In the British Isles, there are around 30 species of Orthoptera, the taxonomic group which includes crickets and grasshoppers. Only eight of these occur regularly in Scotland in the wild, five of which are found in Ayrshire.
Grasshoppers are between one and three centimetres in length and have enlarged rear legs, which they use for jumping. Behind their head they have prominent saddle-shaped structure called the pronotum (a plate that covers the top and sides of the thorax) and the markings on this can help to distinguish some species. All species make a characteristic grasshopper ‘churr’, and their different calls can be used to identify them. The warm summer months of July and August are the best time to look for them. Four species are known from Ayrshire, by far the commonest being the Common Green Grasshopper Omocestus viridulus.
Groundhoppers are similar to grasshoppers and crickets, but they can be distinguished by the pronotum which extends over the top of the abdomen (and sometimes much further) and their short antennae. The Common Groundhopper Tetrix undulata is the only member of this group found in Ayrshire.
Crickets can be distinguished from grasshoppers by their larger body size (up to 5 cm in length) and their very long antennae. Females have a distinctive sword-like ovipositor at the tip of the abdomen which they use for laying eggs inside vegetation. No species have been found so far in Ayrshire, although species such as the Short-winged Conehead Conocephalus dorsalis have been spreading rapidly northwards (reaching Dumfries and Galloway in 2011) and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they may turn up on the Ayrshire coast.
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