Winter 2005

Grasshoppers and crickets of the Sefton Coast

Philip H. Smith

The chirping of grasshoppers is one of the sounds of hot summer days, especially on the sand-dunes as rough uncultivated grassland is the prime habitat for these attractive creatures. As insects go, grasshoppers and crickets are quite large and easy to observe. They also make interesting subjects for close-up photography. Belonging to the Order Orthoptera, only 44 species occur in Britain and most have a southerly distribution. On the Sefton Coast, we have three (possibly four) grasshoppers, one ground-hopper and one recently discovered bush-cricket. In addition, many years ago, the House Cricket ( Acheta domestica) lived on the nicotine waste tip at Formby Point, but this seems to be extinct there now.

Photographs of a Field Grasshopper copyright Philip H.SmithThree grasshoppers are pretty common throughout the sand-dunes. The Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus) is perhaps the most familiar, sometimes appearing in gardens. The male’s song is a brisk chirp repeated at short intervals. This is a medium-sized species, generally brownish in colour, often with some red on the tip of the abdomen. It likes dry, sunny situations in short vegetation and is often abundant on south-facing fixed-dune slopes.

Photograph of a mottled grasshopper brown form. Copyright Philip H. SmithIn similar habitat, you will also find the much smaller Mottled Grasshopper (Myrmeleotettix maculatus), usually brown but also having a fairly common green form. Look for the antennae which are clubbed in the male, the females having slightly broadened tips. The male makes a long series of buzzing chirps, quieter than those of the Field Grasshopper.

Photograph of a green grasshopper. Copyright Philip H. SmithAbout the same size as the Field Grasshopper, the Common Green Grasshopper (Omocestus viridulus) prefers cooler, moister habitats with taller grasses. As the name implies, it is usually green or at least has a broad green band down the back. This species has a loud song, consisting of a high-pitched buzz lasting 10 to 20 seconds.

A fourth grasshopper to look out for is the Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus). This was recorded on the coast up to 1985 but does not seem to have appeared since. It is a rather small, mainly green insect with short wings and is unable to fly. All the other grasshoppers can fly for several metres when disturbed.

Related to the grasshoppers, the ground-hoppers are small, inconspicuous creatures with a triangular extension to the thorax covering the abdomen. We have the Common Ground-hopper (Tetrix undulata), but I have only seen it on Ainsdale NNR. It favours open ground with plenty of mosses, such as young slacks, so it may well turn up elsewhere.

Photograph of a short winged conehead. Copyright Philip H. Smith
Our only bush-cricket is the Short-winged Conehead (Conocephalus dorsalis), which was highlighted in “Coastlines” last year. It was first seen, but not identified, by Peter Gateley at Marshside in 2002 and then “rediscovered” in 2004. This year, its distribution has been found to include part of the Birkdale Green Beach where it is mainly associated with Sea Club-rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus). The conehead is easy to distinguish from a grasshopper as it has extremely long antennae, the females having a sword-shaped egg-laying tube or ovipositor.

Photograph of a field grasshopperThe Orthoptera is a rather neglected group, so there is plenty of opportunity to add to our knowledge of habits and distribution. As the climate warms up more “new” species could easily turn up locally. Good hunting!

Further reading
Marshall, J.A. & Haes, E.C.M. (1990).
Grasshoppers and Allied Insects of Great Britain and Ireland.
Harley Books.