I came across this magnificent insect walking along a path through some pine woodland, with an under-story of heather and gorse, in Galicia, NW Spain. It is The Saddle-backed Bush-cricket. I was very excited to see one; it is absent from Britain and I had never seen one before. The closest relative we have in England, is probably the Wart-biter, which is rare. It has also been called the Mediterranean katydid, or the European bush-cricket, and is a member of the Family Tettigoniidae.
The colour patterns of insects in the so-called Ephippiger ephippiger complex, vary with geographical region as well as with rearing density. The denser the colony, the darker the brown or black markings on the tergites – or segments – on the back of the abdomen. Adults also become darker after they mature and after they have met a member of the opposite sex! (1) Some of the different sub-species have also hybridised in some areas of Europe! This makes identification problematical to say the least and as a consequence the taxonomy of this ‘complex of species’ is a bit unclear (2).
The sexes are easy to tell apart because the female has a long, sword-like ovipositor, whilst the male (shown here) has two short appendages called cerci at the rear of the abdomen. They are flightless, with tiny atrophied wings which are used by the male to make sounds to call mates (stridulation). Not surprisingly perhaps, the songs or chirps made by these bush-crickets vary according to region; called ‘song races’ (3). The tiny wings can be seen poking out from beneath the light green saddle-back, or pronotum, in the following photograph.
The subspecies which exists to the east of the Pyrenees, and I think in northern Spain, is Ephippiger ephippiger cunii, also called Ephippiger cunii. But given the taxonomic uncertainty, I cannot be sure, so if any bush-cricket experts read this, please correct me if I am wrong.
A remarkably large breathing hole, or spiracle, can be seen on the thorax – just behind the fore-leg – of the Bush-cricket in the photograph below. The insect was about 25 mm in length.
The individual I came across was probably basking in the sunshine; they are nocturnal and feed at night. Going out with a torch would therefore, be a good way to find them at night. This individual was found on the hills south of Ortigueira (Galicia, Spain) on 27th August 2016.
A nice photograph of the female can be seen on this website (5).
References and Links
- Hartley, J. C., & Bugren, M. M. (1986). Colour polymorphism in Ephippiger ephippiger (Orthoptera, Tettigoniidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 27(2), 191-199.
- Spooner, L. J., & Ritchie, M. G. (2006). An unusual phylogeography in the bushcricket Ephippiger ephippiger from Southern France. Heredity, 97(6), 398-408.
- Ritchie, M. G., Racey, S. N., Gleason, J. M., & Wolff, K. (1997). Variability of the bushcricket Ephippiger ephippiger: RAPDs and song races. Heredity,79(3), 286-294.
- Kidd, D. M., & Ritchie, M. G. (2000). Inferring the patterns and causes of geographic variation in Ephippiger ephippiger (Orthoptera, Tettigoniidae) using geographical information systems (GIS). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 71(2), 269-295.
I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.