More on scaly crickets and a new species of bush cricket for Devon

Earlier in the year I wrote a blog about the scaly crickets at Branscombe and how they had survived the storms earlier in the year. In October I received an email from Peter Sutton the national recorder for grasshoppers and crickets who told me that he had been looking for the crickets at Branscombe and had failed to find any – he was fearing the worse but then he received an email from Karim Vahed which detailed how he had found 47 crickets (10 males and 37 females) in just 9 pitfall traps! The secret perhaps was that he baited them with sausage and sea bream! I had only found 7 females but then again I only used a pasty as bait (albeit a Waitrose pasty) – I will know better next time!

Karim is the Professor of Entomology at Derby University and has been studying scaly crickets, their genetics and distribution for a number of years. We have now exchanged a few emails on orthoptera and hopefully we will meet up some time.

Interestingly Karim also found another species when he was down in Devon – he found a Roesel’s bush-cricket near Rewe – a new record for the county! This species has been spreading northwards over the last 10-15 years probably as a result of climate change. It  however hadn’t spread west so had not reached Devon – well now it has. Karim kindly supplied me with some photos of the species – all the pictures were taken by K. Bellis.

Roesels1Karim with the Roesel’s bush-cricket


Beautiful markings – note the long wings – usually Roesel’s bush-crickets have short wings – it is thought that this long winged form occurs when individuals become ‘crowded’ in a local population – the long wings enables the animal to fly and therefore occupy and colonise new territory. The long winged individuals are knows as macropterous.


I once found a macropterous individuals when I was a Wicken Fen – they are quite unusual.

Many thanks to Karim for all the information on scaly crickets and the record and photos of the Roesel’s bush cricket. Thank you to K Bellis for allowing me to use the photos.

The scaly crickets have beaten Hercules

Back in February this year I wrote a blog about the impact of a huge storm called Hercules on the beach at Branscombe and the impact this might have had on one of Britain’s rarest animals – the scaly cricket. Yesterday I described how I was setting out to discover if the scaly crickets had survived. Well today I checked the pitfall traps I set yesterday along with a few few colleagues and we succeeded – 2 of the 24 pitfall traps contained 4 scaly crickets – all adult females – in addition three other adult females were seen scurrying around the traps.

Unfortunately all the pitfall traps at the Branscombe end of the beach had been pulled out of the shingle – presumably by seagulls after the Cornish pasty fragments – so I will have to go back again later in the month to try that area again but finding 7 adult females further along the beach was brilliant. So here are a few pictures of one of Britain’s rarest animals – the ones that beat Hercules!

Scaly cricket 1Female scaly cricket on Branscombe beach!

Scaly cricket 7Note the ovipositor i.e. its a female and the very long antennae

Scaly cricket 5They live in the shingle and are very adept at disappearing down the cracks

Scaly cricket 3My photography last tonight was nearly a disaster – the first cricket we caught jumped out of my collecting pot before I could snap it – fortunately 10 minutes later we found this female at another pitfall trap – I made sure this time I got a photo before she hopped off!

Scaly cricket 4Phew!

Really pleased to discover that the scaly cricket survived such a huge storm back in January and it would appear that they are thriving on Branscombe beach

Branscombe beach in search of the scaly cricket

I went down to the National Trust’s Branscombe beach yesterday to start the process of surveying for one of the rarest animals in the UK – the scaly cricket (in my capacity as the voluntary county recorder for orthoptera i.e. grasshoppers and crickets etc). Last winter the beach was hit by a huge storm which completely reprofiled the shingle banks on the beach and scoured out parts of the cliff. The survey I set up yesterday is an attempt to discover how the scaly cricket is faring. I set 24 pitfall traps along different parts of the beach and each was baited with a bit of Cornish pastry! This is a repeat of a survey I conducted a few years ago – see here and here.

Pitfall traps are quite simple – a small plastic cup sunk into the shingle – the idea being that a cricket wanders along and falls in – it then has some pasty to eat to keep it sustained. I will be returning to the beach at Branscombe with some colleagues from the National Trust and Natural England this evening to check the traps and see if we have caught any crickets  –  please note – any crickets that are caught will be returned to the beach unharmed!

PitfallOne of the pitfall traps baited with a bit of pasty

BeachBranscombe shingle beach – the home of scaly cricket

ChaletsThe storm damage at Branscombe is still very evident

The under cliffs at Branscombe are also nationally renowned as a fabulous place for a host of other rare animals and plants and are well worth exploring in their own right via the network of paths through and above the cliffs.

I managed to find and photograph a couple of the special species there.

Rufous grasshopper 4This is the rufous grasshopper – note the swollen ends to the antennae which then have a white tip along with the red on the abdomen and legs

Rufous grasshopper 3They also have characteristic markings on the top of the head (the pronotum)

RG mapHere is the distribution map of the rufous grasshopper via the National Biodiversity Network

Grey bush cricketThis animal is the grey bush cricket which can be found along the coasts of southern Britain – again a pretty uncommon species

S0 – back to Branscombe this evening and an update on our findings tomorrow.


The scaly cricket and Hercules

As well as being the General Manager on Dartmoor for the National Trust I am also the county reorder for orthoptera in Devon! These animals include grasshoppers, crickets, bush crickets and earwigs. I can hear you thinking – really? – I never know such a role existed and so what! Well amongst the role call of Devon’s orthoptera is one of the rarest animals in the county – the scaly cricket -only know from two other places in the UK. In Devon it survives on the shingle beach at Branscombe.

scaly cricket1


The scaly cricket at Branscombe

In 2008 I wrote about this little beast as there was concern about its fate after the container ship the Napoli grounded just off shore at Branscombe and all its cargo along with thousands of ‘wreckers’ ended up on the beach. The scaly cricket survived that after I refound it – tempting one into pitfall trap with a Cornish pasty! See here and here for further details.

Well in the last few weeks the coasts of Devon and Cornwall have been hit by two huge storms: Hercules and Hercules 2. I had been recently informed that ‘all the shingle at Branscombe had gone’ and as a result I was concerned again about the fate of the scaly cricket.

Yesterday I visited Branscombe to see the site for myself – yes an awful lot of the lower beach shingle has gone indeed in places it has been replaced by sand but fortunately the higher beach shingle is still there in the place I found the cricket in 2008. It is a very tricky little beast to find and requires the use of baited pitfall traps (thus the use of the pasty) so as of yet I haven’t seen the scaly cricket this year but have high hopes it is still there. I will return in the spring with pitfall traps to have a proper look (what should I bait them with this time?)



Here is the shingle ridge in 2008

Branscombe beach

And here is the same area in February 2014.

Lets hope the scaly cricket is still around – I am pretty confident it will be. Whilst David beat Goliath I am hoping Hercules hadn’t targeted the cricket, if he is true to form he took on much bigger beasts and left the little ones alone.