PC P.S. (Periodical Cicada Postscript)

by Carl Strang

I thought I had finished with periodical cicadas, as indicated a couple blog posts ago. For completeness’ sake, though, I continued checking for late reports in my region. There were two that needed follow-up. The first was in Plymouth, Marshall County of Indiana. I found that report just before heading to the Mosquito Creek Bioblitz, and so altered my course to swing by there on the way down. The forest was large enough that it may have supported a large emergence in the past, but there was only one cicada singing in the reported neighborhood, and two others on the opposite edge of the forest.

That detour allowed me to make a final check of the Fulton County emergence. Cicadas still were singing, and had spread across the roads to the south and west, but clearly were past their peak. I picked up some dead ones from the roadside to serve as voucher specimens.

A second late report on iNaturalist was accompanied by the intriguing comment, “Tons of them flying around.” The location was in LaPorte County at Kingsbury Fish & Wildlife Area. That had been one of my stops in my earlier tour, when I had heard only a few individuals singing, but the report pointed to a different forest farther east which I had not checked. It was worth a day trip, and I headed over there on Friday.

As I drove to the forested east end of Nickel Road, I began to see lots of leafy twigs on the road. The trees gave the impression of autumn rather than early summer.

There was as much brown as green in the foliage

These were flags, the killed ends of branches resulting from the massive injection of periodical cicada eggs.

Oaks were the most heavily impacted trees.

I explored on foot. Most of the twigs on the ground did not have oviposition scars, an exception being a black cherry twig:

Cherry twig with periodical cicada oviposition scars

On the other hand, all the browned twigs still attached to trees were on branches with abundant egg scars:

Oak twig with periodical cicada oviposition scars

The singing was done. There were plenty of bits of dead cicadas on the ground:

Cicada remains

Scavengers had cleaned up the bodies for the most part, and it took a while for me to find a few relatively intact voucher specimens in the fringe of the affected area. As I drove back west the numbers of flags diminished, until by the time I reached the area I had checked on my previous visit there were practically none. I conclude that this was a second major Brood X emergence in the northwestern ten Indiana counties.

Mosquito Creek Bioblitz

by Carl Strang

For many years, the Indiana Academy of Science has organized an annual bioblitz. This is a gathering of scientists, both professional and amateur, who spend a weekend compiling a list of all the species in their respective areas of expertise that they can find in a designated location. I first participated in the 2012 Kankakee Sands event, and it has been a highlight of each field season since. Last year’s bioblitz had to be postponed thanks to the pandemic, but we were able to resume the series this June in the Mosquito Creek area of Harrison County, bounded by a bend of the Ohio River.

Most of the bioblitzes have been early in the season, before most singing insects have matured, but the southern ones especially have provided experiences which have made them worthwhile for my research. One example is my first encountering the spring trig (Anaxipha vernalis) at the Connor Prairie bioblitz in 2013. The species then had not been formally described, and simply was listed in the Singing Insects of North America website (SINA) as “Anaxipha species G.” I later found a few in the southern edge of my study region, but most of my experiences with them have been through the bioblitzes.

This year they proved to be by far the most abundant singing insect at Mosquito Creek, and I was able to resolve a question that had bothered me. Spring trigs generally remain buried in dense grasses close to the ground, and are difficult to see. I had collected a male at Connor Prairie, and he had a head that was all dark brown. In a later bioblitz at Eagle Creek Park I had photographed a female, and her head was pale with a scrollwork pattern of dark lines:

This year I wanted to confirm this sexual difference, and was able to get a male and a female in the same jar. The head color difference was as I had noted before, the male’s uniformly dark:

Furthermore, the male’s abdomen was black or very dark brown, the female’s a much paler tan.

My first couple of hours of bioblitz work were spent in a grassy parking area at one of the Mosquito Creek sites.

I was struck by rapid sharp chirping around the grassy edge near the forest, the chirps contrasting with the spring trig continuo:

The chirps had the quality of field crickets, but were so compressed that the pulses could not be distinguished by ear. That combination of location and chirp quality pointed to southern wood cricket (Gryllus fultoni), a species I never had met. I flushed one out, and the combination of yellow cerci and brown wings on a generally black field cricket confirmed the identification:

Though southern wood crickets prefer to be in the forest, they have been shown to shift to the forest edge when their close relative, the northern wood cricket (G. vernalis), is present. This proved to be the case in the evening, when northern wood crickets started singing within the forest with their lower volume, less compressed chirps. This apparently is now only the second county where the southern wood cricket has been documented in Indiana.

