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.

 

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.

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.

Not an Indicator?

by Carl Strang

Prairie cicadas are small, early-season cicadas that I first met on July 4 of last year at Woodworth Prairie in Cook County. Soon after that I found them at West Chicago Prairie and Belmont Prairie in DuPage County. Researchers at Woodworth have documenting them as emerging during a relatively brief period, mid-June to mid-July. This year I have been making weekly checks at West Chicago Prairie, and they did not appear until last Sunday, July 6.

This one sang from a bush clover stalk.

This one sang from a bush clover stalk.

That opened the door to seeking them on other sites, and I have been to two of them so far. I failed to find prairie cicadas at Horlock Hill Prairie in Kane County and at Wolf Road Prairie in Cook County. That spoils my working hypothesis that they would prove to be indicators of prairie remnants.

Here’s another West Chicago Prairie cicada, singing from a dead stem.

Here’s another West Chicago Prairie cicada, singing from a dead stem.

I hope to squeeze in a few more site checks in the next couple of weeks, but already I have the sense that this species is very limited in the locations where it occurs. I’ll also hope to get a sense of how long they are out at a given site. The July 6 appearance seems late, but this has been an odd year phenologically. So far the 11 species of singing insects have ranged from the earliest starting date in my record to nearly the latest, and the median is right in the middle. That is a little surprising given the severity and length of the winter, but first flower dates (which I hope to analyze soon) have been equally all over the place.

Singing Insects in Transition

by Carl Strang

We are at a point in the season where the spring-singing insects are finishing, and the early summer brings new voices to the chorus. Green-striped grasshoppers seemed to tail off rapidly in their crepitating flights this year. I have heard very few in recent weeks.

The male green-striped grasshopper usually is brown. He’s the one who does the displaying.

The male green-striped grasshopper usually is brown. He’s the one who does the displaying.

The object of his displays usually is green, and a bit bigger than him.

The object of his displays usually is green, and a bit bigger than him.

Roesel’s katydids rapidly are increasing the number of buzzes they are contributing to the meadows and prairies.

Note the blur in the wings as this short-winged Roesel’s katydid sings. Some individuals have much longer wings.

Note the blur in the wings as this short-winged Roesel’s katydid sings. Some individuals have much longer wings.

Over the weekend I heard first songs from three additional species: Linne’s and dog day cicadas, and the gladiator meadow katydid.

This was one of several gladiators singing beside the Regional Trail in south Blackwell Forest Preserve Saturday evening.

This was one of several gladiators singing beside the Regional Trail in south Blackwell Forest Preserve Saturday evening.

Those Tibicen cicadas, especially, characterize the sound of summer for me.

Field Cricket Final

by Carl Strang

For a few years, now, I have been puzzling over the geographic distribution of our two field crickets, the spring field cricket and the fall field cricket, in DuPage County. Though these two sibling species occur together in most places, they don’t always do so, and I have been conducting driving surveys to map out where each species may be found. Here is the map as of the end of last year:

Green circles represent places where both species may be found. Yellow circles are fall field crickets only, blue circles are spring field crickets only.

Green circles represent places where both species may be found. Yellow circles are fall field crickets only, blue circles are spring field crickets only.

Many of the yellow circles were places where the habitat looked good for both. After last year’s survey, however, I read that spring field crickets sing more in the morning than in the evening, when I had been listening. Over the past couple of weeks I have returned to all the yellow circle areas, and was able to revise the map.

If you compare, you will see that many of the yellow circles now are green.

If you compare, you will see that many of the yellow circles now are green.

It became clear that the places which remained without spring field crickets all had inappropriate habitat. Most of them were all pavement or mowed lawn, some were wetlands, some were wooded. Fall field crickets are more tolerant of some of those areas, and so their more widespread distribution can be accounted for by current conditions.

Fall field cricket, male

Fall field cricket, male

Those few blue circles now represent the unresolved aspect of the story. Most of them I have checked more than once, and all seem to be good habitat. This may be some accident of history, a local population being removed by a past event. If that is it, the crickets may immigrate and re-establish themselves. I plan to check those places again, perhaps in a couple of years, to see if that happens.

