Nature Blog: The Stridulators

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One interesting little find last summer that I never got round to telling you about was the discovery of a tap dancer in the Cabins one warm morning in August. As I won’t be here this summer to see if we get a repeat visit, keep your eyes open around the place for any signs of this charming little fellow or any of his relatives. Let me digress for a moment – it’s a hot summer day and you are in a meadow, the grass is high and the sun is high in a clear blue sky – the gentle buzz of insects is all around and perhaps the distant singing of some birds – then you hear ,what to me, is one of the evocations of a British summer – the sound of unseen Grasshoppers ‘singing’. It’s a sound that you don’t seem to hear as much nowadays or maybe it’s because we don’t stop to listen enough but once heard its never forgotten. One of the Welsh names for the Grasshopper is Celiog y Rhedhyn – Cock of the Bracken – yet another brilliant descriptive name. Actually it’s not a song at all really -(its called stridulation)-the Grasshopper is the Nigel Kennedy of the insect world – an accomplished violinist (I was going to say Yehudi Menhuin but I don’t know how to spell it) and acieves its musical effect by rubbing the serrated edge of its back leg on its wing -rather like running your thumb over the teeth of a comb but producing a much more tuneful result. Now I expect you are wondering what all this has to do with tap dancing in the Cabins, but bear with me. Related to the Grasshopper are two other kinds of insects – the Crickets and the Bush-crickets and they too ‘sing’ (using a slightly different technique) and one species that you are quite likely to come across is the Oak Bush-cricket. This is because it is attracted to lights and lighted windows and if you leave your window open you may be fortunate enough to wake up in the morning and discover one of these incredibly beautiful emerald green wonders on the lampshade or the window ledge. (A fairly foolproof method of distinguishing between a Grasshopper and a Bush-cricket is that the former have short stiff antennae and the latter have long whip like ones). So at long last patient reader we come to the subject of tap dancing- the Oak Bush-cricket is the Fred Astaire of the insect world and advertises his presence to any interested females by performing a little dance on a convenient leaf and rapidly tapping his hind legs up an down producing a surprisingly far carrying sort of drum roll, So there we are- ain’t nature amazing? Oh, of course it would be no good making all this noise if the lady couldn’t hear it, so of course Bush-crickets have ears — in their knees!