A third species in that parking lot was the eastern striped cricket, Miogryllus saussurei (Tom Walker has recently added an interesting historical account of this species’ naming to SINA, and the next edition of my guide will replace the verticalis species name accordingly). I made a recording there of the distinctive buzzing chirps:

I needed to photograph a male, and succeeded in flushing one out:

I had hoped to find some exotic (to my experience) early season grasshoppers, but the only ones I found are common in the northern part of the state as well, the green-striped grasshopper (Chortophaga viridifasciata) and the sulfur-winged grasshopper (Arphia sulphurea). The latter were very dark brown with tan wing edges, and their hind wings were bright orange-yellow:

I found three more species. Two of these, a spring field cricket (Gryllus veletis) and a group of protean shieldbacks (Atlanticus testaceus) are common and familiar in the North, but a loud sharp trilling on the grounds of The Nature Conservancy’s headquarters grabbed my attention:

It was louder, had a more rapid pulse rate and slightly different pitch from the nearby spring trigs. I immediately thought of the southeastern field cricket (Gryllus rubens), which I had heard on visits to my brother’s residence in North Carolina. I had listed it as a possibility because the species had been documented once before in Indiana, a few counties west of Mosquito Creek. I was able to flush out the singer, and confirmed that it was a field cricket:

The southeastern field cricket is unusual for its genus in having long trilling songs rather than discrete chirps.

So there it is. The plant people list hundreds of species in these bioblitzes, birders find dozens, and I perennially have one of the lowest species counts. The experience always proves worthwhile, both for the experiences like the ones described here and enjoying the company of other field biologists.

Cicada Search Concluded

by Carl Strang

A week after my first visit I returned to the forest in Fulton County, Indiana, that had begun to show a significant emergence of periodical cicadas described in the previous post. I found them well into the peak of their appearance. There were more newly emerged cicadas than before, and fresh cicadas and emptied nymphal skins were visible all along the trail in the forest interior.

This time, skins outnumbered new cicadas. The only species present remained Linnaeus’s 17-year cicada, Magicicada septendecim.

The chorus was very loud, and as I drove the nearby roads to determine the extent of this emergence, I found that I could hear it clearly from a quarter mile away and it was audible from half a mile. It extended a mile north of the road where I first encountered the cicadas, and was as much as half a mile wide, but there are clearings within that block so that the forest with cicadas covers an estimated 243 acres or 98 hectares, which my earlier research suggests should be plenty large enough to sustain this population.

Between the two visits, and after the second one, I checked the remaining large forest areas in the 10 counties of northwest Indiana. I found nothing comparable to the Fulton County emergence. There were a few scattered (countable) septendecim in a portion of Potato Creek State Park in St. Joseph County, and the same in a small area of the Kingsbury Fish & Wildlife Area in LaPorte County. Beyond those there were only a few singles, two septendecim in LaPorte County, two Cassin’s 17-year cicadas (M. cassinii) in Porter County, and one cassinii in Lake County.

Considering these observations and historical records, I suspect that the Kankakee River and its broad sandy soil region represents a dividing line between Broods X and XIII in Indiana, at least in the western part. Brood XIII then would extend eastward along the elevated Valparaiso Moraine between the Kankakee River and Lake Michigan. If so, that would place the Fulton and St. Joseph County cicadas in Brood X. The singles in Lake and Porter Counties would be stragglers of Brood XIII. The LaPorte County septendecim may represent vanishing traces of Brood X that once spilled onto the Valparaiso Moraine from the east.

Septendecim Surprise

by Carl Strang

A year ago I was busy in June documenting a 4-year-early emergence of periodical cicadas in a part of northeast Illinois. Periodical cicadas come out in large numbers somewhere in eastern North America each year, and the different areas and years are called “broods,” designated by Roman numerals. The northeast Illinois ones are in Brood XIII and their next main emergence will be in 2024.

This is the year for Brood X, which occupies a large portion of the eastern U.S. According to Gene Kritsky, who has thoroughly researched the history of these insects, Brood X periodical cicadas at one time emerged in every Indiana county. Now they are known mainly in the southern half of that state, but it seemed appropriate for me to check the 10 northwest Indiana counties of my singing insects study region for possible survivors. I didn’t expect to find any, as none have been reported there in recent years.

My own research has shown that forest size matters to these insects, so I used GoogleEarth to pre-select the largest forest blocks to visit in each county. I began in my childhood home county of Marshall and found no cicadas, either in forests on sandy soils or on the glacial moraine east of Lake Maxinkuckee.

I proceeded to Fulton County, just south of Marshall. I stopped beside County Road 450N east of US31, turned off the car motor, and listened. Could it be? Yes, I was hearing a chorus of “pharaoh,” the calling song of Linnaeus’s 17-year cicadas, Magicicada septendecim. I made a recording and continued down the road. I was gratified to find an entrance to Richland Restoration Park, which had trails into the forest. Newly emerged cicadas were resting on vegetation beside the trail.

The orange line between eye and wing separates septendecim from the other 17-year cicada species.

