Posted by: Ross Gardner | September 1, 2015

Dorset hoppers

The heathlands of South Dorset are remarkable for many reasons.  There is the full compliment of native British reptiles to start off with, including the scarce and otherwise very localised Sand Lizard and Smooth Snake to make it 6 out of 6 and what of the wonderful mire and bog habitats of the wet heath, with their plethora of sedges, rushes, sundews and orchids.  There are few better areas in the country for dragonflies and damselflies and they support a host of uncommon birds, like Nightjar and Dartford Warbler.

The area is also the centre of the Orthopteran universe for British grasshoppers and crickets.  It is a fine time for such creatures.  While it may be all too easy to be drawn into that sense of autumn decline with certain aspects of the countryside – the butterflies, for example, have well passed their peak and the variety of wild flowers about the place is narrowing all the while – the world of Orthoptera is in full swing.  Many species will stay active well into the autumn, sometimes even seeing in the first frosts of the season as late as early-November.

Of the twenty species potentially on offer, I was most pleased to make an acquaintance with one in particular.  I have something of soft-spot for bush-crickets, for all their other-worldly charms and improbable gangliness.  The Bog Bush-cricket is no exception.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that the male is a rather handsome insect, with that familiarly shiny, armour-plated appearance typical of many of the bush-crickets, but with addition of vivid green markings on the upper-side.  The female lacks such adornment, but does share the bright, yellow-green underside common to both.  Not that she isn’t an impressive creature in her own right, perhaps being larger than the male and brandishing that blade-like ovipositor possessed by all bush-crickets.  It is with this appendage that she inserts her eggs into the stems of, or among the vegetation during the summer, from where the nymphs hatch late the following spring.

As the name would strongly suggest, they are basically limited to moist conditions present in lowland heaths and apart from their local abundance in some of the southern counties of England they enjoy a very scattered and very sparse distribution across other parts of England and Wales.  Good that they are one of the many jewels in Dorset’s natural history crown.

Bog Bush-cricket (Metrioptera brachyptera).  Ross Gardner 2015.

Bog Bush-cricket (Metrioptera brachyptera). Ross Gardner 2015.

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