Scientific name: Anacridium aegyptium
Large and impressive the Egyptian Grasshopper is a common species around the Mediterranean. They are vegetarian and completely harmless to people, other than that they are often so well camouflaged they may startle you when they suddenly fly up in front of you as you walk.
Adult female Egyptian grasshoppers can reach a length of 6.5cm.
The male is smaller, growing to around 3.5cm. The antennae of both sexes are relatively short and robust. The spiny projections on the underside of the legs help the insect to cling to vertical surfaces.
The adult grasshoppers are generally grey, brown or olive coloured with variable patterns that allows them good camouflage against tree bark and other vegetation; green individuals may occur, but very infrequently.
Both sexes fly very well at a good speed over short distances and can frequently be seen – and heard- doing so, making a distinctive ‘clattering’ sound. They are so large in flight that more than once I have to admit I have mistaken one for a small bird. At rest their wings are folded along the body and overhang slightly. If disturbed on the ground, the grasshoppers can also use their strong back legs for jumping.
In December 2010, in a flowering shrub in my friends’ garden in Jimena we came across the pair of grasshoppers pictured above. A smaller male is on top of the larger female and although not actually doing so, was probably intending, or hoping to mate with her. Even more interesting was the fact that throughout the shrubbery beneath them, at least a dozen similar males were present. There was no apparent aggression between them, but it would be interesting to know whether the female has any choice of a mate or if she will mate with more than one male.
Eggs are laid in the spring just under the soil surface. The young grasshoppers are tiny when they first emerge as nymphs and can be found in a variety of colours including bright green, shades of brown and even a pale orange, a selection of which may be found feeding communally. They can be told apart from other grasshoppers by the shape and size of the pronotum and if you can get a close enough look, they have the diagnostic vertical striped pattern in their eyes, which is visible at all growth stages.
The growing grasshoppers will undergo several moults during their first months; in the early stages the wings are only visible as tiny wing buds that enlarge gradually at each moult. It is not until they go through their last moult to adulthood that the wings develop fully.
The nymph in the picture above shows tiny wings; it was really well camouflaged against the dead leaves of one of my potted geranium plants that I didn’t spot until picking the leaves off, I almost grabbed the poor thing.
Egyptian Grasshoppers can be found in a variety of habitats preferring warm dry areas of scrub land, maquis and areas with trees, including orchards and gardens; their diet consists of various leaves and a single insect will cause very little damage. They spend a lot of their time hiding amongst foliage and branches of shrubs and trees, and when they catch sight of you they will move slowly to the far side of their ‘perch’, hoping you have not seen them.
This species is active throughout the year and can be found from sea-level to 1,500m.