Return of the mole crickets following first confirmed sightings in decades

Entomologists celebrate the news of mole crickets in the New Forest, and call for a national recovery plan.

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Mole crickets have been seen in Britain for the first time in decades

Mole crickets have been seen in Britain for the first time in decades © Paul Brock

 

One of Britain’s biggest but most elusive insects, the mole cricket, has been spotted again in the New Forest.

A male was spotted and caught, and a DNA sample taken for comparison with museum specimens and continental crickets.

“This rediscovery is extremely exciting and positive news at a time when so many insects are disappearing,” says Matt Shardlow, chief executive of Buglife.

“We must make sure that the sound of the mole cricket is again heard across our landscapes, it is essential that a Species Recovery Plan is drawn up - this can’t be another swansong.”

 

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Once a widely occurring species, numbers dwindled and in the 1960s the crickets were considered to be rare and restricted to south England.

Later records usually came from imports in compost or pot plants, and the species was declared as Endangered in the UK in 1987.

However in 2014, entomologist Paul Brock and sound recordist Brian Harrison were visiting the New Forest when they heard and recorded at least four males calling.

Male mole crickets churr loudly by stridulating in order to attract females on warm nights from April onwards, having created specific sound chambers at the entrance to their burrows.

The life-cycle of this species is three years, and involves the female looking after and caring for the small nymphs. Mole crickets mainly eat larvae and earthworms.

Brock returned to the New Forest this spring, with a licence from Natural England to undertake surveys with his sister Helen and forest keeper Jonathan Cook.

Helen spotted the 5cm-long male mole cricket that was caught and released whilst they were listening to the churring calls of the males.

They believe that there are at least 20 animals present, and plan to undertake more surveys in suitable areas of the forest.

The mole cricket is the only species in the Gryllotalpidae genus present in the UK.

A number of other UK Orthoptera (bush-crickets, crickets and grasshoppers) are also threatened with extinction in the country and are limited to only a few sites, including the scaly cricket, the wartbiter and field cricket.

 

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