We’re driving around Monte Romano near Tarquinia in Italy looking for Little Owls. They’re the number one species I’m looking for. The scenery here is wonderful.
For a moment this hill looks like the Windows XP desktop background, Bliss, by Charles O’Rear, after global warming has destroyed the ability of the Earth to support life:
“Look”, says the Puffin Whisperer, pointing out of the windscreen. It takes me a while to realise that what she’s pointing at is on the windscreen:
I grab a phone camera shot and get out of the car. “What is that?” I hear myself say:
It’s a Mediterranean Slant-faced Grasshopper. It seems to be an insect with the most outlandish list of insulting common names. It’s “Slant-faced”, “Cone-Headed” and “Nosed”. Even Acrida ungarica seems like an unpleasant scientific name.
It’s the perfect colour for this brown, dusty environment of parched leaves, bare soil and crop stubble.
It jumps off the windscreen and we finally find it again:
That’s pretty fantastic camouflage.
We drive on, looking at all the abandoned stone outbuildings in our search for Little Owls. We’ve got a coolbag full of ripe figs I’ve plucked from a wild tree, so I’m happy eating while we search.
At one stop I spot another slant-headed cone-faced grasshopper:
Hold on, this one’s green. Is it a different species I wonder, or just a different colour form?
I do some research and find an article entitled: Adaptive colour polymorphism of Acrida ungarica H. (Orthoptera: Acrididae) in a spatially heterogeneous environment. That’s a perverse and utterly pretentious way of saying something pathetically simple in a way which excludes the majority of people from understanding it. Here’s a part of the abstract:
“Intra-specific colour polymorphism provides a cryptic camouflage from predators in heterogeneous habitats. The orthoptera species, Acrida ungarica (Herbst, 1786) possess two well-distinguished colour morphs: brown and green and displays several disruptive colouration patterns within each morph to improve the crypsis.”
What does that mean? It means that brown ones are more difficult to find on brown backgrounds and green ones are more difficult to find on green backgrounds, for things that might like to eat them. Also, both the brown and the green ones have patterns which make them even harder to spot.
A picture is worth a thousand words. If only I had a photograph of a Little Owl. Maybe I’m just having problems finding brown birds on brown stones and in brown buildings. Someone should write a scientific paper on it and publish it in the Journal of the Bleedin’ Obvious.