Shrubs with the cicadas were frequent along the trail.

Though one little area of 3-4 square meters had 25 cicadas, much of the way along the trail had none.

My overall impression was that these cicadas still were short of their peak, and I intend to return. I want to get some idea of how big this population is, how extensively it covers its forest, and whether any of the other 17-year cicada species also will emerge. Without the frequently more numerous Cassin’s 17-year cicadas (M. cassinii) to buffer them from predators, can the septendecim persist? In any case, I was pleased to find that at least one genuine Brood X remnant hangs on in my region. I still have a few more counties to search.

As the county road designation indicates, the park is 4.5 miles north of Rochester. It is closed on Wednesdays and the second Saturday of each month. The cicadas will be done before the end of June.

Tying a Knot on 2020

by Carl Strang

I know of no one who is sad about putting the year 2020 in the rear-view mirror. I have posted my research highlights for the year already, but find some miscellaneous photos remain that will fill out the story. As I detailed in earlier posts, ditch hopping was an important activity through the summer.

Another view of a drainage ditch in Kankakee County

I paid a couple visits to the Chicago Park District’s Big Marsh for the first time this year. Of greater interest to me than the wetlands was an area of sparse vegetation in the eastern part of the park.

When I run across scenes like this I automatically want to check for unusual grasshopper species.

Indeed, I found my third population of pasture grasshoppers (Orphulella speciosa) for the region here, and a second population of Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers (Trachyrhachys kiowa) for Cook County.

A pasture grasshopper at Big Marsh Park
One of the Big Marsh Kiowas

There also was a strikingly marked nymph.

The white spots stand out. I don’t have a species ID.

I made a day trip to the Nachusa Grasslands, west of my study region. The area has a nice variety of singing insects.

One of the few Texas bush katydids (Scudderia texensis) I encountered in 2020. This Nachusa female provided a nice photo of her sharply bending ovipositor.

In my home county of DuPage, West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve provided some highlights.

The prairie cicada (Okanagana balli) population at West Chicago Prairie continues to respond to the Forest Preserve District’s restoration efforts.
These small cicadas are active for only a brief time in the early summer.

Later in the season I made a slogging trudge to a remote corner of West Chicago Prairie, hoping to find rare wetland katydids.

There were no new species, but a separate location for long-tailed meadow katydids (Conocephalus attenuatus), including this male, within the preserve.
This West Chicago Prairie female’s ovipositor, fading out of focus in the dim light that day, illustrates how the species gets its common name.

Finally, I continued both monitoring and restoration efforts at St. James Farm Forest Preserve.

Typocerus velutinus is one of the more common longhorn beetles in DuPage County.
While gathering Joe-Pye weed seeds to spread in our cleared area, I found this mating pair of walking sticks (Diapheromera femorata).

Clearly 2020 had much to offer, after all, and I hope for plenty of new encounters in 2021. Happy New Year to you.

Ditch Hopping: Woodland Meadow Katydids

by Carl Strang

As I started seeking northern mole crickets in rural ditches at night, I realized that ditches and streams are oases of habitat winding through the biodiversity wastelands of corn and soybeans in large portions of the Chicago region. I started checking ditches during the daytime. The biggest hit came early on, when I discovered woodland meadow katydids beside a ditch in southeastern Kendall County, Illinois. I had dismissed expectations in that county for the species, so this was a big surprise.

Woodland meadow katydid (Conocephalus nemoralis)

The ditch seemed an unlikely location for that katydid, which I had found previously only at woodland edges. A single small tree was the only nearby woody plant.

One of the Kendall County locations for woodland meadow katydids

This proved to be a common pattern, however. As I added county after county to the list of those where I have found woodland meadow katydids, sometimes there were woodland edges adjacent to the ditches but sometimes there was little woody vegetation to be found.

Updated site map for woodland meadow katydids

I was frustrated in LaPorte County, Indiana, and Berrien County, Michigan. I later learned that woodland meadow katydids also can inhabit dune edge habitats along Lake Michigan, so I will seek them there in 2021.

Ditch Hopping: Northern Mole Crickets

by Carl Strang

Last year, while driving a rural road at dusk in Newton County, Indiana, I stopped beside a drainage ditch to listen for slightly musical coneheads. Instead I heard a northern mole cricket, and I realized that I needed to turn off the car engine to hear the low-pitched song.

Northern mole cricket specimen (Neocurtilla hexadactyla). This face-on view shows the modified front legs that make this cricket such a good digger.
Recording of northern mole cricket calling song

This turned out to be a lucky observation, as it opened a way for me to conduct my research profitably in this covid19 year. I spent most of the peak singing insect season ditch hopping. I used GoogleEarth and DeLorme map books to identify likely spots where rural roads intersect drainage ditches and streams. Such stops kept me away from concentrations of people.

