Return to Midewin

by Carl Strang

Recently I spent an enjoyable afternoon at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, in Will County, Illinois. My main target was a swale in the northwestern portion of the property.

In one place the swale expands into a ponded area that in this wet year was around 50m wide and a few hundred long.

In one place the swale expands into a ponded area that in this wet year was around 50m wide and a few hundred long.

I added 3 county species records in and around the swale, but all are common in the region and so not the exciting rarities I’d hoped for.

This Forbes’s tree cricket was one of the three. It was perhaps the darkest individual I have seen in Illinois, and more typical of the Indiana coloration in my experience.

This Forbes’s tree cricket was one of the three. It was perhaps the darkest individual I have seen in Illinois, and more typical of the Indiana coloration in my experience.

As I returned to my car, wading through a nicely developing restored prairie, I spotted an unfamiliar grasshopper.

It held still while I took side and dorsal photographs. The color pattern and sculpturing pointed to the band-winged grasshopper subfamily.

It held still while I took side and dorsal photographs. The color pattern and sculpturing pointed to the band-winged grasshopper subfamily.

Note the white X marking on the pronotum (dorsal thorax). That rang a bell, and ultimately helped with the identification.

Note the white X marking on the pronotum (dorsal thorax). That rang a bell, and ultimately helped with the identification.

Unfortunately the hopper evaded me when I tried to catch it so as to check out the hind wing color. As I continued to walk out I saw a couple displaying grasshoppers with bright yellow hind wings, which I was unable to see up close. I made the assumption that they were the same as the photographed hopper, but this proved not to be the case. It turned out to have been a dusky grasshopper, Encoptolophus sordidus, which has an essentially colorless hind wing. It was the first of that species I have found, which always is exciting, but now I know there’s also a yellow-winged species I will have to go back and hunt down on a future visit.

While I was photographing the dusky grasshopper, a nearby movement caught my eye, and led me to a new experience. It was a ballooning spider, half an inch long. I had heard of this but never seen it, and did not expect that such a large individual could travel in that way. The spider sends out a strand of silk which grabs the wind and carries the spider through the air.

The spider had landed on a stalk, and paused long enough for me to get some photos. I haven’t had time yet to try for an ID.

The spider had landed on a stalk, and paused long enough for me to get some photos. I haven’t had time yet to try for an ID.

The spider didn’t wait long before it turned to face into the wind.

The spider didn’t wait long before it turned to face into the wind.

It began shooting out new strands of silk, obviously not satisfied that it had traveled far enough.

It began shooting out new strands of silk, obviously not satisfied that it had traveled far enough.

As I continued my walk to the car I noticed several strands of silk streaming from plant tops, and felt that I had learned something new about them.

I’ll close with a couple photos from other parts of Midewin.

This female short-winged green grasshopper was a county record.

This female short-winged green grasshopper was a county record.

A female fall field cricket posed nicely on a trail.

A female fall field cricket posed nicely on a trail.

Northwestern Red-winged Grasshopper

by Carl Strang

One final note to share from the Bendix Woods bioblitz focuses on a beautiful grasshopper I had not met before, but which has a population living in the large mowed lawn between the Studebaker pine groves and strips of prairie gardens. It’s a relatively large, dark hopper.

The shapes that form this grasshopper are beautiful, sculpted-looking as is often the case with the members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily.

The shapes that form this grasshopper are beautiful, sculpted-looking as is often the case with the members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily.

When flushed into flight, or when launching into display flights that include the crackling sounds that qualify them as singing insects, these grasshoppers flash brilliant red hind wings.

The color is washed by the sun into more of an orange in this photo, but it is in fact a true red.

The color is washed by the sun into more of an orange in this photo, but it is in fact a true red.

This is the northwestern red-winged grasshopper, Arphia pseudonietana, one of five county records I turned up during the bioblitz. References indicate that this location is at or near the southern edge of this species’ range.

Japanese Burrowing Cricket

by Carl Strang

Between the roads and parking lots at the east end of Bendix Woods are divides containing layers of 1- to 2-inch gravel stones, in a layer several inches deep.

The rounded stones probably came from a glacial outwash quarry not too far away.

The rounded stones probably came from a glacial outwash quarry not too far away.

On the Friday afternoon of the Bendix Woods bioblitz I heard sounds coming from those divides that were definitely crickety, and definitely not belonging to any species I had yet heard in the 22-county region I am surveying for singing insects. The calling songs did ring a bell, though, and on Saturday morning I began to dig where a few of the singers were located. I caught one of the crickets, a female, and my suspicion was confirmed.

A Japanese burrowing cricket!

A Japanese burrowing cricket!

These insects are as big as fall field crickets, but instead of being black, are colored in shades of cream and brown.

The face has a beautiful mottled pattern.

The face has a beautiful mottled pattern.

They were not even on my hypothetical list of singing insects in the region, as they never had been documented here and range maps place them in southern Indiana, but not in the northern half of the state. I have to question how they came to be in this place. While it is true that this introduced Asian species is expanding its range outward from Alabama (probably the port of Mobile), the population at Bendix Woods appears to be isolated by habitats inappropriate for the species. It is, perhaps tellingly, adjacent to the park’s maintenance area.

Note the chain-link fence and earth moving machine in the background.

Note the chain-link fence and earth moving machine in the background.

