2: New Forest Cicada, Cicadetta montana

Cicadetta montana, Croatian specimen. Photo from Wikipedia.

Some readers might have spluttered their tea everywhere as they read the title of today’s post. I can almost hear the outraged comments… “New Forest Cicada, extinct!? How does he possibly know that!?”

Well, I don’t. Not for certain. But we are now entering the twentieth year since the last confirmed sighting. Either they are extinct, and my blog post is valid, or my post inspires such bloody-mindedness in one of our few readers that they go out and rediscover one purely to prove me wrong. Win-win really. Though a twenty-year gap without a sighting wouldn’t be unheard of for this species; the New Forest Cicada was ‘thought to be extinct in 1941 but was rediscovered in 1962’ (Daponte, 2004). Odd as it may seem, 1962 was also the year of its ‘recorded population peak of one hundred singing males’ (Maclean, 2010). Or possibly the reason it was rediscovered was because there were so many singing cicadas? This might raise the question as to why they hadn’t been detected in previous years – but there may be a good reason for this. The lifecycle of the New Forest Cicada doesn’t simply take place over a single year, as with many other insects. Instead, it has a ‘life cycle that extends over at least six to eight years, the majority of which is spent as an underground larva’ (Maclean, 2010). Some sources claim an even longer lifespan, saying that the larva of a cicada can ‘live subterraneanly for 3 to 17 years feeding on root sap’ (Daponte, 2004). Whilst not periodic, like some of the North American cicadas, presumably the New Forest Cicada would have years with large hatches and years with much smaller hatches – small enough, perhaps, to evade detection by observers in some years entirely?

The New Forest Cicada was apparently first discovered (in the UK) ‘in the year 1812, when it was captured in the New Forest by Mr. Dale. Curtis searched the same spot afterwards for several consecutive years without success’ (Buckton, 1890).

However, contrary to the above quote, George Samoulle wrote, in 1819, that ‘The only species known to inhabit this country was lately discovered by Mr. Daniel Bydder, near the New Forest’ (Samouelle, 1819). This is corroborated by Simon Wilkin who, in a footnote in the book; Sir Thomas Browne’s Works (Sir Thomas Browne is a name we shall certainly hear again in this series on extinct species – look forward to it!), recounts, with some slight bitterness, the discovery of the New Forest Cicada. The full extract is given below:

‘It is perfectly true that, till recently, no species of the true Linnæan Cicadæ, (Tettigonia, Fab.) had been discovered in Great Britain. About twenty years since, I had the pleasure of adding this classical and most interesting genus to the British Fauna. Having, about that time, engaged Mr. Daniel Bydder (a weaver in Spitalfields, and a very enthusiastic entomologist) to collect for me in the New Forest, Hampshire, I received from him thence many valuable insects from time to time, and at length, to my surprise and great satisfaction, a pair of cicadæ! Mr. John Curtis (since deservedly well known as the author of British Entomology) was then residing with me as draughtsman; and no doubt our united examinations were diligently bestoed to find the little stranger among the described species of the continent. I quite forget whether he bestowed a MS. name; probably not: as scarcely hoping that the first species discovered to be indigenous, would also prove to be peculiar to our country, and be distinguished by the national appellation of Cicada anglica. Yet so it has proved: Mr. Samouelle, I believe, first gave it that name; and Mr. Curtis has given an exquisite figure, and full description of it, in the 9th vol. of his British Entomology, No. 392. I cannot however speak in so high terms of his account of its original discovery. I cannot understand why he has thus dryly noticed it: “C. Anglica was first discovered in the New Forest, about twenty years ago.” I should have supposed that it might have given him some pleasure to attach to his narrative the name of an old friend, from whom he had received early and valuable assistance, and to whom he was indebted for his acquaintance with the art he has so long and so successfully pursued. At all events he ought to have recorded the name of the poor man by whose industry and perseverance the discovery was effected.’ (Wilkin, 1835)

I am left confused as to whom the ‘Mr Dale’ is, mentioned by Buckton. The most likely candidate must be James Charles Dale, famous entomologist, but I can find no other mention of him in connection to New Forest Cicadas. How odd.

It seems likely that the actual discoverer was ‘Mr. Daniel Bydder’ as mentioned in the two previous quotes. We are left without a specific date of discovery, but if it was thought of as discovered ‘lately’ in 1819, it can’t have been far earlier than that.

