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Bush-crickets in Sandy, 2012

Following on from my write-up of grasshoppers I’ve seen in Sandy, I would like to do the same for their close-relatives, bush-crickets. Bush-crickets are also orthoptera, but I find them more interesting. They are generally shorter but more bulky, larger, and have really long antennae, hence their old-fashioned name: long-horned grasshoppers; in America I believe they are also known as katydids. They are a lot easier to identify than grasshoppers: colours tend to be more consistent, although most of them seem to be green, but the females in particular have long ovipositors at the back whose shape tends to give the species away. Some of them tend to hang around on tops of leaves if you keep your eyes open- especially dark bush-crickets and speckled bush-crickets- and some have repetitive (dark bush-cricket) or long (roesel’s bush-cricket) songs which helps in tracking them down. Some of them have been living in our garden for years, which helps. All these photos were taken in Sandy, several in our garden.

Dark bush-cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera)

Female dark bush-cricket

Female dark bush-cricket

Male dark bush-cricket

Male dark bush-cricket

The dark bush-cricket is commonly found on brambles, sometimes sitting on top of the leaves. Their song is quite distinctive: a short repeated buzz. I once went for a run at twilight past about 100 yards of brambles. I’ve never seen any there and couldn’t see any then as it was too dark but I heard loads all the way along. The male and femaleĀ  look quite different. Only the male sings and so is the only one with any wings to speak of, although these are hardly there either. The female has a clear long and curved ovipositor.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Speckled bush-cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima)

Female speckled bush-cricket

Female speckled bush-cricket

Last year I managed to get loads of this as they’ve been active and breeding in the lavender in our garden (e.g. this one from above, this one shedding its skin, these two mating, and so on) but they weren’t around so much this year, presumably because of there being less sun. Like the dark bush-cricket, they are also found on brambles, and I’ve seen them together a few times. The picture above shows the wonderful crazy eyes bush-crickets have, especially when their antennae are going all over the place. They are also, as one might expect, speckled, although it’s not as obvious to the naked eye as it is on a photo. Although you can’t see it here, the ovipositor is sickle shaped. It does sing but its wings are so small they are barely audible without a bat detector.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Oak bush-cricket (Meconema thalassinum)

Female oak bush-cricket

Female oak bush-cricket

This one lives in trees, but I found it on a path near the health centre in Sandy. If you go near a bush-cricket, they normally jump away more violently than their awkward walking would suggest. This one though actually walked onto my hand like a ladybird would. It kept walking and was happy to keep walking over my hands and my coat. I was on my way to picking up my daughter from school and it stayed on my coat the whole way there, while I was waiting, and all the way home. I put it down on the pebbles in the back garden, where I got the above photo. It was so tame, it let me put it on the rosemary and, when I’d changed my mind, onto the apple tree where I thought it’d be happier. I haven’t seen it since though.

You can see it has a straighter ovipositor than the two above. Despite the larger wings, it doesn’t sing at all but (apparently) drums its foot on a leaf.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Long-winged conehead (Conocephalus discolor)

Male long-winged conehead

Male long-winged conehead

Female long-winged conehead

Female long-winged conehead

This is one I tracked down by sound on a patch of waste ground near the railway line. This is one example of an insect whose range has expanded hugely in recent years, presumably as a result of climate change. They have an excellent name, and there is indeed a short-winged conehead.* The ovipositor is almost straight.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Roesel’s bush-cricket (Metrioptera roeseli)

I sadly didn’t get any pictures of these this year although I saw a few and heard loads more. These are relatively easy to find as their song is a long aggressive buzzing, so you can home in on them quickly. They hide in long grass, though, so it’s hard to get a camera near them without a blade of grass getting in the way. They are also somewhat more jumpy than the oak bush-cricket mentioned above so if you get too close and alarm them they jump and disappear in a flash. However, here is one from 2011:

Male roesel's bush-cricket

Male roesel's bush-cricket

It looks a little like a dark bush-cricket at first glance although it has a distinctive pale U-shape behind the head. The female has a sharply curved ovipositor. They normally have shortish wings, but in good sunny years long-winged (macropterous) individuals appear and the one above is such a macropterous example. You can see and hear this singing in this dodgy video I took.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Hopefully next year there will be more sun, so there are more insects and more light for the camera!

* It has short wings.

Grasshoppers in Sandy, 2012

I don’t recall as a child ever seeing a grasshopper or cricket except for some locusts in the school science lab. Like most nature I assumed I didn’t live in the right place, or that these things were too scarce, too shy, or hard to find. I’ve always been useless at spotting birds, even when pointed out to me. Trailing my own children round the countryside and waste ground round Sandy and trying to find where in the grass some insect noises were actually coming from, I discovered that these things are not that hard to find. Grasshoppers and crickets (orthoptera) are actually quite common, distinctive, relatively large, and also very inclined to stay still, which makes photography a hell of a lot easier. Although common, there are not that many species (36 breeding species*) in the UK, so identifying them is not impossibly difficult.

That said, grasshoppers are problematic to identify as the differences between species can be subtle (e,g. shape of the pronotum behind their head, wing length, bulges on wings, and the shape of the antennae), even with a decent photograph. However, I have started submitting records to the Orthoptera & Allied Insects Recording Scheme. I like schemes like this as it means I can contribute something to SCIENCE (especially in view of climate change which seems to be having real effects as some crickets in particular are quickly spreading north) while also getting expert confirmation of my identifications.

After getting the bug** in 2011, I was really looking forward to summer 2012 as I knew the good sites around Sandy and had a good idea what I was looking for. I was also hoping that I might know how my camera works by now. However, 2012 was a notoriously bad year for insects. I don’t think grasshoppers are in quite the same bad situation as they don’t feed on nectar like butterflies and bees, but I didn’t see too many, possibly more due to the rain stopping me going out to look for them as much as I would have liked. I did get loads of pictures of young grasshoppers (nymphs) so they must have been around.

I only saw two confirmed species of grasshopper. The first two pictures below are confirmed by the recording scheme. All photos were taken in Sandy, Bedfordshire.

Meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus)

Meadow Grasshopper, Sandy

Female meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus

This is a relatively distinctive grasshopper, although don’t ask me to explain why (parallel pronotal keels and short wings are a start). The ones I’ve seen have all had the good manners to be green which this species tends to be: grasshoppers have a tendency to be all kinds of colours, even pink (photo by buzzbee4826). This one has the misfortune to only have five legs, which seems to be a relatively common affliction.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Field grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus)

Field grasshopper nymph

Field grasshopper nymph (Chorthippus brunneus)

This seems to be the most common grasshopper in Sandy. When I think I’ve found something a bit different it normally turns out to be one of these. If nothing else, its wings are generally longer than the meadow grasshopper and the colours are normally all over the shop, none of which helps with identifying the nymphs. However, this photo was confirmed by an expert. The other photo is an adult, on a fencepost next to some vegetation growing over a path a stone’s throw from the house. Once you start looking for these things they turn up all over the place.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia (although not a lot more).

Field grasshopper

Field grasshopper adult (Chorthippus brunneus)

* Evans and Edmondson. A photographic guide to the grasshoppers & crickets of Britain & Ireland. 2007. p. 7.

** LOL!!!