The Sound Of Silence

, 18 September 2015
The Sound Of Silence
Great green bush cricket / Mark Greco

By Michael Blencowe

People & Wildlife Officer

I’m a huge fan of sci-fi B-movies and they don’t come any better (or worse) than 1957’s ‘Beginning of the End’.

It’s the usual story; overeager government scientists intent on increasing crop yield inadvertently create giant irradiated grasshoppers the size of double decker buses which set about destroying Chicago.

We have some similar monsters lurking around Sussex. OK, so they’re not going to start trampling Angmering or stomping on Sompting any day soon but they’re still mighty impressive.

The great green bush cricket can claim to be Britain’s biggest insect. Yet this Godzilla of the undergrowth is surprisingly hard to see. Its long leaf-like body blends in among the brambles rendering it almost invisible. Bug eyes, impressive jaws and twirling antennae certainly give it some monster-movie credentials but there’s nothing to fear from this harmless native.

There are around 35 species of crickets and grasshoppers (orthoptera) in Britain. Crickets differ from grasshoppers by having much longer, thread-like antennae and they ‘sing’ by rubbing their wings together (while grasshoppers rub their legs against their wings). This song or stridulation is the male’s way of romancing a female – who, if interested, will reply. The best chance of finding the great green bush cricket is to head out on a warm September evening and listen for their downland duets – a loud, incessant rattle. Imagine a maraca player after way too many cups of coffee.

Listen to the great green bush cricket's stridulations here:

Last month I was leading a wildlife walk through the flower-rich meadows of our Southerham reserve. I was blown away by the wall of sound created by hundreds of crickets and grasshoppers but it became apparent that not everyone could hear this orthopteran orchestra. The sad truth is that as we get older our ears can’t tune in to the higher frequencies produced by these insects and species by species they fall silent.

I have a compilation CD of the chirps and buzzes of Britain’s crickets and grasshoppers – a sort of ‘Now That’s What I Call Stridulation’. I played it this morning and track 24 had gone. It was there a few years ago but now… silence. I’ve started to lose my crickets. The beginning of the end.

It isn’t just me who will be hearing less wildlife in the future. Our countryside is becoming quieter as crickets, bees and birds vanish. Our wildlife rich meadows have been lost and our countryside has been saturated by pesticides. Unlike in the movies, our nation’s wildlife has not responded by growing to a tremendous size and attacking our major cities. It has quietly died. The ‘Silent Spring’ predicted by Rachel Carson back in 1962 has seeped across every season. So get out and listen for great green bush cricket and other sounds of summer before they fade.