Some Hoosier Grasshoppers

by Carl Strang

As I mentioned in the last post, grasshoppers pose problems different from other groups of singing insects. First, most of them don’t qualify as singing insects. Second, those that sing seldom do. Surveying them therefore must be on a visual rather than a hearing basis. Finally, even the visual approach isn’t simple. There are a lot of grasshopper species, sometimes distinguished by tiny structural features. A complete series of photos may be needed to assure an identification. You need every view, above, below, from the side, being sure to get good dorsal and lateral views of the end of the abdomen. Band-winged grasshoppers need to be captured and the wings spread. Also, the color of the hind tibia often is important. All of this was the lesson from grasshopper photos I took in Jasper, Pulaski and Starke Counties, Indiana, last week.

Some grasshoppers are relatively large and spectacular. The bird grasshoppers are the largest I have found to date in the region.

This appears to be the obscure bird grasshopper, common in places at the Jasper-Pulaski wildlife area but at or near the north end of its range.

This appears to be the obscure bird grasshopper, common in places at the Jasper-Pulaski wildlife area but at or near the north end of its range.

This is a different bird grasshopper from Round Lake conservation area, my best sorting of characters pointing to the spotted or prairie bird grasshopper, Schistocerca emarginata (S. lineata in older references). Note the different colors of the head and tibia, compared to the preceding species.

This is a different bird grasshopper from Round Lake conservation area, my best sorting of characters pointing to the spotted or prairie bird grasshopper, Schistocerca emarginata (S. lineata in older references). Note the different colors of the head and tibia, compared to the preceding species.

The remaining grasshoppers I photographed apparently are all in the enormous spur-throated grasshopper group. Their identifications I think are correct, but a few more photos of certain parts of them would have helped.

The graceful grasshopper, Melanoplus gracilis, is the one of these I most likely have right. It lives in moist grassy areas.

The graceful grasshopper, Melanoplus gracilis, is the one of these I most likely have right. It lives in moist grassy areas.

This may be a post oak grasshopper, Dendrotettix quercus. I found it in a dry oak savanna. Superficially it resembles the previous, but note the different wings.

This may be a post oak grasshopper, Dendrotettix quercus. I found it in a dry oak savanna. Superficially it resembles the previous, but note the different wings.

After poring through many reference photos, I had to conclude that this was a two-striped grasshopper. If I had looked at its back, I wouldn’t have needed to go to the trouble.

After poring through many reference photos, I had to conclude that this was a two-striped grasshopper. If I had looked at its back, I wouldn’t have needed to go to the trouble.

This grasshopper, like the previous one, didn’t give me a dorsal view, but I’m pretty sure it’s another two-striped.

This grasshopper, like the previous one, didn’t give me a dorsal view, but I’m pretty sure it’s another two-striped.

More J-P Singers

by Carl Strang

The woodland meadow katydids were the highlight of last week’s exploration of Jasper-Pulaski wildlife area in Indiana, as I described in the last post. It was a productive day, and I came out with 16 new county records for singing insects in the two counties. For example, I have not had a lot of success in the past with finding straight-lanced meadow katydids, but turned them up in both counties on Wednesday.

The females of this Conocephalus species have ovipositors longer than their bodies.

The females of this Conocephalus species have ovipositors longer than their bodies.

Males have cerci with relatively long straight ends beyond the spurs.

Males have cerci with relatively long straight ends beyond the spurs.

Finding singing grasshoppers requires a different methodology from those used for other singing insects. They sing so seldom that they need to be searched out visually. This approach resulted in two species at J-P.

The mottled sand grasshopper is amazingly camouflaged. I found it by flushing it into flight.

The mottled sand grasshopper is amazingly camouflaged. I found it by flushing it into flight.

As in most of our members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily, the mottled sand grasshopper has strikingly colored hind wings.

As in most of our members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily, the mottled sand grasshopper has strikingly colored hind wings.

The other singing grasshopper subfamily is the slant-faced stridulator group.

