Posted by: Ross Gardner | September 2, 2018

A many-jewelled crown

Mottled Grasshopper 6 (scaled)

Mottled Grasshopper (Myrmeleotettix maculatus). Ross Gardner 2018.

The New Forest is a special place.  It is special, of course, as a beautiful and historic landscape, but for the naturalist it is in many respects exceptional and, in a UK context, quite unique.  There are many of those inhabitants of The Greater World of Little Things  that find a British stronghold here and a few that have been found nowhere else in the country.  It seems that whenever I visit here I find something I’ve never seen before.

This summer it was with an eye for its Orthoptera (but not, I should add, exclusively) that I returned the place.  While some things may have passed their peak – the butterflies for example, or the early summer flush of wildflowers – mid-August is high-time for crickets and grasshoppers.  There was one in particular that holds a special enigma for me, the Large Marsh Grasshopper (Stethophyma grossum) – at up to 36mm our biggest grasshopper and being more or less restricted to the counties of Dorset and Hampshire also one of our rarest.

It was also one I’d never laid eyes on.  Being inhabitants of decidedly squidgy quaking bogs on acid heathland they are not exactly the easiest to track down.  Yes, I could go squelching in search of them, but I’d rather not be one of those people who risk precipitating potential damage to the habitat of the creatures they seek.  Restricting my searches to the edges of appropriate habitat I was thus reducing my chances of success.  But hey-ho, there was much else to be found.  Mottled Grasshopper (Myrmeleotettix maculatus) for one, certainly no rarity, but in their own way quite stunning little insects that come in a bewildering variety of colour schemes but quite easily identified with practice (very sharply indented side-keels are a most useful feature).  The Heath Grasshopper (Chorthippus vagans) is a something of a rarity, but one which in some areas of the dry heath were decidedly numerous.  And even being frustrated by a lack of Large Marsh sightings, finding the impressive Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) was always a treat.

Raft Spider 4 (scaled)

Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus). Ross Gardner 2018.

And yes, just when I thought I had run out of time and opportunity, I did find my prize beastie.  A movement out of the corner of the eye and a rather fabulous creature settling down to munch on a grass-blade.

Large Marsh Grasshopper 4 (scaled)

Large Marsh Grasshopper (Stethophyma grossum). Ross Gardner 2018.

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