Tuesday 7 October 2014

Hitchhiker crickets

For about a couple of weeks, my six year old daughter has been telling me about the crickets in her school playground. Crickets? surely they would be grasshoppers, I said dismissively. I shouldn't have doubted her identification abilities, as she confidently pointed at oak bush crickets when presented with photos in a field guide, and my husband and son also confirmed it. I was most intrigued, as bush crickets are rare north of the Humber. Last week I spent an embarrassing amount of time searching for the mystery crickets while the kids played after school, while other parents I know looked at me as if I was going nuts. 'I put in on the tree this morning', my daughter would said, 'I've seen four, no... five' I wondered if the kids throwing sticks to get at the conkers was also dislodging the crickets from the chestnut tree at play time. I searched and searched, and, although I did find some Field Grasshoppers, Chorthippus brunneus, nearby there was no sign of the crickets, so frustrating!

  Today, at school pick up time, she told me she had rescued one from a puddle under the chestnut tree. I searched and initially found none, but finally, I found a live female and a very squished male on the ground, hoorray! Both were collected and taken home, and to my surprise they turned to be the Southern Oak Bush Cricket, Meconema medidionale, distinguished from the related Oak Bush Cricket by its stumpy wings and larger male cerci. Oak Bush Crickets are nocturnal and live in trees canopies, so they are thought to be under recorded, although they are attracted to light, so they turn up inside houses in the summer. Instead of singing by stridulating with their wings like other crickets do, males attract females by drumming with their rear legs on the substrate, and this sound can be audible up to 1 m away. They are predatory crickets, and feed on small insects like aphids and leaf-miners (including those of Cameraria ohridella, the Horse Chestnut leaf miner). Despite their name, they occur in many tree and bush species and are a late species, with adults found from mid August up to the first frosts.

 Since the 1960s, the Southern Oak Bush cricket expanded its distribution range from its original homeland in Italy throughout large areas of Northern Europe, and is now also found in North America. It was recorded in the UK for the first time in the autumn of 2001, and since then, it has spread north up to Nottinghamshire. Given its flightlessness, it is surprising how fast they are expanding. A study systematically searching for this species in the recently colonised Slovak and Czech Republics found that they are found mainly in urban habitats like parks or campsites, often with localised populations near car parks and main roads, suggesting that they might be dispersed passively by vehicles, especially trucks and caravans. They are, unexpectedly, often found on vehicles.

 The fact that several individuals are present suggests that the crickets have been around for a while in the school grounds. Would a teacher returning from a visit down south might be responsible from the introduction of this cricket species in Hull?

The squished male
Side view of the female
UPDATE 8/10/2014
We released the female on the chestnut tree. Although she had lost a leg, she was quite capable of jumping, and hid under a shrivelled leaf. I found a freshly dead male in the same spot, quite intact. Here he is. Look how much longer his antennae are compared to the female.

More information
British Orthoptera & Allied insects page. Here.

Grabenweger, G., Kehrli, P., Schlick‐Steiner, B., Steiner, F., Stolz, M., & Bacher, S. (2005). Predator complex of the horse chestnut leafminer Cameraria ohridella: identification and impact assessment. Journal of Applied Entomology, 129: 353-362.

Vlk, R., Balvín, O., Krištín, A., Marhoul, P., & Hrúz, V. (2012). Distribution of the Southern Oak Bush-cricket Meconema meridionale (Orthoptera, Tettigoniidae) in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Folia Oecologica 39(2) 155-165.

Liana, A., & Michalcewicz, J. (2014). Meconema Meridionale Costa, 1860 (Orthoptera: Tettigonioidea: Meconematidae)–The First Record In Poland. Polish Journal of Entomology, 83(3), 181-188.


Unknown said...

Just found one of these in the corner of our lounge (we live in Croydon just outside of London). We think its a female and have placed it back outside on our balcony on a plant. Beautiful creature and wouldn't have been able to indetify it as a Southern Oak Bush Cricket without this blog. Many thanks!

Africa Gomez said...

HI Emily, glad you identified your cricket and that BugBlog was of help!

Unknown said...

I found one of these in my house this morning, I just left him. He'll probably find his way back out. I live in Southern Ontario, Canada.

Unknown said...

I have one in my room and due to my arachnophobia im pretty terrified so its pretty interesting experience to say the least

Unknown said...

I found one in my spare room on a houseplant a few days ago, popped him out of the window,
This morning we had one on the wall in our shower, he refused to budge and I couldn’t reach him

Anonymous said...

Got two of them ladies in our home today, London, UK. Not sure how its spike and kids would have went on if I was not the first one to find it.

Unknown said...

I had one on my window

Anonymous said...

Doing some work in Maidstone Kent and noticed one of these fellows had jumped into van and was sitting on dashboard, it stayed with me in same spot facing windscreen all the way to Canterbury where I released it onto a green area. It made me smile when I searched for a picture to identify and found it is called a Hitchhiker :-)

Anonymous said...

My wife found three of these cute little hitchhikers on our slider door. Must be attracted to the porch light. It is about 65 Fahrenheit in mid September near Seattle Washington. Very interesting bug.

Carson said...

Thank you for thiss