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Rare insect, the mole cricket, discovered in Oxfordshire garden

05 September 2005

Eight individuals of one of the UK's rarest species, the mole cricket (Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa), have been discovered possibly breeding in a compost heap in a garden in Oxfordshire.

This is the first time such a large group of mole crickets have been found together for many years and the species is on the verge of extinction with only four confirmed sightings in twenty-five years.

Compost heap where mole crickets were found © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

Compost heap where mole crickets were found © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

Bryan Pinchen, independent ecologist and mole cricket specialist, describes the creature, 'The mole cricket is an unmistakable, monstrous burrowing insect with huge spade-like front legs similar to those of a mole. It has a brown body covered in velvety hair and grows up to 4.5cms long'.

A Species Recovery Programme is being run by English Nature, Bristol Zoo Gardens and Bryan Pinchen, with the Natural History Museum as lead partner for this Biodiversity Action Plan Species. The project has been searching for live specimens in the wild since 1994.

Bryan Pinchen adds 'Autumn is a good time for finding mole crickets, when gardeners are lifting their root crops they stand a good chance of digging up one of these fascinating insects'.

'If anyone is fortunate enough to find one of these precious insects we would urge the public not to disturb them but to get in touch. If you think you have found one, please take a photograph of the insect and return the specimen to where you found it.'

Mole crickets in Europe

The majority of recent records of this species have arrived in container grown trees and shrubs imported from Europe. Mole crickets occur throughout Europe and inhabit damp, well-drained land. Much of their lives are spent underground in burrows and on warm summer evenings adult males may produce a soft, far-carrying trilling song.

The programme's partners are confident that more live examples will be found soon which will help to clarify whether the mole crickets in England really are the rare UK species so desperately sought and not European immigrants.

George Beccaloni, Curator of grasshoppers and related insects at the Natural History Museum, says 'It was very exciting to see eight adult mole crickets in one small area because this is the first time in over 45 years that more than one has been found in the same place. I could tell that one of the females we found had recently mated. If these individuals are not native it would be the first time that foreign mole crickets are known to have attempted to breed in Britain.'

'With 28 million specimens, the Natural History Museum has one of the world's most important entomology collections , but we have only 16 British mole cricket specimens, which shows how rare they are.'

The Natural History Museum is interested in receiving information about mole crickets found on the British Mainland . Contact entomologist George Beccaloni with your sightings here.