Worcestershire Record No. 2 April 1997 p. 8


By Howard Inns

The Mole Cricket, Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa is one of the insects targeted by English Nature's Species Recovery Programme. Once common enough to be regarded as a pest in parts of the country, in the last 50 years very few Mole Crickets have been seen on the UK mainland, most reports being of single specimens from the southern counties. The species can still be found on Guernsey. The primary objective of the Species Recovery project has been to determine whether or not the species is extinct. The team of naturalists working on the project are happy to report that the species was present on one small privately owned site in north west England in both 1995 and 1996.

The team have appealed for information via radio and television broadcasts, local newspapers and poster campaigns in likely areas and via the gardening press (several of the most recent reports have been from gardeners finding the insect whilst digging). Several promising reports will be followed up in 1997.

This year, the team is also appealing to other naturalists to report any Mole Cricket sightings, however long ago. The aim is to find any extant colonies in order to confirm the general habitat requirements, to protect and enhance any sites found and review the viability of a captive breeding and re-introduction programme.

The Mole Cricket spends the majority of its life underground, burrowing up to 2 feet (60cm) below the surface. It is a large, powerful and unmistakable insect with big spade like front legs and a heavily armoured thorax, perfectly designed for digging. Adults measure approx 1.5 inches (4cm) in length and are normally chestnut brown in colour. Male Mole Crickets can sing although they do not do so as habitually as other orthopteran species . The song is a single continuous and penetrating note, normally heard from dusk until the early hours on warm evenings in May and June. It can be confused with the slightly lower pitched 'reeling' song of a Grasshopper Warbler. The female Mole Cricket constructs a hen's egg-sized underground nesting chamber in mid summer in which she lays her eggs which she tends by licking them until they hatch a month or so later. The young nymphs take at least a year to become adult.

The ideal sites are damp waterside meadows rising to dryer ground with a relatively short or grazed sward on light or sandy soils. Gardens, allotments, golf courses or pond margins with similar characteristics are also potential sites. Individual animals are only likely to be found as a result of being dug up, by hearing their song or by turning debris (such as old planks of wood) exposed to the sun. There is evidence to suggest they are attracted to recently disturbed soil and they are known to be attracted to light.

If anyone knows of any old records, or obtains new ones, please let John Meiklejohn know at the Worcs BRC.

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