Short-winged green grasshoppers are common at J-P.

Short-winged green grasshoppers are common at J-P.

The males usually are green on top and brown on the sides, the larger females more completely green.

The males usually are green on top and brown on the sides, the larger females more completely green.

 

A final post from this area will focus on a variety of grasshoppers from non-singing subfamilies.

Woodland Meadow Katydid

by Carl Strang

Sometimes the solution to a puzzle comes through a tiny clue, accidentally discovered. Why couldn’t I find woodland meadow katydids? For years I had listened for them and looked for them in habitats where they are supposed to occur. References suggested I should be able to hear their distinctive song around woodland edges, but also indicated they are more a southern species with only scattered populations as far north as the 22-county region I am surveying for singing insects.

On Wednesday I traveled to Jasper County, Indiana, and stopped at the western end of the Jasper-Pulaski state wildlife area. I put on the SongFinder, wanting to find short-winged meadow katydids to add to the Jasper County list, but almost immediately heard something odd. It sounded like a striped ground cricket, but perhaps lower in pitch.

The song was coming from the tall herbaceous vegetation around two white oak trees.

The song was coming from the tall herbaceous vegetation around two white oak trees.

I took off the headphones of the pitch-lowering device, and could no longer hear the song. As I continued to listen, I noticed that once in a while one of the quick short buzzes was preceded by a brief stuttering burst of ticks. Thanks to the stereophonic design of the SongFinder, I soon found the singer.

A male woodland meadow katydid!

A male woodland meadow katydid!

It’s the only dry-habitat meadow katydid in our area that is brown rather than green. Once I knew that I needed the SongFinder, and what to listen for, I found them in Pulaski County and, the next day, in Starke. At the Round Lake state conservation area I heard males singing, and spotted a female.

Though the ovipositor is slightly curved, the small size as well as the brown color separates this female from all the Orchelimum meadow katydids. Long-tailed meadow katydids can be brown, but have very long straight ovipositors and live in wetlands.

Though the ovipositor is slightly curved, the small size as well as the brown color separates this female from all the Orchelimum meadow katydids. Long-tailed meadow katydids can be brown, but have very long straight ovipositors and live in wetlands.

I had held out hope that this would prove to be the one Conocephalus meadow katydid that I could hear unaided, but such is not the case. That was the tiny clue I needed to solve the woodland meadow katydid puzzle.

Mayslake Update

by Carl Strang

Photos from Mayslake Forest Preserve have been accumulating, so today’s post covers a miscellany. Two of the subjects were additions to the preserve’s species list. I have been there for more than 5 years, so this testifies to the dynamism of that ecosystem.

The two-striped grasshopper is distinctive enough that I should have noticed it before if it were any kind of significant presence.

The two-striped grasshopper is distinctive enough that I should have noticed it before if it were any kind of significant presence.

This view shows how the grasshopper got its name. Notice the bright red tibias.

This view shows how the grasshopper got its name. Notice the bright red tibias.

The other new species was a turtle.

Though this large map turtle was sunning at Mays’ Lake, it’s a short crawl from Trinity Lake, which is much more extensive and would account for my not having observed this critter before.

Though this large map turtle was sunning at Mays’ Lake, it’s a short crawl from Trinity Lake, which is much more extensive and would account for my not having observed this critter before.

The remaining photos are of organisms I have seen before at the preserve, but are uncommon.

Swamp rose mallow is hard to miss.

Swamp rose mallow is hard to miss.

The tiny skimming bluet always is a delight.

The tiny skimming bluet always is a delight.

The spotted spreadwing, a relatively late-season species, signals that summer is on the wane.

The spotted spreadwing, a relatively late-season species, signals that summer is on the wane.

 

McHenry County Exploration

by Carl Strang

On Friday I took a vacation day to check out some sites in McHenry County for their singing insect potential. I saw parts of 4 widely scattered Conservation Areas (their equivalent of Forest Preserves), and picked up 4 county records for my study along the way.

