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.

Literature Review: Arthropod Evolution

by Carl Strang

If you’re a bug nerd you’ll enjoy the following notes on research from 2013. Especially significant were studies of butterflies and moths, and an eye-opening paper on periodical cicadas. This concludes my literature review until next winter.

Butterflies and moths had their origin in the Triassic Period according to recent studies, though the first ones were more like caddis flies than like this red-spotted purple.

Butterflies and moths had their origin in the Triassic Period according to recent studies, though the first ones were more like caddis flies than like this red-spotted purple.

Zhang, W, et al. 2013. New fossil Lepidoptera (Insecta: Amphiesmenoptera) from the Middle Jurassic Jiulongshan Formation of northeastern China. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79500. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079500  They found 15 species of early moths representing at least 3 families in Chinese deposits, and details of wing venation led to the conclusion that the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) diverged from the Trichoptera (caddis flies) by the early Jurassic Period.

Wahlberg, N, CW Wheat, C Peña 2013. Timing and patterns in the taxonomic diversification of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). PLoS ONE 8(11): e80875. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080875  They estimated timings of major episodes of speciation in the major groups of butterflies and moths. Their results point to a Triassic origin of Lepidoptera, around 215 million years ago. The timing of diversification episodes at least in some cases corresponds to times when plants were diversifying, and also after the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. Coevolution of lepidoptera with their larval food plants appears to be an important theme. They give origin ages for major Lepidoptera groups (in millions of years ago): Gracillarioidea 120, Yponomeutoidea 117, Glechioidea 106 (these first three are small moths, many of them leaf miners), Papilionoidea 104 (butterflies), Pyraloidea (including many local pyralid moths) 93, Bombycoidea (including sphinx moths) 84, Geometroidea (including inchworm moths) 83, Noctuoidea (the enormous owlet moth group) 82, Tortricoidea (including leaf-folding caterpillars) 68. All these groups are represented by local species.

The Chicago region’s 17-year periodical cicadas: Magicicada septendecim, left, and M. cassini.

The Chicago region’s 17-year periodical cicadas: Magicicada septendecim, left, and M. cassini.

Sota, Teiji, Satoshi Yamamoto, John R. Cooley, Kathy B.R. Hill, Chris Simon, and Jin Yoshimura. 2013. Independent divergence of 13- and 17-y life cycles among three periodical cicada lineages. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 110:6919-6924. They sequenced a number of genes from nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from all known species and broods, and estimated divergence times based on general research that has been done on insect mitochondria. There are three species groups (referred to as Decim, Cassini, and Decula), each of which contains northern 17-year species and southern 13-year species. In any location, the species in the different groups emerge at the same time. The results clearly separated the three groups, and tied together the species within each group (e.g., 13-year Decim are more closely related to 17-year Decim than to 13-year Cassini). Furthermore, each species group is divided into eastern, central and western genetic clusters (this pattern has been documented in other organisms as well; for the most part, Illinois cicadas are in western clusters, Indiana ones in central clusters). Each cluster contains both 13- and 17-year species, “suggesting that life cycle divergence occurred independently in the three regions.” Analyses estimated that the western Cassini divergence of 13-year and 17-year species took place 23,000 years ago, 10,000 years for Decim. Population sizes for both Decim and Cassini groups appear to have been small during the last glacial period, but expanded greatly starting 10,000 years ago. The sequence appears to have been allopatric speciation of the 3 ancestral species, with the species later becoming sympatric and independently splitting into 13- and 17-year cicadas. “Surprisingly, however, the divergence of 13- and 17-y cicadas was asynchronous among the species groups and occurred repeatedly even within a species group.” The implication is “that the three Magicicada groups shared multiple refugia during the last glacial maximum.” The 13-/17-year splits occurred after the last glacial maximum, within the last 23,000 years, “suggesting that the life cycle divergence in Magicicada is closely associated with global climatic fluctuations and shorter growing seasons in the north versus the south.” However, the species groups themselves separated in the Pliocene, and their shared long lives suggest that this did not originate because of glacial climate influences. This shifting between 13- and 17-year life cycles suggests a common genetic basis among the species, and indicates a somewhat plastic nature of this trait. The coordination among species at a given location seems best explained by the selective advantage of low numbers of an invading species into the range of another, surviving best when sheltered by the established species’ numbers.

