COLUMN: It’s just cricket


This week’s guest column comes from Dr Chris Andrews, from the RSPB...

You may have read my column last month about midsummer. Well, the nice weather in recent weeks means that summer is officially here.

As the weather gets hotter, some creatures become increasingly hard to find, but others take centre stage.

It is at this time that we start to hear high pitched noises emerging from the long grass. This is often the only chance we get to learn of the presence of two very common creatures, grasshoppers and crickets.

Not the same thing, as you may be surprised to learn, but quite different families and then separate species belonging to each. So what is the difference? Well, grasshoppers tend to have short antennae and sing during the day, crickets have long antennae and mostly sing at night.

Ah yes, the ‘singing’. How do grasshoppers and crickets make that high-pitched rhythmic sound? Did I hear you say ‘they rub their legs together’? Well, if this was the TV show QI then klaxons would be going off and you’d have just lost 10 points. Grasshoppers do rub their legs, but not against each other. Instead they rub them against their wings, which have tiny ‘teeth’ on the underside, and it is this that makes the noise. Rather like running your finger along a comb.

Crickets don’t even use their legs, and rub one wing against the other and they do it to attract a mate, rather like the songs of birds. The way they hear each other can be quite extraordinary too.

The organs which act like ears for crickets are on their knees, for grasshoppers they are on their bums! Can you imagine hearing with your bottom?

Both crickets and grasshoppers are mostly plant eaters, chewing their way through grass stems with powerful jaws. Though some species don’t mind eating insects given half the chance, even turning to cannibalism!

Thankfully in this country we don’t have to deal with the vast swarms that other countries can get, devouring everything in their path.

Most famous of these are, of course, the locusts which can devastate large areas of farmland as they hop and fly across the countryside. Though a patch of long grass can itself produce a remarkable number of animals.

Both the adults and also the youngsters, which look like tiny versions of the full grown creature.