Within minutes of arriving at the first site, Elizabeth Lake, I spotted this bush katydid feeding on a tansy flower head.

Within minutes of arriving at the first site, Elizabeth Lake, I spotted this bush katydid feeding on a tansy flower head.

The small body size, and the shape of the ovipositor, identified this female as a fork-tailed bush katydid.

The small body size, and the shape of the ovipositor, identified this female as a fork-tailed bush katydid.

That was not one of the county records, but I did pick up two at that site: Forbes’s tree cricket, and slender meadow katydid.

The area with the greatest potential proved to be Hickory Grove-Lyons. These areas are a political oddity. Though the Lyons portion is in Lake County, it is cut off by a bend of the Fox River, and so managed by the McHenry County Conservation District.

A boardwalk leads through a high quality marsh at Hickory Grove. Other marshes and woodlands in this, and the adjacent Lyons area, are priorities for future exploration.

A boardwalk leads through a high quality marsh at Hickory Grove. Other marshes and woodlands in this, and the adjacent Lyons area, are priorities for future exploration.

The year’s first Texas bush katydids, which also provided a county record, were singing in that marsh. The fourth county record, common true katydid (which seems oddly uncommon in McHenry), came at a good-looking forested preserve, Coral Woods. I look forward to return visits to some of these sites.

 

Dancing Flies

by Carl Strang

A program had me at Kline Creek Farm early one morning last week. While waiting at the parking lot for others to arrive, I noticed a swarm of small flies engaged in what I took to be a courtship dance. They were in the light at the edge of a tree-cast shadow, and they remained in the vertical plane defined by that edge, within an altitude range of about 5-8 feet, the zone parallel to the ground and around 20 feet long. Each fly followed a roller-coaster or sine-wave flight path, turning around when it reached each end of the zone.  They were going too fast to follow easily, and I had no net with me. I took a few photos.

The flies could be seen clearly only when backlit. Each bright dot is a different fly.

The flies could be seen clearly only when backlit. Each bright dot is a different fly.

The flies in focus in each photo had similar shapes. Here are two examples:

There is a large spot in the middle, and two lines at each side. The shutter speed is 1/1000 second.

There is a large spot in the middle, and two lines at each side. The shutter speed is 1/1000 second.

Often there were additional projections above and below.

Often there were additional projections above and below.

There is a family of flies called dance flies, the Empididae. They are famous in ethological circles for the nuptial gifts offered by males to females. In some species the pattern is regarded as more primitive, and the gift is a prey item. In others the male wraps the prey in silk. At the other end of the spectrum are species in which the male creates a balloon of silk, and this has replaced the prey entirely. Were the photographed flies members of this family? I do not know. Empidids have bulbous thoraxes, which would account for the bright central spot in the photos. The abdomen is thin, and the long central line could be a highlight, with the wings similarly indicated by the lines to each side. The thicker line below could be the dangling long legs, or perhaps the long proboscis that some species of empidids possess, if these were in fact empidids. Whatever they were, they were fascinating to watch. The shadow-edge convention provides a standardized meeting site, reminiscent of hilltopping butterflies. I found the up-and-down motion of the individual flies hypnotic, the experience delightful.

Confused

by Carl Strang

This year there seem to be more confused ground crickets than I have noticed before in DuPage and neighboring counties. Furthermore, their habitat range seems broader. Here is a case in point. A couple weeks ago I was paying the year’s first visit to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Will County. Across one of the interior roads from a grove of trees was a meadow undergoing restoration to prairie, and in that meadow edge a confused ground cricket was singing.

This was the opposite of the species’ typical woodland setting.

This was the opposite of the species’ typical woodland setting.

I moved in closer to see exactly where the cricket was and found, between the bases of the plants, a little pocket of accumulated cottonwood leaves from last year.

This apparently was sufficient microhabitat to suit him.

This apparently was sufficient microhabitat to suit him.

