Sunday, November 25, 2012

First Irish Record for the Southern Oak Bush Cricket

Ireland is home to 12 species of breeding orthopterans (grasshoppers and crickets), with five of these being classed as crickets or bush crickets (1). It is only in the last thirty five years that three of these have been recorded, with Pholidoptera griseoaptera, the Dark Bush Cricket, being first recorded as 1983 (2). This trend may be due to the lack of attention that Irish orthopterans have been paid in the past, or may be a phenomenon that has been seen in European dragonflies, that of the spread of certain species from the center of mainland Europe to its peripheries.
Female Southern Oak Bush Cricket, Meconema meridionale
This is most evident in the case of the Southern Oak Bush Cricket, Meconema meridionale. This species was thought to be an exclusively Southern European species, but has extended its range and during the 1990's was to be found in France, Holland and Belgium (3). In 2001 it had reached Britain (4), being discovered in three localities in England from where it has steadily spread. This introduction was though to have been via imported horticultural material and given the strong trade links between Britain and Ireland it is assumed it can only be a short time before M. meridionale reaches Irish shores. And so it has proved to be. On the 9th of November last, I spotted a female adult M. meridionale on a limestone pillar at the entrance to a building on the Western Road in Cork city. The weather at that point had been unseasonably warm and when I first saw it I assumed it was the closely related (and Irish native) the Oak Bush Cricket (Meconema thallasinium), a species often seen close to houses and other buildings. However this individual was lacking in the distinctive long, green wings associated with M. thallasinium and was in fact brachypterous (having abnormally small wings). This is the distinguishing feature of the otherwise almost identical M. meridionale. This may be an errant traveling individual, but the species recent range expansion points to the discovery of a breeding population in Ireland being a very distinct possibility in the not too distant future.

  1. Haes and Harding, 1997. Atlas of grasshoppers, crickets and allied insects in Britain and Ireland
  2. O'Connor and O'Connor, 1985. Entomologists' Gazette 36 pp. 229-232
    Maclean, 2010. Silent Summer: The State of Wildlife in Britain and Ireland p. 533
    Hawkins, 2001. British Journal of Entomology and Natural History 14 pp. 207-213

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hold On

Common Limpet, Patella vulgata
Probably the most familiar intertidal organism on western European coastlines is the Common Limpet, Patella vulgata. Its conical shell can often be seen in enormous numbers on rocky shore of all degrees of wave action, and numbers are maintained by the relatively long life of certain individuals. Where conditions promote slow growth, some individuals can live up to 17 years of age (1). For a sedate looking animal, often encountered encrusted with algae and barnacles, they are voracious feeders. Although they have been reported to consume a wide variety of micororganisms (2), algae of the intertidal zone is the food of choice. And what a choice; P. vulagata feeds a plethora of different species, including Fucus spp., Ulva spp. and red encrusting algae (1). This is all facilitated by the iron and silica hardened teeth on the radula, which rasp the algae with incredible efficiency. In situations where P. vulagata have been artificially removed form shorelines, Ulva spp. have quickly covered the rocks.
Common Limpet Home Scar
A rocky shore is not for the faint of heart, with waves action dislodging anything not firmly attaced to its surface. Organisms need to be firmly attached to the rock, and P. vulgata is truly a master at this. Depending on where the animal is to be found on the rock face, the shell height will vary. Those at high shore levels have tall shells with a small shell length, while individuals at a low shore levels have shorter but longer shells, which keeps them closer to the rock (1). P. vulgata attaches to their substrate by using a combination of suction and glue like adhesion (3). The specific mode of attachment is dependant on their location at the time. At high tide, when P. vulgata is at its most active feeding, suction is employed. This involves decreasing the pressure under the foot of the animal which forms a tight seal with the substrate. At low tide, when foraging does not occur due to the increase risk of predation, P. vulgata employs a glue-like secretion from its foot which creates a seal that is stronger than that created by suction, however it is more permanent and does not allow movement for foraging. At rest, P. vulgata also employs a home scar, a depression created in the substrate by chemical action and abrasion by the shell of the animal. This is returned to after each foraging excursion as it increases the adhesion power significantly (4).

  1. Fish and Fish, 2011. A Student's Guide to the Seashore pp. 205-206
  2. Jenkins and Hartnol, 2001. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 30 pp. 123-139
  3. Smith, 1992. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 1600 pp. 205-220
  4. Smith, 1991. Journal of Experimental Biology 161 pp. 151-169