What are grasshoppers and crickets?

Grasshoppers and crickets, including bush-crickets, are jumping insects belonging to the family Orthoptera. There are around 30 species of Orthoptera in the UK, 11 of which are grasshoppers.

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Where do grasshoppers and crickets live?

Orthoptera can be found across the British Isles but their preference for hot, dry weather means they are more widespread and plentiful in southern Britain. Grasshoppers, as the name suggests, are found in grassy places, while crickets have more diverse habitats. Forests, wetlands, caves, beaches and even underground holes can all be homes for crickets – as long as they can find food, water and shelter.

Speckled bush cricket on dry leaf
Crickets, like this speckled bush cricket, have a variety of habitats including forests and grasslands. © Getty

What do grasshoppers and crickets eat?

Grasshoppers are herbivorous, while crickets also eat other insects. In turn, birds and spiders are their primary predators, eating the eggs, nymphs and adult insects.

How do you tell the difference between grasshoppers and crickets?

Appearance offers big clues: grasshoppers are sausage-shaped, with short antennae, while crickets come in different shapes and sizes but always have long, thread-like antennae. Grasshoppers are active during the middle of the day and crickets remain active into twilight.

Upright close-up shot of a common green grasshopper on a blade of grass
Common green grasshopper ( Omocestus viridulus). © Getty

What are the life-cycles?

Grasshopper and cricket larvae – known as nymphs – hatch in the spring from eggs laid the previous summer by the females in damp substrate. After hatching, a nymph grows by shedding its hard exoskeleton several times (up to 10 times for crickets, typically five times for grasshoppers). Upon reaching adulthood, it may live for two months, mating and laying eggs before dying off in the autumn.

How do crickets and grasshoppers sing?

Crickets sing, or stridulate, by rubbing their wings together, as captured here:

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Grasshoppers create the sound by rubbing their hindlegs against their wings. The large marsh grasshopper is unusual in that it stridulates by hitting, rather than rubbing, one hind leg against the tip of its forewing.

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A common green grasshopper sings to impress a female:

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Why do crickets sing in synchrony?

Crickets ‘chirping’ is an evocative sound of summer. Males are the main vocalists, using their song to tempt mates at long-range. The sound is both attractive and useful to females, allowing them to compare the rhythms of numerous potential suitors.

It was previously thought that group singing also benefitted the males, enabling them to attract mates from further afield, confuse predators and fend off parasites. However, it seems that the behaviour is in fact borne out of competition rather than co-operation: a cricket chorus is actually a collection of soloists, with the lead singers preferred as mates. The performance is thus thoroughly unruly, with males battling for the first (loudest) word.

Which are the rarest and most common grasshoppers and crickets in the UK?

The common field grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus) and common green grasshopper (Omocestus viridulus) are some of our most common and abundant grasshoppers, while the large marsh grasshopper (Stethophyma grossum) is the rarest.

The wartbiter bush-cricket (Decticus verrucivorous) is one of the rarest of the UK’s crickets, while the speckled bush cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) is among our most common.


Main image: a common field grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus) perching on a twig in a meadow. © Getty

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Q&A written by Jo Caird; synchrony question by Laurie Jackson

Authors

Jo Caird is a freelance journalist who lives in East London and writes for newspapers, magazines and the web. She specialises in citizen science and conservation with a strong community focus. Read more about her work at jocaird.com

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