There have been plenty of other instances of meadows with confused ground crickets in DuPage, Will and Kendall Counties. Almost always there are at least scattered trees nearby. The song is distinctive enough that I don’t think it’s a matter of me missing them in the past. Whether this is a 1-year increase, the result perhaps of favorable winter conditions, remains to be seen. This area is close to the northern range boundary for confused ground crickets, so another possibility is that this is evidence of yet another range expansion from the south.

Confused ground cricket

Confused ground cricket

Another sound-location combination that surprised me happened last week. I was driving home from an evening walk at Danada Forest Preserve when I heard what seemed to be a robust conehead, within 2 miles of my home on a road I frequently drive. I turned around, parked, and found it.

Robust conehead from a previous year

Robust conehead from a previous year

It was indeed a robust conehead, practically deafening at close range and with the typical short cone lacking black coloration. A second male sang nearby. These were far from the only DuPage County population I know about. This was, however, in a section of Butterfield Road that was rebuilt in the past few years, and there has been much landscaping in the median and along both edges. It seems almost certain that the eggs from which these coneheads hatched were carried in on nursery material. I’ll be interested in seeing if a new disjunct population builds in that spot.

 

More Mayslake Insects

by Carl Strang

Today, some recent photos of insects from Mayslake Forest Preserve.

Broad-winged bush katydid, July 26

Broad-winged bush katydid, July 26

Broad-winged bush katydids have been a personal challenge to photograph. They are very good at staying out of sight, and quick to flush when they know they have been seen. This one was on the move, making it easier to spot, and I was able to go slowly enough to get in a couple shutter clicks.

The red hind tibias are striking. They don’t seem to occur on every individual, but from photos made by others, and my own few observations, they seem to appear in this species more than others.

The red hind tibias are striking. They don’t seem to occur on every individual, but from photos made by others, and my own few observations, they seem to appear in this species more than others.

The banded longhorn beetle closely resembles Strangalia luteicornis, which also recently has been visiting Queen Anne’s lace.

Note the black antennae and thorax, and the more stripe-like elytra markings.

Note the black antennae and thorax, and the more stripe-like elytra markings.

Here is Strangalia, for comparison.

Here is Strangalia, for comparison.

Like Strangalia, the adult banded longhorns visit flowers, but this one is more a woodland species rather than woods edges, and its larvae live in decaying trees. Despite the superficial similarity, it is in a different genus.

Another longhorned beetle, Batyle suturalis, like so many adults in its family, feeds on pollen.

The larvae of this one most commonly bore oak and hickory trees.

The larvae of this one most commonly bore oak and hickory trees.

The seven-spotted lady beetle was imported from Eurasia for aphid control.

Seven-spotted lady beetle. The odd number of spots comes about from the forward most spot, which forms from a half on each elytron.

Seven-spotted lady beetle. The odd number of spots comes about from the forward most spot, which forms from a half on each elytron.

The introduced lady beetles have proven to be problematic, their competitive and possibly predatory activity driving down our native lady beetle species.

The final two insects are Hymenoptera.

This little wasp, Euodynerus hidalgo, is a solitary species. The females nest in holes in wood or in the ground, partitioning them with fine soil and feeding their young with paralyzed caterpillars.

This little wasp, Euodynerus hidalgo, is a solitary species. The females nest in holes in wood or in the ground, partitioning them with fine soil and feeding their young with paralyzed caterpillars

I am accustomed to seeing cicada killers, which indeed capture cicadas to feed their young, in sand soil regions. Where these are finding soil soft enough to dig their nursery tunnels at Mayslake is a bit of a mystery.

Eastern cicada killer, the 200th insect species I have observed on the preserve.

Eastern cicada killer, the 200th insect species I have identified on the preserve.

Lessons from a Tiny Teacher

by Carl Strang

A moment came Saturday night when I had an experience which seldom happens anymore. I was walking to my car to head home from Mayslake Forest Preserve after watching First Folio Theater’s excellent performance of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor on the outdoor stage. I heard a singing insect that I did not recognize.

