Posted by: Ross Gardner | August 5, 2015

The Beasts are Back

The scrubby grasslands overlooking the northern shore of the Thames Estuary slope down towards the flat grazing marsh beneath warm afternoon sun.  Full of wildflowers, they twitch to the breath of butterfly wings – plenty of gatekeeper and common blue and even a few late marbled white and ringlet – and nudged also by the labours of bumblebees, eager to have theirs from the plenty of Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Red Bartsia.  And from within this scene of summer calm comes a burst sound.  A high-pitched, rapidly repeated ‘ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka‘, it has an almost mechanical quality to it (click here to hear at www.orthoptera.org.uk); indeed, some have previously likened it to noise of a sewing machine.  It is, of course, no machine.  It is the return of the distinctive, far-carrying song of that beast among bush-crickets: Tettigonia viridissima – the great green bush-cricket.  Measuring in at around 5cm in length, it is much the largest UK species of Orthoptera, with only the rare wart-biter even coming close.  They are fine looking insects and one to be handled sparingly, given their ability to deliver a painful bite if threatened.

I love the sound they make.  Typically starting up during late-afternoon they will sing into the night, in a perfect audial accompaniment to those barmy summer evenings.  Like all crickets and differently to grasshoppers, they stridulate (sing) by means of rubbing their forewings together.  The volume of great green song defies the means by which it is produced.  It can be heard at some distance and possesses a curiously ventriloquial quality, so that when you think you have homed in on the position of the insect you realise its actually another metre or two away, a trick that can be repeated several times before actually laying eyes on the creature responsible.  The males always sing from within some rank herbage, perhaps a clump of bramble or similar and with their leaf-green colouration are wonderfully well camouflaged and not always easy to locate.  They do often seem however, to position themselves a few feet or so (a bit less than a metre) from the ground, which does serve to narrow the area of search somewhat.

If you do hear one, search you should – it’s a beastie well worth finding.

Great Green Bush-cricket (Tettigonia viridissima).  Ross Gardner 2014.

Great Green Bush-cricket (Tettigonia viridissima). Ross Gardner 2014.

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