The founders of this cricket population may have been brought in with landscaping materials or plants transported from farther south. There are, however, so many of them, spread over several of those gravel divides, that they almost certainly have been building their numbers over at least a couple years, demonstrating their ability to survive our winters. That tells me that it is only a matter of time before they become widespread in our region. For recordings of the songs and more photos, check out this species’ page at the Singing Insects of North America website: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/walker/buzz/551a.htm

Bendix Woods Bioblitz

by Carl Strang

It’s been an unusually busy September, and there has been no time for writing in recent days. Much of that time has been occupied by field work, however, so I have a backlog of observations to share through a number of posts. Last weekend there was a bioblitz at Bendix Woods, a St. Joseph County Park in Indiana. Many of the scientists who participated in this species count could do it as a day trip. A few of us camped overnight. It was well worth it, and three posts will be needed to tell the full story.

I was there for singing insects, of course, and so needed to do survey work after dark as well as during the day. The nighttime drive along the park’s roads revealed a healthy population of oblong-winged katydids.

This one took a break from singing to seek out a new perch, his long legs moving slowly in the cooling night air.

This one took a break from singing to seek out a new perch, his long legs moving slowly in the cooling night air.

While trying to locate the katydid I ran across a couple other members of the Bendix fauna.

Gray treefrogs are abundant at Bendix Woods. I saw at least 8 individuals during the 24-hour event.

Gray treefrogs are abundant at Bendix Woods. I saw at least 8 individuals during the 24-hour event.

This female walking stick, Diapheromera femorata, was nearly 4 inches long.

This female walking stick, Diapheromera femorata, was nearly 4 inches long.

Lights set up by a Field Museum of Natural History team drew in a variety of moths, caddis flies and others.

This was a crane fly that got hung up on a support rope, not a hangingfly, as some of us hoped at first glance. The hangingflies are a group of scorpion flies.

This was a crane fly that got hung up on a support rope, not a hangingfly, as some of us hoped at first glance. The hangingflies are a group of scorpion flies.

 

This pine tree spur-throated grasshopper came to the light, and I saved it to photograph the next day. The species proved to be common in the groves of white pines which have been planted in the park to spell out “STUDEBAKER” in very large block letters that can be read only from the sky.

This pine tree spur-throated grasshopper came to the light, and I saved it to photograph the next day. The species proved to be common in the groves of white pines which have been planted in the park to spell out “STUDEBAKER” in very large block letters that can be read only from the sky.

 

I’ll close out with another, more widespread species, the differential grasshopper.

I’ll close out with another, more widespread species, the differential grasshopper.

There were two singing insect species that I met for the first time at Bendix Woods, and each will get a post of its own.

Recent Mayslake Arthropods

by Carl Strang

Recent walks at Mayslake Forest Preserve have resulted in some photos to share, all involving Lepidoptera. The wild bergamot have been on the decline, but still were producing enough flowers to attract the attention of pollinators.

A hummingbird clearwing bellies up to the bar.

A hummingbird clearwing bellies up to the bar.

Another flower proved to be a fatal attraction to a cabbage white butterfly, which I saw curiously dangling beneath it.

The yellow flower head of the sow thistle had been a good hiding place for a crab spider. It and its prey dangled from the spider’s safety line until the butterfly was subdued.

The yellow flower head of the sow thistle had been a good hiding place for a crab spider. It and its prey dangled from the spider’s safety line until the butterfly was subdued.

Enough of the spider was hidden that I could not narrow its identity beyond being in one of two genera.

Wings may be in the future for today’s final subject.

This black swallowtail is maturing on a diet of water hemlock, a plant that is quite poisonous to humans.

This black swallowtail is maturing on a diet of water hemlock, a plant that is quite poisonous to humans.

 

Memorial Forest Clearing

by Carl Strang

The Memorial Forest is a public site, essentially an undeveloped county park, in my home county of Marshall, in Indiana. As I have spent much of my time in that county over the years, my list of its singing insects is nearly as complete as that for DuPage. I had never looked at the Memorial Forest, however. I went there recently. The forest itself, though of good quality, had nothing new to add, but there is a cleared power line right-of-way through the forest which produced 4 county records, including a species I had not encountered before.

What made the clearing unusual was its sand soil.

What made the clearing unusual was its sand soil.

The nearly pure sand hosted oddities including velvet ants and a tiger beetle much larger than most species of my acquaintance. Almost right away I found my new friend, the woodland meadow katydid, and after a while ran across a species that may prove to be a frequent associate, at least in this region, as Lisa Rainsong has suggested.

A male straight-lanced meadow katydid.

A male straight-lanced meadow katydid.

There were large numbers of band-winged grasshoppers (the subfamily of grasshoppers which have wing-rattling flight displays, and thus qualify as singing insects). These ultimately sorted out to three species. In addition to the ubiquitous, and large, Carolina grasshopper, there were a medium sized and a small species.

The medium sized one was the mottled sand grasshopper, which I mentioned in a recent post on Jasper County.

The medium sized one was the mottled sand grasshopper, which I mentioned in a recent post on Jasper County.

Mottled sand grasshoppers were the most abundant singing insects in the clearing, their yellow hind wings flashing all around me as I walked. Then I noticed smaller bursts of bright red, and they led me to a grasshopper which up to that moment had been on my hypothetical list for the region.

You can get a sense of the red colored wings, and the small size of this insect, in comparison to my thumbnail. As usual, I released it unharmed.

You can get a sense of the red colored wings, and the small size of this insect, in comparison to my thumbnail. As usual, I released it unharmed.

The head and pronotum are beautifully patterned.

The head and pronotum are beautifully patterned.

This is the longhorn band-winged grasshopper, Psinidia fenestralis.

This is the longhorn band-winged grasshopper, Psinidia fenestralis.

The unusually wide black zone of the hind wing, the long, flattened antennae, and the banded yellow and black tibias, are additional features of this species. Old records placed it in the dune areas around the edge of Lake Michigan, so this well-inland site is unusual.

 

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.

 

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