How do you tell the difference between a cricket and a grasshopper? In the UK we have 23 species of cricket and 11 species of grasshopper, including a few exotics that have been accidentally introduced, and every year these insects supply summer’s soundtrack with their symphony of stridulation. Here are some simple ways you can identify your crickets from your grasshoppers.
Crickets and grasshoppers are related, belonging to the same family – Orthoptera. Images: Chris Shields (rspb-images.com)
Is the cricket or grasshopper out during the day or at dusk?
One of the easiest ways to tell what you’re looking at (or hearing) is the time of day you’re out. If it’s daytime it’s probably a grasshopper, as they are diurnal, if it’s dusk it will most likely be a cricket, which are crepuscular.
Where is it?
Broadly speaking, grasshoppers are found in grasses while crickets can be seen in a wide variety of habitats, but there is no hard and fast rule.
What is it eating?
Grasshoppers are mostly herbivorous, so you’ll see them snacking on grass and other vegetable matter. Crickets will eat plants but also other insects.
How long are its antennae?
Generally speaking, grasshoppers have short antennae while crickets have long antennae. This is probably the easiest way to spot the difference.
Is a cricket or grasshopper bigger?
There is no easy way to tell just based on size if you're looking at a cricket or a grasshopper. Our biggest cricket, the great green bush-cricket, grows to around 5cm long, but most UK crickets are around 2cm–3cm and grasshoppers are around 1cm–2cm.
How is it singing?
If you have more opportunity to study your subject, you might be able to see how it sings. A grasshopper will rub its long hind legs against its wings in order to stridulate – making the singing sound we hear in summer – while crickets rub their wings together.
Where are its ears?
You might not be able to spot this, but grasshoppers have their “ears” at the base of their abdomen, while crickets have them on their front legs!
The Back from the Brink project is currently working to help field crickets. Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
How to see them
The best time to look for crickets and grasshoppers is in high summer, and the greatest variety of species is found in the south, with the Dorset coast, the New Forest and the East Anglian coast and heaths supporting many species. Look in grassland, woodland edges and bogs. Once you’re tuned into their songs, move carefully through any areas of long grass or dense vegetation and use your ears. Before long you’ll be able to pinpoint the stridulating insect.
Sound is extremely important to these creatures, especially for the purposes of courtship, and it is how they communicate among the tangle of vegetation where they often reside. Indeed, the cryptic colouring of these animals and their predilection for long grasses and dense bushes means you are more likely to hear them than see them. The call of every species is unique, and a well-trained ear can pick out the many species that inhabit any given area, from the ultrasonic clicks of the speckled bush-cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) that is barely audible to our ears, to the loud, distinctive rasp of the field grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus).
Listen to grasshopper and cricket songs before you head out searching or find out how to get more crickets and grasshoppers in your garden.
One of the rarest crickets in the UK, the field cricket, is currently the focus of the Back from the Brink partnership project. Find out how our own Emma Lacy got on when she went cricket tickling to help save field crickets.
Have you seen a rare member of the Orthoptera family? Let us know in the comments below.
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