Zhao, Z, et al. 2013. The mitochondrial genome of Elodia flavipalpis Aldrich (Diptera: Tachinidae) and the evolutionary timescale of tachinid flies. PLoS ONE 8(4): e61814. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0061814  Their genomic study traced the evolutionary relationships of the parasitic fly family Tachinidae, and molecular clock analysis calibrated to the fossil record points to the middle Eocene as the time of the family’s origin.

Brewer, MS, and JE Bond. 2013. Ordinal-level phylogenomics of the arthropod class Diplopoda (millipedes) based on an analysis of 221 nuclear protein-coding loci generated using next-generation sequence analyses. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79935. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079935  They place the ancestral millipedes at 510mya (million years ago), with major groupings established by 200mya.

Lucky, A, MD Trautwein, BS Guénard, MD Weiser, RR Dunn. 2013. Tracing the rise of ants – out of the ground. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84012. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084012     A phylogenetic analysis points to soil rather than leaf litter as the nesting habitat for the earliest ant species.

Sound Ideas: Greenstriped Grasshopper

by Carl Strang

With the arrival of spring it is time to conclude this winter series. Plenty of sound recordings remain to be shared, so I’ll resume Sound Ideas in November or December. The appropriate finale is a recording of the first singing insect we hear each year in the Chicago region, the greenstriped grasshopper. Given the late spring, I am not expecting the first of these before mid-May. I have not found a recording of this species elsewhere:

Male greenstriped grasshopper

Male greenstriped grasshopper

The buzzing sound is the rattling of the male’s wings (crepitation) during short display flights. If you have the volume turned up you may get the impression that this is a loud sound, but it is not. Though it is easy enough to hear, you may well miss it if you are not paying attention to the sounds around you. This common grasshopper occurs wherever there are abundant tall grasses, including open wooded areas, though the greatest densities are in meadows and prairies.

The female gives the species its name, though I have read that occasional brown females or green males have been observed.

The female gives the species its name, though I have read that occasional brown females or green males have been observed.

This is our earliest singer because it overwinters as a nymph, and so can complete its maturation early in the season.

Sound Ideas: Early Season Katydids

by Carl Strang

The start of the singing insect season still is a couple months away, but among the early species will be the three katydids I am featuring today. They are relatively hardy, hatching very early in the spring and developing quickly. Two of them, Roesel’s katydid and the protean shieldback, are known as predaceous katydids, and their dietary focus on animals is what allows them to get going so early. The gladiator meadow katydid is the earliest of its species group to hatch, and so the earliest to begin singing. The meadow katydids are generalists, and the gladiator probably has a greater proportion of animal foods in its diet than the others. Roesel’s katydid is a European species, introduced in the Montreal area and spreading south, east and west from there.

Roesel’s is the only katydid in the Chicago area with a color pattern anything like this.

Roesel’s is the only katydid in the Chicago area with a color pattern anything like this.

Its song is a long, fast, constant buzz:

I am at an age where I have a little more difficulty hearing this one each year. The pitch rises with temperature, and on a hot mid-day I now need the SongFinder pitch-altering device to hear individuals that are audible in the morning and late afternoon.

The protean shieldback, like Roesel’s katydid, is a species of the meadows, but also is common in brushy areas and open woodlands.

Protean shieldback female. This is a relatively heavy-bodied katydid

Protean shieldback female. This is a relatively heavy-bodied katydid

Its song is an extended buzz, but has much more of a slower, rattling quality than Roesel’s song.

It is not as loud as it may seem from the recording, but is not really difficult to hear. The protean shieldback begins singing in mid- to late afternoon, and continues into the night.

The gladiator meadow katydid is similar in appearance to other large meadow katydids.

This photo shows why the meadow katydids once were known as “long-horned grasshoppers.”

This photo shows why the meadow katydids once were known as “long-horned grasshoppers.”

The gladiator meadow katydid’s variation on the generalized tick-and-buzz meadow katydid song pattern de-emphasizes the tick portion. I often don’t notice ticks at all, though they may be softly produced more often than I suspect, as in the following recording:

The buzz is similar in quality to the protean shieldback’s song, but it is shorter in length, rhythmically produced, and the volume rises at the end.

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