There are some groups of wildlife species that are relatively common in the wider countryside but are quite a rarity in gardens.
Of these, one group in particular stands out for their absence. Yes, despite our gardens containing so much grass, we have hardly any grasshoppers.
It is a shame, because they are rather cute, quite harmless creatures, endlessly fascinating for children, and an important part of the foodchain. (Ok, I admit, face to face they're not what you'd call pretty.)
In fact, grass is pretty much all that they eat, so why are they so rare in gardens if they like the green stuff so much?
The answer of course is the lawn mower. They either get sliced up by the blades, or the grass is cut so short so often that they don't bother to hang around in the first place - it just doesn't offer them the cover they need.
Writing about grasshoppers in January might seem a little odd, but I've got three reasons for doing so.
The first is that I've been totting up my wildlife records from my garden for 2018 to see how well I'm doing, as grasshoppers have been one of my targets. Four years in, and the number of sightings in 2018 was 28, double that in 2017 and up from just four in 2015. And my meadow area was only sown in September 2017. So far so good.
The second reason is just out of curiosity as to where all the grasshoppers are right now in winter. Are they underground hibernating? Have they migrated somewhere? No - all the adults will have died at the end of the autumn, leaving just a legacy of eggs, which in the case of our common grasshopper species are laid in the surface of the soil in among the meadow.
And the third reason is that now, at the start of a New Year, is a great time to pledge to leave at least parts of your lawn to grow long this coming year. There are so many wildlife reasons why this is a good thing to do, and to help grasshoppers is yet another of those.
In terms of which species you might see, there actually aren't that many in the UK - just 11 different types. And the species that has colonised my garden is the Field Grasshopper.
Unlike many insects whose young look totally different, baby grasshoppers (nymphs) look very much like small versions of the adult, and each time they moult (which is usually four times), they just get a little bigger; if you were to line up the different ages of grasshoppers, they'd look like Russian dolls. The biggest difference is that only the adults have full size wings, so this one with its stubby wings is actually not a full grown adult.
You might think that identification is to do with colour, but actually one species can include individuals that are green, brown or reddish. Instead, a useful thing to look for is the stripes on their 'shoulders' (actually called the pronotum). In the Field Grasshopper, the lines strongly kink inwards (see the white lines in the photos above); in another very common species, the Meadow Grasshopper, they are straight (which you can hopefully make out in the photo below; I took this photo in a local nature reserve, as it has yet to colonise my garden. In fact, this species is almost flightless, so its arrival will rely on one walking here!).
So if you have grasshoppers in your garden already, wow, you are one of the few. Feel proud. And if you don't, but your garden has an area of lawn that might be suitable, make a pledge that 2019 will be the year of the long-jumper.
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