Insects have a somewhat mixed image. That’s something Melanie Chisté wants to change. The biologist is a big fan of the little six-legged creatures. As a ranger at the Franconian Switzerland Nature Park – Frankenjura, she introduces her beloved insects to people of all ages
Ranger Melanie Chisté
“I’ve been passionate about animals of all kinds all my life,” Melanie Chisté recalls. “Even as a child, I loved watching animal documentaries and observing anything that crawled or flew.” This curiosity has remained. And then it continued to grow. As well as her knowledge of animals.
The young woman is more than happy to share this with others – during public hedge excursions, cave hikes and, her speciality, grasshopper excursions.
On such excursions Mélanie takes interested guests, equipped with nets and magnifying glasses, to a meadow, preferably near Pommelsbrunn, for observation and identification. But there are many more places to explore in the Franconian Switzerland Nature Park – Frankenjura, which at around 2,300 square kilometres is one of the largest in Germany.
To preserve areas like these, the Bavarian cabinet launched the “Bavarian Nature Offensive” in 2018 and recruited more than forty rangers in the Free State. Melanie has been one of them since 2019.
Insect Insider with a PhD
Specifically, the native of Middle Franconia is responsible for the districts of Amberg-Sulzbach and Neustadt an der Waldnaab. Her focus is on public relations, biodiversity conservation, monitoring and educational work.
In short, she educates visitors, organises and sees to it that they not only canoe on the Wiesent and Pegnitz rivers, go sport climbing or hike on 5,000 kilometres of marked trails, but also learn about sensitive ecosystems and rare plants and animals.
“70 per cent of all animal species are insects.”
There are plenty of them between Lichtenfels and Hersbruck, especially insects. Melanie, who studied biology and molecular ecology in Bayreuth, is well versed in this area. Where does her passion for these crawlers, fliers, and hoppers come from?
“For one, there are so many different kinds,” she beams. “70 per cent of all animal species are insects. They live almost everywhere except in the deep sea. Also, these insects, which have been around for 400 million years, are unbelievably adaptable, but also highly specialised. All of this fascinates me immensely.”
Crickets, Long-Horned Grasshoppers, or Short-Horned Grasshoppers?
Through her doctoral thesis – Melanie obtained her doctorate in Darmstadt on the impact of land use on the biodiversity of grassland insects – her focus increasingly shifted towards grasshoppers.
“Worldwide, there are 28,000 species, most of which live in the tropics. Eighty species can be found in Germany," Melanie says, "including crickets, which are the first to make such beautiful music in spring, as well as long-horned grasshoppers, short-horned grasshoppers and locusts.”
Visitors can hear and see about a dozen of them in the nature park. Also her favourite, the “Kleine Goldschrecke”, is a short-horned grasshopper. “I just love this one,” the ranger raves, “it looks so special. Their habitat is also beautiful: rough grassland that doesn't undergo such intensive management.”
Hedge or Cave? As long as it’s in Nature!
As exciting as her scientific work was, Melanie wanted to get more into nature, more into hands-on tasks. Awakening people’s fascination for nature. Resolution fulfilled: After a detour into environmental and landscape planning, her path led straight to the Franconian Nature Park, specifically to the team of environmental education.
In addition to office work, which – according to Melanie – “is also part of the job”, she can do exactly that: be outdoors with people. “We make nature trails and are often out in nature on excursions. Or we organise activities for children. Her programmes are extremely popular with the little ones. “Some of them send me their own grasshopper photos after the tour. Or they paint grasshopper pictures!”
Her portfolio also includes caving tours to some of the region’s 2,000 or so karst caves and hedge excursions. Those are hikes to the Ossinger, the roof of the nature park. “There, we explore hedge shrubs such as juniper, hazel, and blackthorn, and I talk about all sorts of things related to them, including historical facts or intriguing aspects of their usage.”
Full of Alternative Ideas
Melanie is convinced that “an individual’s fascination is the basis for a respectful and interested approach towards nature.” Species conservation is especially dear to her heart. One project, for example, aims to relocate the rare brook mussel to suitable water bodies because streams are increasingly drying up.
“An individual’s fascination is the basis for a respectful and interested approach towards nature.”
Sometimes it is about “relocating” recreational athletes. This is called visitor guidance and sensitisation. For example, she has to explain to nature park guests that they are not allowed to enter the caves during the winter because this is bat protection time.
“When people enter the caves, the bats wake up from hibernation, find nothing to eat and can die as a result.”
However, Melanie doesn't just prohibit them from entering, but informs them about alternatives. “In winter, this can be a cross-country skiing tour in Etzelwang or a hike around Betzenstein, or in the warm season a tour on the Eibgrat. If you're sure-footed, you can walk along a rocky ridge with numerous viewpoints and enjoy a magnificent landscape.
For her to name a single favourite place is nearly impossible. “There are so many!” However, one of her top choices is the Hohenstädter Fels near Hersbruck: A magnificent view, a distinctive shape and a special dry grassland habitat.
In keeping with Melanie’s motto, “I am happiest when I can be in nature,” soon you will see her even happier. Eventually, she wants to expand her outdoor programme, from stationary grasshopper observation to grasshopper walks.
This adds more movement to the topic, even though it has long been rich in content. One recent highlight was “when we caught a very rare species of grasshopper, a red-winged grasshopper. You can only see the red wings when it flies.” No question, Melanie’s childlike enthusiasm has stayed with her. And that’s a good thing!