Yesterday it was yet another dreary overcast day, threatening rain, but I was determined to take my camera for a walk. I needed time to mull over what to do with a particular chapter in the novel I’m currently working on. Once again things weren’t going as planned, and my super dramatic scene was turning out as dynamic as a milk-float with a flat battery. Hey ho, time to switch off and think about something completely different.
So I set out with my camera and macro lens, thinking I might see a grasshopper or cricket at my favourite meadow not far from home. I started by taking a few snaps of a spider, and believe me, the light quality was rubbish. Cranking the ISO up to 1600 was achieving a shutter speed of 125th of a second: not at all adequate for macro photography.
Seeing a few grasshoppers jumping around cheered me up. At least I had a subject. Earlier in the year, to one side of the meadow, I’d come across a colony of long-winged conehead bush-crickets, so this is where I decided to focus my efforts. Indeed, focus would have been a lot easier in brighter light and without sudden gusts of wind beating the long grass against my lens.
After a while I found the coneheads, several of them determined to circulate on one particular clump of grass. My best option was to sit down, so that I could be on eye level with them, and ensure I made as few sudden movements as possible. Then I saw her, a mature female with what appeared to be a dew drop clinging to her body near her ovipositor. I thought this very odd, as although there was moisture in the air, the grass was quite dry.
I watched and took a few more photos, trying to keep track of the same female. This wasn’t easy as the wind was swaying the grass, she was moving swiftly from one blade of grass to the next, and each time she relocated I had to adjust camera settings to correct exposure and focus. Half way up one tall stem she suddenly started arching her back, curling round and producing another dew drop from her abdomen. Not water at all, but what appeared to be an egg sac. As luck would have it, of course she’d moved and the light was against me and the wind was blowing grass directly between my lens and my subject. It’s called sod’s law. All I could do was keep clicking the shutter and hoping for the best: absolutely no time to make any adjustments or the action would be over.
Once her main dance had abated, I risked changing a few setting and repositioning myself to gain a better angle. By now she’d curled right round into a ball, more resembling a nautilus than a cricket. The dew drop was still clinging to her abdomen, but what she did next surprised me. She was putting it in her mouth. From this point on she proceeded to carry it around, adding something to the clear dew drop and making it slightly opaque. Several times she pressed it hard up against a blade of grass, and I assumed she was deliberately depositing it, or some of it, onto the stem of grass.
To my mind she was laying eggs, coating them with something, and then setting them down to over-winter, ready to hatch next year.
I was pretty certain this was the case, until I came home and started researching conehead bush-crickets online. The consensus of opinion from experts online says that, ‘the females lay between their eggs in the stems of grasses in the late summer. They do this by first biting a whole into the stems of grasses or reeds and then insert their eggs using their ovipositors.’
This, of course, threw me, because my female did not directly lay her eggs using her ovipositor, but carried them around in her mouth first. I still believe that she was laying eggs: after all, this is the same meadow that I discovered a pink grasshopper in, so anything is possible!
If I have my facts wrong, please never forget that I’m a writer and photographer, not an entomologist.
The long-winged conehead’s technical name is Conocephalus discolour.