not all are herbivorous: quite a lot of species are omnivores). Several species can reach very high population densities in good years and then start to move in huge swarms (up to several billion animals) over large distances across the country. On their journey they devour everything edible and can cause catastrophic damages in the agriculture. These grasshoppers with a wandering form are called locusts. They occur mainly in Africa; today their populations can be more or less controlled by insecticides.

Locust plague on Naxos: The Southern Wart-biter may cause major damage in gardens and vineyards. This year there are so many locusts that our vineyard shows serious damage, and in some areas of the island, the vegetable gardens are severely affected by the locusts as well.

Grasshoppers as food

However, grasshoppers are of interest for humans not only as pests: About 80% of the world population eats insects regularly, including locusts, which are very popular in some parts of the world and are eaten in different ways, most frequently grilled.

Of course grasshoppers and crickets are not only eaten by humans. In our area their most important predators are cats, gulls, which often gather in large numbers of fields with many grasshoppers, and other large birds like Eleonora’s Falcons. Another very interesting animal that feeds on crickets and grasshoppers is the Digger Wasp Sphex funerarius.

The Digger Wasp is able to overpower even large Bush Crickets and to stun them permanently with its poison. Then it carries the Bush Cricket to its underground nest and stores it there for its larvae. In this way the Digger Wasps capture and eat lots of crickets every summer.

Cricket and grasshopper species in Azalas

Below I portray some cricket and  grasshopper species, which I have encountered so far on Naxos. Certainly there are many more species around, but I believe I can present here at least the most frequent species. For the determination of Acrotylus insubricus, I want to thank the forum (in German). The other species I identified as best I could with my (rather limited) field guides, but I am no specialist and can certainly have made mistakes. I am thankful for any correction.

Ensifera: crickets, bush crickets and relatives

The Ensifera are characterized by their very long antennae. Many species are carnivorous or omnivorous, some species feed only on plants. The Ensifera produce their characteristic song by stridulation with their front wings: On one forewing one of the veins carries a row of microscopic teeth which are drawn for the stridulation over a sharp edge of the other wing. The song is used to attract the females and keep other males away. The crickets have well-developed hearing organs, equipped with a tympanal membrane, which lie mostly on the front legs, and are often lowered into a pit to allow directional hearing. The adult females of the Ensifera can be identified by their long ovipositor. In a number of species the wings are reduced.

The Ensifera are divided into the katydids or bush crickets (Tettigonioidea), in the true circkets (Grylloidea) and the wingless cave and greenhouse cricket (Rhaphidophoroidea).

1. Katydids or Bush Crickets, Tettigonioidea

Great Green Bush Cricket, Tettigonia viridissima

The easily recognizable Great Green Bush Cricket is very abundant on Naxos. The males sing especially at night; they produce a short, quick scraping noise.

Short-winged Conehead, Conocephalus dorsalis ?

This beautiful green cricket with a brown back belongs to the Coneheads, a genus characterized by the protruding forehead whose members often have reduced wings. This individual it is an adult female, as can be seen by the ovipositor protruding at the end of the abdomen.

Antaxius spec. (?)

This katydid belongs most likely to the genus Antaxius, whose members often have reduced wings.

Southern Wart-biter, Decticus albifrons

The Southern Wart-biter reaches up to almost 4 cm in length, with wings extending considerably beyond the abdomen. The front of the head has a light color; the pronotum (the dorsal sceletal plate of the first thorax segment) has a distinctive white edge. Wart-biters usually do not jump, but fly away in a distinctive whirring flight.

unidentified species

Crickets are not easy to identify, so some species must remain (for now) undetermined.

unidentified bush cricket

2. True Crickets (Grylloidea)

True Crickets differ from Bush Crickets in their cylindrical bodies which are flattened from above. Most species are fairly dark in color. The crickets have a particularly loud voice, which they produce by pulling the right front wing over the edge of the left front wing (the other way around as in katydids). On Naxos occurs the Mediterranean Field Cricket, which sometimes comes into the houses in summer, hiding under furniture or fridges, and then entertaining its human neighbors all night by its tireless loud chirping. Crickets do not fly and barely jump, but can run swiftly.

Mediterranean Field Cricket, Gryllus bimaculatus

The almost black-colored Mediterranean Field Cricket lives in fields and garden, spending the day under stones. In summer it occasionally comes into the houses disturbing the inhabitants by the loud nightly chirping which is difficult to locate. It produces its song by rubbing the stiff forewings. The hind wings extend as long points beyond the body.

Cave Crickets (Rhaphidophoroidea)

On Naxos occurs an interesting member of the Rhaphidophoroidea, the endemic Cave Cricket (Dolichopoda naxia).

(Caelifera): grasshoppers

The grasshoppers (Caelifera) are a particularly large order of insects with over 10,000 species. As in many insect groups new species are discovered every year, especially in the tropics. The grasshoppers differ from the Ensifera mainly in the antennae, which are much shorter than the body. The females have only a short ovipositor, which can be extended like a telescope.

Grasshoppers are mainly known to us due to their chirping (stridulation). But not all grasshoppers sing. The native species have species-specific chants, used to attract the females and to keep away other males, which they produce by rubbing the hind legs against the front wings. Some species produce sounds also with their wings while flying (buzzing), with their mouth parts (clicking) or with their legs (drumming).

Acrida ungarica ?

This is probably the last larval stage of a species of Acrida, an omnivorous genus which is characterized by a strongly pointed head. These grasshoppers are particularly common in the steppe regions of southern Europe. We see them only rarely, but that is probably mainly due to their excellent camouflage.

Calliptamus italicus

Calliptamus italicus is very common in the mediterranean countries, while in Central Europe they are endangered because of the intensification of agriculture. Characteristic is the whitish strip extending from the head over the sides of the pronotum and then running along the wing.

Calliptamus barbarus

The very handsome Calliptamus barbarus is abundant on Naxos. The hind wings are light red. Between the compound eye and the antenna, an ocellus (simple eye) is visible.

Egyptian Locust, Anacridium aegyptium

The adult Egyptian Locust is gray in color (the larva is green). It is characterized by longitudinal stripes on the compound eyes, small spots at the edge of the pronotum and the sharp thorns on the tibia of hind legs.

Oedalus decorus

Oedalus decorus has usually a more vivid color with white stripes on the pronotum, which form an X. However, there are specimens like this that are inconspicuously gray-green colored.

Blue-winged Grasshopper, Oedipoda caerulescens

The small Blue-winged Grasshopper is very abundant on Naxos. It appears in a gray…

…and a reddish brown form, according to the color of the underground. A distinctive feature is the warty pronotum.

The hind wings are light blue with a dark bar towards the edge.

unidentified grasshopper 1

This is also very common grasshopper, similar to the preceding species, but with red hind wings and a non-warty pronotum.

unidentified grasshopper 2

This heavily spotted specimen (the last larval stage: the wings are still very small) may belong to another species.

unidentified grasshopper 3

And another species(?) with a strikingly pale head and pronotum and dark forewings.

Acrotylus insubricus

This very frequent small grasshopper species can be distinguished by its rounded, short pronotum and the hair on the chest and legs.

The hind wings are red with a dark band at the end.

For the determination of these and other species, I thank very warmly the staff of the Forum