Singing in Irish lands: The conservation value of Orthoptera
On a warm and dry day, the rhythmic ‘chirps’ of grasshoppers can be a familiar sound from Irish grasslands, meadows or roadsides. The ‘songs’ that these insects produce are a fundamental aspect of the Irish summer and an essential part of the ecosystem functioning.
As an example, the Common Green Grasshopper (Omocestus viridulus) is one of the most common and widespread Orthoptera present in Ireland and we can easily find them singing in grassland areas. But do you know which group this insect is part of? And why is it important getting to know them better?
An Orchestra composed by grasshoppers, crickets and bush-crickets
The order Orthoptera – which comprises grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, mole crickets and jumping sticks – is a diverse group of insects with more than 26,000 species1 1, many of which are scientifically and economically important in playing an essential role in the ecosystem. One of the most distinctive characteristics of this group is their large and muscular hind legs adapted for jumping and, for many Orthoptera species, the ability for sound production and reception for long-distance communication.
Crickets, katydids and grasshoppers species use different mechanisms for producing and receiving sound. Some Orthoptera species typically produce songs by ‘stridulation’, which is the rubbing of body parts such as wings and legs against another. Their sounds are very diverse and often play an essential role in reproduction 2.
Many orthopterans have excellent sight and hearing, being cautious and difficult to approach, while others appear slow and rely on cryptic strategies and properties for protection. For example, most species will kick out with their spiny hind legs when captured, and regurgitate acid contents of the crop 3.
As an important component of ecosystems, Orthoptera play an essential role in nutrient cycling and serve as a critical food supply for wildlife. They are also one of the most important groups for environmental monitoring and assessment. They have been used as good indicators of land use intensity, benefits of forest restoration and as a bioindicator of heavy metal pollution in ecosystems. There are 13 Orthoptera species established in Ireland 4, however, currently, there are no Orthoptera protected in this country.
How can we help to protect insects from extinction?
To help people increase participation in insect conservation and to promote the actions expected to mitigate insect global declines, Authors 5 proposed eight simple actions that people can undertake on their own to (i) create insect-friendly habitats and (ii) raise public awareness, as followed:
- Convert lawns into diverse natural habitats; grow native plants; reduce pesticide and herbicide use; limit the use of exterior lighting; lessen soap runoff from washing vehicles and building exteriors; and reduce the use of driveway sealants and de-icing salts;
- (ii) Counter negative perceptions of insects; become an educator for insect conservation; and get involved in local politics, support science, and vote.
It is a clear consensus that to protect species, we need to protect their habitat. With one of the lowest rates of forest cover in Europe (only 11% of its total land area), Ireland has had high deforestation rates over the centuries. It makes our gardens an essential resource for wildlife.
Protecting and encouraging wildlife can be more beneficial than we realize. 6 Research carried out on behalf of The Wildlife Trusts found evidence that a wildlife-rich environment benefits both physical and mental health; people with more contact with nature are more active, mentally resilient and have better all-round health.
Learn more about the wildlife in your garden and surroundings. As you walk through a grassland, stop, wait (they are sensitive to our presence, so it might take a few minutes for them to start singing), listen carefully and enjoy this system of interactions where sounds play an important role.