We had a bit of excitement in the house last night. Our mighty hunting cat, who is constrained to several screened verandas filled with planters, was delighted when the largest insect she had ever seen dropped onto one of the plants. She pounced and ran gleefully through the living room with her prey, while I sprinted off in pursuit. At the time I had no idea what she’d caught — I only knew that it was so large that it protruded from both sides of her mouth. She stopped and let it go (the better to catch it again), and it went poinging off in great leaps, ending up behind a speaker.
At this point, identification was pretty easy. It was a grasshopper around 7 cm long (almost 3 inches), and there’s only one grasshopper that big in Iberia. It’s the Egyptian grasshopper (or Egyptian locust), Anacridium aegyptium.
(photo by Alvesgaspar)
An interesting factoid about these monster grasshoppers: the females grow to nearly twice the size of the males. They also have distinctive vertical lines in their eyes, making identification easy even when looking at a young (and smaller) nymph.
The nymphs go through several molts in their life cycle, with the wing buds getting larger at each molt. It’s not until the final molt into adulthood that the full wings are revealed. Both sexes are fully flightworthy, which is how our enormous female ended up on a third-floor veranda.
A single Egyptian grasshopper doesn’t do too much damage to plants, so I released this one back onto our main veranda (after closing the doors). The mighty hunting cat was allowed back into the living room, where she immediately ran behind the speaker and snuffled around excitedly — she just knew it was there. I felt a bit guilty for denying her such a great prize, but that insect was too magnificent to condemn to death by cat.
Death by praying mantis, however, is something else!
From the Wildside Holidays site (also the source of the two bottom photographs in this post):
Above the Egyptian grasshopper is a Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa). The female Praying mantis is perhaps pregnant and this causes extra hunger which has encouraged her to attack the grasshopper even though it is larger and heavier than herself. Note how she has first removed the large hind legs which would have been a danger to her and may have allowed the grasshopper to escape.
Having just escorted a full-sized Egyptian grasshopper out of our living room, I am seriously impressed that a praying mantis can take one down. Just goes to show that no matter how big and powerful you might be, somebody else always has bigger claws.