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Saturday 10 December 2016

Left hopping mad by the scourge of cyclists

Summer is a time of joy ... then along come the 'grasshoppers'

Joe Barry

Published 18/05/2010 | 05:00

Summer brings many wonderful changes to the countryside. Bare and barren hedgerows gradually turn green and are scented, laden with bright blossoms of elder and dog rose. Verges rampant with meadowsweet, foxglove and whitethorn border the lanes and highways, and all the while the hum of bees fills the air.

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Longer days and rising temperatures also bring an explosion in the population of other insects. Butterflies add colour to fields and gardens as they flit erratically among the leaves and flowers. Grasshoppers chirp hidden among the grassy verges and with their magical sound remind us of summers past. The common grasshopper has, however, undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years and one type can now be a serious nuisance.

Any day now you will meet in their hundreds the newly evolved branch of the species speeding along country lanes and boreens as they spread out from towns and cities. They tend to emerge mostly on Sundays, often in large groups and are hard to miss with their multi-coloured torsos and strangely shaped heads, quite similar in appearance to shiny locusts in their swarming mode.

Some say they are human beings who, on weekends, undergo a metamorphosis and, Kafka-like, transform themselves into large insects on bicycles. The grasshopper egg, like the human embryo, takes nine months to hatch and this may be a clue to the similarity.

With heads bent low and bottoms high in the air, they travel either singly or in groups and have superseded 'The Benjy' as our worst modern-day traffic hazard. Benjies -- farmers on ancient tractors -- were once the bane of Irish van and lorry drivers, who would often weep with frustration when stuck behind them on a narrow road. The classic Benjy drove a 40-year-old Massey Ferguson at 15kph with a large, loosely wrapped silage bale on the back to ensure his rear view was blocked and he was, at all times, totally unaware of any traffic attempting to overtake.

Locusts

Grasshoppers, on the other hand, are very much a modern phenomenon. When alone they are not too bad as they tend to allow motorists enough room to pass but once they pair up the trouble starts. Just like locusts, they seem to grow in numbers as they speed along the roads and will often be encountered riding three and four abreast and only reluctantly moving in to allow space for other road users.

Their lurid colours would put a peacock to shame as they pedal along on hugely expensive bicycles. Normally they are encountered clad in black, skin-tight pants and fluorescent tops with bodies bent and noses facing the road.

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The original species that frequents our grassland has incredibly powerful hind legs and can jump 20 times its own body length. This new larger sub-species is similarly endowed and, when migrating, can pedal for hundreds of miles without stopping.

Their faces appear to be hidden behind goggles, which may just be huge eyes, but it is the head piece that gave them their name with its insect-like contours and pointed rear. Maybe this headpiece is streamlined to give it aerodynamic qualities with the large vents designed to allow steam to escape. Or perhaps they are not vents at all but simply spaces to allow antenna to emerge and retract. The modern grasshopper species we meet on our roads also carry bottles of fluid with long tubes, usually attached to their handlebars. These are apparently to avoid dehydration when swarming across deserts and between pubs.

Grasshoppers come in all ages and often one can see lean, grizzled and sinewy octogenarians grimly pedalling along in the company of teenagers of the species.

One thing they have in common, however, is that they are almost all fat. This has led to speculation that they could not possibly be human and are definitely a sub-species of the insects they mimic. A characteristic they share with Benjies is the knowledge that they own the road and have every right to keep the rest of us fuming behind as they cycle along.

Happily, most of them hibernate in the winter, although some can be sighted in hilly areas and woodland during the colder months. These are known as 'Mountain Grasshoppers' and usually have bicycles with pneumatic suspension. Perhaps this is to keep their wings, ovipositors and antennae undamaged. There used to be a spray available which was an effective deterrent against grasshoppers. It was known as liquid slurry but, sadly, with all the new environmental regulations, its use is no longer allowed near roadways.

Irish Independent



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