Now, the original article I wrote spluttered to a halt around here, as I was unable to secure a copy or even a look at possibly the most important document relating to New Forest Cicadas – Claude Morley’s The history of Cicadetta montana Scop in Britain, 1812-1940. Luckily, due to enormous generosity from an anonymous philanthropist, I have been able to peruse the document at my leisure. As such much of my conjecture above is rendered pointless, as Morley sheds ample light into the dark corners of my speculation. A lesser academic might rewrite those parts that are rendered obsolete, but I am determined to soldier on regardless.

Morley confirms the discoverer of the New Forest Cicada as being Daniel Bydder, and suggests the original date of discovery to have been ‘about 1812’ (Morley, 1941). This date is based on Curtis’ comment, from 1832, that the cicada had been discovered ‘about a score of years before’ (Morley, 1941). 1812 thus serves as the most reasonable estimate of the species’ discovery.

Pleasingly, Morley also addresses Buckton’s confusion over the original discoverer, attributing the mistake to a misreading of his notes. The ‘Mr Dale’ mystery is solved!

Morley then goes on to review every single record he knows for the New Forest Cicada from 1812 – 1940. Regular sightings and decent numbers typify the records up until the 1920’s, at which point the frequency of the sightings and abundance of cicadas seems to tail off somewhat. For the entirety of the 1930’s there were only three years with sightings. Two of these years comprised sightings of a single individual, whereas the third record concerned over a dozen individuals – all of which were collected. Morley finishes the report with the most recent record, that of a single individual that he himself found in June 1940, after devoting at least two months to the search. He concludes ‘At least we have the satisfaction of knowing that Cicadetta montana is not altogether extinct in Britain’ (Morley, 1941).

Despite Morley finding evidence of cicadas up until his time of writing in 1941, Morley’s review… led many authorities to assume yet another British rarity had passed into extinction’ (Grant, 1967). Twenty-two years would pass until the rediscovery of the New Forest Cicada in 1962; the last confirmed sighting was in 1993.

The word ‘confirmed’ is very important here, though, as there is an ‘unconfirmed’ report of a cicada singing and a possible ‘turret’ (a structure through which the cicada larva emerges) at an undisclosed location in the New Forest from 2000. That pretty much sums up as much history of the New Forest Cicada I can find –of course, as I mentioned at the beginning, the fact of its extinction is by no means certain. I think Maclean puts it better than I could – ‘its long life cycle, difficulty in detection and history of enigmatic appearances at new sites within the Forest means that declaration of its extinction in Britain may still be premature’ (Maclean, 2010). I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

Plate from the 43rd volume of The Entomologist, 1910, showing New Forest specimens.

Plate from the 43rd volume of The Entomologist, 1910, showing New Forest specimens.

Additionally, anyone visiting the New Forest this summer should visit this website: http://www.newforestcicada.info/ and get hold of the smart phone app to help detect cicadas. That’s what all the kids are into now isn’t it? Apps?  I must also thank the website for furnishing me with some more specific information about the unconfirmed cicada record from 2000, and pointing me in the right direction for a few other sources I craved. I am fervently hoping their efforts are met with success.

Also look at this awesome sculpture of a New Forest Cicada I found whilst aimlessly browsing: http://wheniamgod.deviantart.com/art/Cicadetta-Montana-210570061. Someone should buy me it.

Buckton, G. B. (1890) Monograph of the British Cicadae or Tettigidae, Macmillan & Co, London.

Daponte, R. (2004) Wildlife and Conservation; Wildlife and its management in The New Forest, New Forest District, Education Section, Hampshire.

Grant, J. A. (1967) Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London: Journal of Meetings, Volumes 31-36, Royal Entomological Society, London.

Maclean, N. (2010) Silent Summer: The State of Wildlife in Britain and Ireland, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Morley, C, (1941) The history of Cicadetta montana Scop in Britain, 1812-1940; The Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, N. Lloyd and Company, Ltd., Oxford

Samouelle, G. (1819) The entomologist’s useful compendium, T. Boys, London.

Wilkin, S. (1835) Sir Thomas Browne’s Work; Including his Life and Correspondence; Edited by Siimon Wilkin F.L.S., William Pickering, London.