The long-jump prize goes to … the froghopper

As the morning sun heats the still woodland air the rides fizz with the sounds of flying insects: bumblebees buzz between bramble blossom and clover heads, a myriad of small flies zips through the air, and longhorn beetles whir and clatter around the dog roses.

Each species has its own habits and lifecycle that together constitute the intricate web of life in this ancient wood.

A variable longhorn beetle. (Stenocorus meridianus)

Dog rose petals attract a longhorn beetle (
Stenocorus meridianus). Photograph: Matt Shardlow

The lord of the flies is the pellucid hoverfly (Volucella pellucens). He hovers eight feet off the ground, squarely in the centre of the clearing, turning his chrome-yellow face and big brick-red eyes towards any intruder.

His bulky jet-black body is bisected by a broad white belt circling the front of his abdomen. The milky band ensnares the sun’s rays and blazes with lucidity. In a bold assertion of his virility he buzzes after and harangues every flying insect that passes.

It must be hard work. His offspring will also have a tough job; they live in wasp nests feeding on detritus and dead wasps.

Willow froghopper, a jumping champion.

Willow froghopper, a jumping champion. Photograph: Matt Shardlow

A sallow bush at the edge of the wood is home to a great many variegated willow froghoppers (Aphrophora pectoralis). Like their more familiar smaller relative, the common froghopper (Philaenus spumarius), their soft young live in “cuckoo-spit”, though these feed only on willows.

The adults are among the jumping champions of the animal world. Their ghostly grey last nymphal skins cling, empty, in little groups on the underside of the sallow leaves and are easier to spot than the adults themselves, which sit tight on the twigs, head pointing up and shaded by a leaf; a posture entirely reminiscent of their bigger cousin, the cicada.

Unfortunately, our four species of big arboreal froghoppers do not add a cicada song to the insect symphony; indeed it is now 17 years since the last cicada was heard anywhere in the UK.

It’s not that froghoppers don’t sing, they do. Their medium, however, is not the air but the tree on which they sit and through which they transmit their romantic vibrations.

Follow Country Diary on Twitter: @gdncountrydiary


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *