CONEHEAD CONCERT

CONEHEAD CONCERT

CONEHEAD CONCERT - UK and Ireland : Conehead Concert There are two species of bush cricket in the UK that look very similar, Conocepha

Conehead Concert

There are two species of bush cricket in the UK that look very similar, Conocephalus fuscus (the Long-winged Conehead, often still called C. discolor) and Conocephalus dorsalis (the Short-winged Conehead). Both are considered indigenous. For this project I have concentrated mainly on C. fuscus, reason being that I found one. But the identification started me on quite a journey.
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First of all I'll try to point out the characteristics needed for the identification of Coneheads. They are bush crickets, the colour is greenish-yellow, with a dark dorsal stripe (reaching from the top of the head down to the tip of the abdomen). The wings are pale brown. The hind legs are strongly developed for hopping. A slightly cone-shaped bulge is present on the head (hence the name), and the antennae are thin and almost ridiculously long. These Coneheads are omnivores, they feed on plants and small insects and they are said to be active during the night. The males create something like a 'song' by stridulation, they rub their forewings over each other to attract females. This 'song' is only just about audible for the human ear, but it can be recorded with a bat-recorder. There are plenty of sound recordings on the internet, here just one example for each species:
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https://sonotheque.mnhn.fr/sounds/mnhn/so/2016-3419?lang=en_En . for C. fuscus.
https://sonotheque.mnhn.fr/sounds/mnhn/so/2016-3406?lang=en_En . for C. dorsalis.
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Now I'll try to point out the specific features of C. fuscus. The ovipositor of the females is almost straight, the wings don't cover it completely. The wings are long (as the name suggests), but here the problems start. There are two different forms, the one with normal long wings and the one with extra long wings (also called macropterous form). There are several publications about this. Some say that when the population density becomes too high for them to feel happy, longer winged ones become more frequent and move out to discover new feeding grounds. Others say this is happening predominantly in the border population. The form with longer wings can fly further, but produces less offspring. The ability to travel longer distances seems to be traded off against the ability to procreate.
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https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/OCCURRENCE-AND-BIOLOGY-OF-A-LONG%E2%80%90WINGED-FORM-OF-Ando-Hartley/c951f2d28d1cc301d713e11916bbd7ba88a93624 .
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Having a long- and a short-winged form within one species seems to be a quite common feature in Orthoptera.
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But to further complicate matters, there is a super-long-winged form of C. dorsalis, somewhat ironically referred to as the Short-winged Conehead (which normally has very short wings indeed and is not able to fly at all, so the name isn't entirely unjustified). This super-long-winged form has longer wings than the extra long-winged form of the Long-winged Conehead (C. fuscus).
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If you are lucky enough to find a female, then you may see the upwards curved ovipositor (not straight as in C. fuscus) which is completely covered by the wings. One example of a female Short-winged Conehead with super long wings can be seen here:
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https://www.ispotnature.org/communities/uk-and-ireland/view/observation/18031/long-winged-conehead .
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If you are not so lucky and find a male, you'll have to examine the sexual organs, which, I've read, is not that easy in the field. It is said that C. fuscus has got a notch on the sub-genital plate and the cerci are straight at the tip, while C. dorsalis has got a point on the sub-genital plate and the cerci are slightly curved up at the tip.
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https://www.wildlifebcn.org/sites/default/files/2018-06/Orthoptera%20keys%20v2.1%202016.pdf .
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If you find a nymph, maybe a specialist would know how to identify it, but in general it is said it's extremely difficult to identify them to species level in the field, since neither the wings nor the sexual organs are fully developed. An example can be seen in the comments to the following observation:
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https://www.ispotnature.org/communities/uk-and-ireland/view/observation/806367/conehead-nymph .
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This observation has got no agreements, because no-one was sufficiently certain to agree from what they could see on the photo.
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In the NBN atlas, the first record of C. fuscus is from 1905 near Norwich, the first record of C. dorsalis is from 1824 near Cambridge. Regarding distribution, the iSpot maps don't show dramatic changes from 2013 to now (image 2). The areas occupied by C. fuscus and C. dorsalis look similar (image 3), only C. dorsalis, which is a hygrophilous species and loves wet meadows and floating vegetation, seems to prefer areas closer to the coast, while C. fuscus, which tolerates wet and dry habitats, has moved further inland. C. dorsalis does inhabit areas somewhat further to the north and has found its way to the south coast of Ireland (NBN atlas data, image 4).
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The Long-winged Conehead I found was living in an area that has seen some changes in the last years. Fifteen years ago our park was more or less an area where grass was kept very short. There is a fenced off pond and there are also some play areas for children of different ages and small areas for wildflowers, but otherwise it was just a space for dog walkers to do their rounds. In the last years this changed. More and more of the grassland was left un-mowed (except once in spring and maybe once in autumn, image 5). Only small paths in between the un-mowed areas are cut short for the dog walkers to have enough space to exercise their pets (image 6). Now the un-mowed areas (image 7) have developed into a haven for insects. There are countless grasshoppers. If you put your foot down, about 5 of them hop in all directions for cover. There are beetles, bugs, moths and butterflies, spiders, flies and ants, you name it. Also the spectrum of plant species has changed and plants more sensitive to regular cutting can thrive. And where the prey is, there are bound to be some predators too. I have seen a number of different dragonflies, and today a bat was fluttering overhead.
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At the start of this project (10/09/2021) there were 107 observations for C. fuscus on iSpot, none of them is without likely ID. 28 have got no agreement at all, many of these show images of nymphs. The others have got agreements, but it would be a good exercise to check if they are indeed all Long-winged Coneheads or if some Short-winged Coneheads with super-long wings have sneaked in. It's definitely worth having a thorough look.
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Just for fun I've added some statistics in image 8, 'Observations (of C. fuscus) per Year (2013 - 2020)' and 'Aggregated Observations per month from 2013 – 2020'. The first statistic seems to echo the sad trend that numbers of insects have gone down in the last years, but as Miked rightly points out, other factors may be in part responsible for the impression. The second one indicates when C. fuscus can be found.
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In image 9, 'Agreements per Post' and 'Comments per Post' at the beginning and at the end of the project are shown. In 4 posts the ID was moved to genus since the photos did not show enough detail for an ID to species level. In 1 post a shift was attempted, but despite 3 agreements to the genus level ID, it was not possible to shift the banner. This is the only remaining post with no agreement to the 'likely ID'.
Agreements have risen from 146 to 271, which amounts to an increase by 125
Comments have risen from 44 to 107, which amounts to an increase by 63
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If you can agree – PLEASE DO........................................................this adds credibility to the post and reassures the author
If an alternative ID seems advisable - PLEASE ADD ONE....make iSpot a place to find reliable identifications
If you can think of a comment - PLEASE WRITE ONE............comments can be so encouraging and helpful

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This project will only run for 10 days to make space for the ♦iBlitz Autumn Equinox Observations, which will commence on 20/09/2021.
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Please keep an eye on the ❤️iFOCUS User Guide
https://www.ispotnature.org/communities/uk-and-ireland/view/project/831337/ifocus-guide .
Volunteer to curate an ❤️iFocus in a comment on the User Guide, or in the Forum...
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Bookings so far
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20 Sep - 4 day ♦iBlitz (Autumn Equinox)
Fungi
22 Oct - HB
05 Nov - anyone?

09 Sep 2021
Spot