Grasshoppers and crickets

By David Chapman

Late summer is the best time of year to watch and listen to grasshoppers and crickets

 

Meadow grasshopperMeadow grasshopper

These wonderful creatures have always amazed me with the ability that some have to jump huge distances and most have to create their ‘song’.

Grasshoppers and crickets belong to the order of insects known as 'Orthoptera'. Around the world there are over seventeen thousand different species of Orthoptera of which just thirty occur in Britain, these are split into the two families known as grasshoppers and crickets. These two families can be distinguished from each other by the way in which they make their song, the time of day during which they are active, some of their physical features and their diet.

Most of these insects are small and well camouflaged so they have developed a range of sounds with which to attract a mate. Their 'song' must be familiar to us all but they don’t create it through their mouth parts instead they rub two parts of their body together, a process known as stridulation, and though different species rub different body parts the effect is the same. One of the two surfaces has a row of 'teeth', known as stridulatory pegs, the other surface is stiff and the effect is like that of running your finger nail along a comb.

Grasshoppers tend to be more active during sunny spells and rub their long hind legs against their forewings to sing. Many crickets are crepuscular, so they sing at dawn and dusk rubbing their wings together to create their song, a sound which tends to be higher pitched than the grasshoppers.

The two families differ in their choice of diet. Grasshoppers are exclusively vegetarian, whereas crickets are omnivores eating other insects as well as vegetative matter. Another feature which helps to distinguish between the two types of insect is the length of the antennae; the antennae of crickets tend to be much longer than those of grasshoppers. Female crickets have one more feature which sets them apart from the other Orthoptera and that is an obvious blade shaped ovipositor at the rear with which they push their eggs into vegetation or sometimes into the ground.

Gardens can be valuable refuges for Orthoptera. In general areas of long grasses are best for grasshoppers, which like to hop away from danger, and shrubby areas are better for crickets, which tend to crawl into thickets for safety. Many grasshoppers have quite well-developed wings with which they can fly but the meadow grasshopper, Chorthippus parallelus (pictured), which is the commonest grasshopper in Britain is our only flightless grasshopper since it has forewings but no hindwings.

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