The park gets rather busy in the summer. Children running around yelling, boys playing football and basketball, the occasional family picnic and people lounging around enjoying the sunshine. Competing to be heard above all the noise are the chirping crickets – that unmistakable sound of summer.
Warwick Gardens is home to four species of bush-cricket. The loudest and most prominent is the Roesel’s bush-cricket. I have a real affection for these having spent much of the year watching them grow from tiny nymphs to majestic adults. They like to hang out in the long grass and are very well disguised making them rather difficult to see. The nymphs are especially cute, emerging in May and only noticeable if you stand still long enough to see this tiny insect hop around, especially after it has just rained. And they can really hop! The male adults start to sing (or stridulate) in July to attract females. Stridulation occurs when the weather is hot and sunny enough to achieve the peak temperature for stridulation. The song is similar to the ‘hiss of overhead electricity wires’. Interestingly the song gets louder when a train passes by the park or when a plane roars overhead. This is the best time to look for them as you can locate them by the sound and looking for the movement of the wings. But you have to be stealth-like as they stop singing altogether if you approach them with a camera!
Another common cricket you can see in the park is the Speckled bush-cricket. These secretive insects usually hang out in the lilac bushes or camouflaged amongst the leaves of the oak tree. I find them very graceful. They are bright green with a speckled body and very long antennae, with the male sporting a brown stripe along his back. They are flightless, relying on their long legs to hop. As with all bush-crickets the the females have broad and upturned ovipositors which they use to cut open plant stems and lay their eggs, and the nymphs go through several instars before maturity. Compared to the Roesel’s bush-cricket this cricket has a very weak call, their tic-tic only audible with a bat detector. Unlike other cricket species, the female is able to respond to the male’s calls with a weaker call of her own, which attracts the male to her. They feed on leaves and flowers.
The Southern oak bush-cricket is a more unusual cricket to find in Peckham. This is a non-native species having hopped across the Channel in the 90s, probably on the back of a lorry, as it another flightless cricket, or even in a Landrover as a friend texted me a photo of one sitting happily on his dashboard. It has become widespread in southern England and appear as adults in August. As an arboreal species I never seem to find any nymphs as they are tucked under leaves higher up out of my reach. It is carnivorous feeding on small insects. The male does not have a ‘song’ as such, but drums on leaves with its hind legs. Last year the BBC Radio 4 series Saving Species featured an article on the Southern oak bush-cricket and they came to Warwick Gardens, a guaranteed place to find one of these lovely crickets. It was an interesting couple of hours – entomologist Tristan Bantock, who was being interviewed, had to contend with inquisitive children as he swept the bushes, and several retakes as the interviewers microphone was so sensitive it picked up all the background noise of trains, planes and chatter. There was even a chance that we wouldn’t be able to find a specimen, even though I had assured them there was one hiding in the ivy! There was, along with an Orientus ishidae leafhopper…
Our final cricket has been rather elusive of late. I first found the Long-winged conehead in 2009 but didn’t see it again until this year – they seem to have bounced back as I have recorded five nymphs in the past couple of weeks. The long hot summer and an abundance of tall grass has been the perfect environment for them. Their stridulation is a ‘prolonged rapid chuffing noise inaudible to many’ but audible with a bat detector. Along with the Roesel’s bush-cricket it is omnivorous with a diet of insects and grasses. Two things noticeable about this cricket are the very long antennae and the extended ovipositor on the female. Their main form of locomotion is walking, though their long wings enable them to fly to escape predators.