Tailor of the meadows

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I was travelling into Clonmel a few days ago, enjoying the countryside as it sped by, and the cool breeze circling in the car.

I was travelling into Clonmel a few days ago, enjoying the countryside as it sped by, and the cool breeze circling in the car.

The roadside verges have recovered some of their lushness after being scorched by the heat wave, and fresh flowers and grass can be found all along the base of the hedgerows.

I had noticed one particular area that looked very interesting and on my way home, I stopped to do a little exploring. For once there was little traffic on the road and no walkers about, so I had the whole hedge to myself.

While roadside hedges are very important for wildlife the variety of plants at its base play an equally vital role.

They produce seeds and attract insects for birds, provide nectar for bumblebees and butterflies, and make our drives and walks in the countryside far more enjoyable.

As I walk along I find beautiful wildflowers and I am thrilled to hear the distinctive song of the ‘tailor of the meadows’.

Grasshoppers belong to the order of insects called Orthoptera that also includes crickets and locusts. There are several species found in Ireland but many have declined over the last decade due to habitat loss and wet cold summers.

Meadows must once have echoed to their chirping and this is a sound of the countryside that we have unfortunately lost.

The song is produced by special pegs on their hind legs that they rub against their wings, and each species has its own song but so far I can’t tell them apart.

My grasshopper must have been trained in commando school. He is superbly camouflaged and I learned from past experience that they don’t jump over the grass but weave gracefully through it making them very hard to catch.

They have good eyesight and hearing and can sense when you are there. My technique for catching them is quite simple. When I hear one singing I approach the general location and wait patiently.

Usually another male is attracted and a singing contest develops. As they move closer together they give away their position and I can catch them in my net.

I then carefully transfer it into a bug container and gently push in tissue to prevent him jumping and hurting himself of the side of the pot.

The species I caught was a common field grasshopper and they can come in a bewildering array of colours from browns, greens and even purples. This makes identification tricky and you have to study their markings very carefully.

They are found in a variety of habitats from roadside verges and quarries but like dry grassy places with a few patches of bare earth. Like us they are most active during sunny weather and can often be found sunbathing on walls.

Their hind legs are very powerful and my kids are always surprised at how long they are. If I keep one overnight I put in plenty of grass and they seem to sleep underneath a blade of grass.

This makes sense as on the ground they would be vulnerable to night-time predators.

In summer the females lay a large pod containing around 15 eggs near the ground or sometimes in an ant’s nest. The young hatch out the following spring and developing grasshoppers go through a process called incomplete metamorphous.

This means that the young resemble the adults and go through several shedding of their skin until they reach adulthood and sexual maturity. The adults can’t survive the winter although a few hardy indivuadls can last until December before succumbing to the prolonged affects of cold and wet.

I am not sure what the current status of grasshoppers in Tipperary is and I know of only a handful of locations where I have found singing males. They have become very scarce in meadows and are now confined, like much of our wildlife, to the margins of land.

I could not find any information on any recent surveys carried out in South Tipperary but if anyone has heard one singing or remembers them from years ago you might let me know.

The afternoon has flown and all too soon it is time to return to the car. Our roadside verges are often treated with distain but they are a vital resource for nature and should be managed according.

Albert is an environmentalist and wildlife enthusiast based in Tipperary Town. If you would like to contact him, call 089 4230502 or email the above address.