Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Sounds of summer

It's been seven years since we had a nice spell of weather like this. It feels almost like living that idyllic early scene in Puckoon, in " unexpected burst of hot weather. Saffron coloured in the bleach early sky, the sun blistered down, cracking walls and curling the brims of the old men's winter-damp hats...", though I (hopefully) bear little resemblance to Dan Milligan. And there's no nobbly brown dog in the vicinity. What there are, though, are grasshoppers. Stacks of 'em.

A good patch of long grass, paper-dry rustling already with the breeze, suddenly comes alive when the sun begins to crank up the heat in mid-morning. The plants suddenly seem to sizzle and whisper with the songs of various species, all clinging cryptically to stems and leaves or huddled against fragments of plants on the ground. Every footstep is accompanied by an explosion of tiny forms, bursting into action and springing wildly in every which direction.

A short, 'Schritt. ... Schritt. ... Schritt' heralds Field Grasshoppers, Chorthippus brunneus, a dust-brown and faded yellow-green with a blushing abdomen tip and two neat little angles on top of its thorax (the pronotum, if you prefer), rather like the mathematical operators greater than and less than: > <

Female Field Grasshopper. Note that the pale angles on the pronotum don't meet the hind edge of the pronotum either, and that the antennae are not clubbed, unlike some otherwise similar species.

A slightly drier, softer 'zee-zee-zee-zee-zee' gives away Meadow Grasshoppers, Chorthippus parallelus, which tend to be brighter green, striped dandy-ish beasts with - slightly belying the scientific name - gently incurved marks on the pronotum: )(

Meadow Grasshopper. Posing.

Meadow Grasshopper. The pale lines on the pronotum are not only gently curved, but stretch from end to end of the pronotum.

A bright green Meadow Grasshopper. Note also the short wings: generally this species has rather stumpy wings, but when populations grow too dense, a whole load of longer-winged individuals emerge and head off for pastures new.

The crickets are less conspicuous and also quieter, with a rather ventriloqual quality. A sibilant 'srrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr' from rank grass suggests that a Conehead (Conocephalus) of one or other species is lurking, but without seeing it I'm not sure of the identification. The likelihood is that it's Short-winged (C. dorsalis), but you never know...! Finally, a surreptitious movement gives away a Dark Bush-cricket Pholidoptera griseoaptera, looking a little like a dark spider scuttling across the ground. Their staccato 'Tschr. ... Tschr. ...Tschr.' will soon be ringing from the depths of almost any patch of slightly scrubby vegetation .

Soon it'll be the season for the outrageously loud Great Green Bush-crickets Tettigonius viridis, which can be clearly heard from a passing car, even at a fairly high speed, their penetrating 'TCHR-TCHR-TCHR-TCHR-TCHR-TCHR-TCHR-TCHR-' assaulting your ears as you pass a patch of brambles.

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