There is a clear precedent at Mayslake Forest Preserve this year. It’s my 6th season of surveying that site, and the first in which there have been spring field crickets, 4 widely scattered individuals. Fall field crickets should be at least as able to disperse.

Eagle Marsh Bioblitz

by Carl Strang

Each year the Indiana Academy of Sciences selects a site within that state for a bioblitz. This past weekend’s was my third, and it always is a great way to kick off the field season. The location this year was Eagle Marsh, on the western fringe of Fort Wayne.

A large open barn in the center of the site made for a good headquarters.

A large open barn in the center of the site made for a good headquarters.

Support for the visiting scientists and other volunteers was excellent. Here, the morning’s adventures are shared over box lunches on Saturday.

Support for the visiting scientists and other volunteers was excellent. Here, the morning’s adventures are shared over box lunches on Saturday.

The objective of a bioblitz is to find as many species of organisms as possible in a brief period, usually 24 hours. Scientists who specialize in different taxa lead teams that explore the site. Eagle Marsh is dominated by wetlands, as the name implies. In fact it sits on the boundary between two watersheds, the Great Lakes to the north, and the Mississippi River drainage to the south.

This fence is intended to block Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes when the rivers flood. It soon will be replaced by a more reliable berm.

This fence is intended to block Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes when the rivers flood. It soon will be replaced by a more reliable berm.

The site largely is a restoration project begun in 2005, though some teams found surprising diversity in parts of the preserve. My singing insects team was limited by the early date. We found a grand total of 3 species.

This Roesel’s katydid nymph was one of a small cluster we found on an elevated bank.

This Roesel’s katydid nymph was one of a small cluster we found on an elevated bank.

This bioblitz invited members of the public to assist those scientists open to such participation. I was delighted to have a team, for a change, and we enjoyed all the organisms we were finding.

Northern leopard frogs were abundant, a sign of how rapidly the wetland is improving in quality.

Northern leopard frogs were abundant, a sign of how rapidly the wetland is improving in quality.

Peck’s skipper was one of a number of butterfly species we observed.

Peck’s skipper was one of a number of butterfly species we observed.

Jeff Holland’s Purdue University entomology team always provides a highlight with their beetle-drawing lights.

1000 watts of power.

1000 watts of power.

Helpers collect some of the insects that fall to the sheets below.

Helpers collect some of the insects that fall to the sheets below.

Here is what they were seeing.

Here is what they were seeing.

Congratulations to Betsy Yankowiak and the Little River Wetlands Project team for a job well done.

Betsy presented an overview of the area’s geology for interested participants.

Betsy presented an overview of the area’s geology for interested participants.

First SFC’s

by Carl Strang

On Sunday afternoon, during a bike ride through Fermilab, I heard the first spring field crickets of the year. They had just begun, as there were only 3 of them. This is the third earliest date I have heard them in DuPage County, a little surprising given the late spring, though the deep snow that covered the ground most of the winter certainly provided the nymphs with protection. If a larger population survived, some statistical outliers could be starting up earlier than otherwise would be the case.

Cheating a little here: this is a fall field cricket female, but that species is physically identical to its spring sibling species.

Cheating a little here: this is a fall field cricket female, but that species is physically identical to its spring sibling species.

Apart from such uncommonly encountered critters as sulphur-winged grasshoppers and spring trigs, the next common singing insects to mature should be the predaceous katydids (Roesel’s katydid and the protean shieldback), and gladiator meadow katydids. By then I hope that the spring field crickets will have built numbers to the point where I can finish my county survey of their distribution.

Singing Insect Season Opens

by Carl Strang

The first displays by greenstriped grasshoppers always mark the start of our singing insect season, and this happened yesterday as I heard two displaying males in the prairie at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The rattling crepitations of the display flights at last ended the long winter’s drought. The May 12 date is relatively late, ranking 7th out of the 8 years in which I have kept records. The next anticipated singer is the spring field cricket, which I hope to start hearing in another 2 weeks or so.

The greenstriped grasshopper gets the jump on other singing species because it overwinters as a nymph rather than an egg.

The greenstriped grasshopper gets the jump on other singing species because it overwinters as a nymph rather than an egg.

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