Thursday 14 June 2018

Nosey grasshoppers

It’s not uncommon in southern Europe to come across a grasshopper that looks like a stick insect. A quick browse in Chinery’s book on insects and there was a species that matched it well – Acrida ungarica. This book gives no English name but more recently names that crop up are nosed grasshopper or cone-headed grasshopper, from its look, and Hungarian grasshopper, from its scientific name.

Insect ID often isn’t that easy and that’s the case here. Paul Tout, Honeyguide leader in Istria and Slovenia, sent me a link to an Italian picture showing two species. Some internet sources show three subspecies.

Then Paul Brock’s book ‘A photographic guide to Insects of Southern Europe & the Mediterranean’ was released late in 2017, and a visit to Crete in April was an ideal time to test this fine new book in the field.

Truxalis nasuta or Nosey Cone-headed Grasshopper, Crete, April 2018. Only easy to see this green form when it steps out of the vegetation.

The insects in Crete match perfectly what Brock calls Truxalis nasuta or Nosey Cone-headed Grasshopper (using Brock’s style of capital letters). The IUCN* calls this species Splendid Cone-headed Grasshopper.

The IUCN also says “The genus Acrida is in need of taxonomic revision”. However most references, Brock included, have simply two species: Acrida ungarica in much of central and southern Europe and Truxalis nasuta in the Mediterranean, including coastal Iberia, Crete and North Africa, albeit with maps showing quite a lot of overlap. I have re-labelled photos from Morocco as Truxalis, following Brock.

Truxalis nasuta, Morocco, March 2017. A dry year in Morocco so a brown form. 

Colour variation is a nice feature of these grasshoppers, green or brown to match the surrounding vegetation.

They’ve always been silent in my experience, but a recent post on YouTube from Spain shows that they rub their hind legs against their wings like other grasshoppers.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature

Friday 8 June 2018

Nature in the heart of Norwich

A mass of ox-eye daisies by Canary Way.
For several years I have kept track of the fortunes of some bee orchids in urban Norwich. It all started by accident when I was cycling past and noticed both a bee orchid and a man with a strimmer. 

That conversation led to an annual visit to a patch of grass - now a wild flower meadow - outside Big Yellow Self Storage on Canary Way, opposite Norwich City FC’s football ground (for example Big Yellow bee orchids are back, June 2016).

Fast forward ten seasons and leaving the flowers to grow and bloom has become routine here – in a good way. Never mind the orchids – the show of ox-eye daisies is reason enough to stop and take a look. 

Of course ox-eye daisies are common on roadside verges, but somehow sandwiched between a garage and a supermarket alongside the inner ring road they have extra appeal. Not surprisingly the flowers were buzzing with bees when I took a close look on 5 June 2018.
Red-tailed bumblebee on an ox-eye daisy.

Bee orchid; this one has thrived despite being slightly strimmed.
Bee orchids like thin turf and have a way of popping up opportunistically in surprising and often infertile areas. 

The denseness of the daisies made me wonder if the bee orchids would be crowded out – in ecological terms as this bit of grassland micro-habitat moves to a later stage in its natural succession.

The reality was interesting. Only one bee orchid was among the uncut area with the ox-eye daisies. 

However there were six more in the adjacent area that had been rough-cut earlier in the spring – but cut long enough ago for the relatively late flowering orchids to grow.

It shows that wildlife has a capacity to surprise. So if you are passing The Meadow in the City, do stop and take a look. Better still, pop in and say thanks to the Big Yellow team for how they've helped nature.

Updates: 18 June, three Honeyguiders visit, find 12 spikes, and I know they missed one. 25 June, after hot, dry spell: ox-eye daisies like a bone-dry hay crop, 8 bee orchids spikes either gone over or last-lingering blooms.

Ox-eye daisies outside Big Yellow Self Storage.

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