This was at the end of a day that had been fairly productive. I had found green-winged cicadas in two additional counties in the afternoon. During the play’s intermission I heard the first sword-bearing coneheads of the year in Mayslake’s prairies. I also heard the first unambiguous fall field crickets of the season.

But then, as I headed for the car, I heard a trill that seemed unfamiliar. At first I thought it was probably something I was hearing for the first time this season, and its identity would click if I just listened for a short time. While waiting for that click to happen I went through the mental checklist. It was a high-pitched, musical trill. So, it had to be a cricket. I approached it, and the hidden insect kept singing until I was beneath it. So, it had to be a tree cricket. I looked up into the spruce above me, but without a flashlight there wasn’t even a small possibility of seeing it. The checklist continued. All the early arboreal tree crickets have pauses in their trills, at least little ones. Therefore it wasn’t a two-spotted, or a Davis’s, and certainly not a snowy. I knew I would be there at night in a little over a week, and resolved to make a recording then. It wasn’t until later that the obvious solution filtered through the late night fatigue. It had to be a pine tree cricket. I realized that I had allowed myself to think of Oecanthus pini as a late-season species, but that was because Nancy Collins introduced me to pine tree crickets in September last year. I had noted that they were going strong at that point, and so could not say when they had begun. Everything fit. It was a continuous musical trill, but not as loud as tree crickets usually are. It was in a conifer. The Singing Insects of North America website gives starting dates consistent with the end of July at this latitude.

Pine tree cricket

Pine tree cricket

The lessons were several: be open to all sounds, notice them all; pursue incongruities if a song isn’t a clear match with past experience; abandon assumptions that are constructed from limited past experience. That’s a lot of profit gained from one tiny cricket, and I am grateful.

Return to J-P

by Carl Strang

A few hours of singing insect searching over the weekend produced 8 county records (across 3 counties), and some photos I’d been hoping to get. High on the list of priorities for the latter this year was the green-winged cicada, Diceroprocta vitripennis. I found a number of them singing Saturday at Jasper-Pulaski State Fish & Wildlife Area in Indiana. Finding a singing cicada up in a tree is a challenge when it can be done at all. The good part is that I found one.

The less than great part is that the only line of sight was from a distance and through a canopy hole, so I will hope for a better opportunity at another time.

The less than great part is that the only line of sight was from a distance and through a canopy hole, so I will hope for a better opportunity at another time.

I also heard one of that species singing Sunday at Braidwood Dunes in Will County, my first Illinois location. So far all have been in black oak sand savannas.

Back at J-P, I was able to catch a sulfur-winged grasshopper, so as to get a photo of the bright yellow hind wing.

If anything, the yellow was more intense than the photo indicates.

If anything, the yellow was more intense than the photo indicates.

The critter stayed put when I released it, making a portrait possible.

Though study of reference material confirmed the ID, this one was much paler than the individual I photographed within 50 feet of this location last year.

Though study of reference material confirmed the ID, this one was much paler than the individual I photographed within 50 feet of this location last year.

That 2013 hopper may have had the more typical color pattern. I saw its twin at Braidwood Sunday.

That 2013 hopper may have had the more typical color pattern. I saw its twin at Braidwood Sunday.

Nearby at J-P was a pair of grasshoppers that begged to be photographed. They do not belong to either of the singing subfamilies of grasshoppers, but they were attractive to look at.

These appear to be narrow-winged grasshoppers, Melanoplus angustipennis.

These appear to be narrow-winged grasshoppers, Melanoplus angustipennis.

As I drove out of J-P, I was arrested by this group of plants beside the road.

Brilliant red flowers topped the tall stems.

Brilliant red flowers topped the tall stems.

They appear to be targeting hummingbirds as pollinators.

They appear to be targeting hummingbirds as pollinators.

The foliage accounts for the odd name (for an herbaceous plant) of standing cypress.

The foliage accounts for the odd name (for an herbaceous plant) of standing cypress.

Gilia rubra is native to the southern states, but has established some colonies of escapes from cultivation in the sand counties of northwestern Indiana.

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