Typical drainage ditch, Kankakee County

This method gave me a cluster of mole cricket locations on ditches and streams in northeastern Kankakee County, Illinois, all tributaries of the Kankakee River. I also added county records in Pulaski and Fulton Counties, Indiana. Otherwise, the many evenings of searching mainly told me where mole crickets are not, and I have concluded that I will add no more counties in Illinois or Wisconsin.

Map of the Chicago region showing where I have found northern mole crickets (black dots) and identifying counties where there are old records for the species (white dots).

I have satisfied myself that I am not going to find them in Cook County, Illinois, but there still are a few places to check next year in St. Joseph County, Indiana, and Berrien County, Michigan.

Japanese Burrowing Crickets Spreading Rapidly

by Carl Strang

The Japanese burrowing cricket is, as the name suggests, an oriental species that was accidentally introduced to this country at one or more coastal ports. They have spread out from there, and I first encountered them in the Chicago region at Bendix Woods, a St. Joseph County park, in 2014.

Japanese burrowing cricket, Velarifictorus micado

Since then I have found them increasingly at sites throughout the southern portion of the Chicago region.

Counties of the Chicago region, with years when I first observed Japanese burrowing crickets in each.

Fulton County, at the southeast corner of the region, is the most remote from my home, so I don’t go there often. I rather imagine that Japanese burrowing crickets are in the city of Rochester, at least.

Note that I added 7 counties this year. This is in part because they are increasing in the region, and in part because I encountered them frequently while ditch hopping (more on that in later posts). Rural drainage ditches may be major dispersal corridors, along with human-assisted transport in landscape and building materials. The crickets also may fly to expand their range, but this possibility remains speculative.

Japanese burrowing crickets have been ubiquitous and abundant in Indianapolis for years. Last year I found them to be common in Rensselaer, Indiana, one of the southernmost cities of the Chicago region. There is every reason to believe that they will become abundant through most or all of the region over the next decade. They thrive in loose landscaping stone and in lawns, which are not prime habitat for our other members of the field cricket group, so it is possible there will be little effect on our native species.

Here is the most common calling song of the Japanese burrowing cricket:

Perhaps less commonly heard is this alternative:

A New North for Jumping Bush Crickets

by Carl Strang

We are getting into the latter part of the singing insects season, and I have some catching up to do here. This time, just a quick note to update the northward advance of jumping bush crickets. This species has been spreading more rapidly than any others of our native singing insects. The Fox River has been my focus in recent years, as it appears to be a corridor they are following. The next county I expected them to reach was McHenry, and this year for the first time I found a population in the city of Algonquin in southern McHenry County.

Jumping bush cricket

I first heard jumping bush crickets in southern Kane County (immediately south of McHenry) in 2012. They have covered the 30-mile length of that county in 8 years. If they continue at that rate, they will reach the Wisconsin border in 6 years or so.

The red dot indicates the new location in McHenry County.

Their songs remind me of little bells tuned to slightly different pitches, and are loud and easy to hear as the males sing from hidden perches in trees, vines and shrubs. Here is a recording featuring jumping bush crickets:

Editorial: Are There Any Good Cops?

by Carl Strang

This is a nature blog, but from time to time I have felt the need to insert an editorial. This is one of those times. I am an ecologist, trained and practiced in seeing connections among things. The city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is in my study region and I have picked up singing insect county records in its parks. It saddens me to think that Kenosha may come to be thought of with the same negative connotations that saddled Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, in my youth.

The title of this post is deliberately provocative. Frequently I have seen the opinion expressed that bad cops who shoot to kill innocent civilians simply because they are black are a minority, that most cops are good cops. But I feel that at this point in our history we need a redefinition of what constitutes a good cop. Is it enough to be a police officer who does not grab any opportunity to kill a black man? Consider what happens in the wake of the headlines. Police unions close ranks in support of the officers who commit these killings. Seeing this, attorneys general do not press charges. We hear nothing from the supposed “good cops.”

Police officers are human beings. It needs to be acknowledged by all that this means some of them are mean spirited, that some are the manipulative sort who will call upon their “brothers” to support their evil actions. This needs to change. There needs to be a transformation of cop culture so that the ranks recognize and fail to support those few who use the power of their position to do evil. There need to be conversations in police stations, leadership by chiefs, making clear that those who try to use the power of their badge to do wrong will be outcast. Chiefs and veteran officers need to make clear to attorneys general that they need to do their jobs, and the good cops will support them.

It is fair to ask how I, an old white guy, have acted with respect to this issue. From the early times when wrongful killings of black men and women by white cops came into the news, I have imagined myself in the position of a black man and realized how this can make them fearful. I have felt profound respect for the patriotism and restraint of African American culture, given the history of slavery, lynchings, segregation and racism. My response has been on the personal level, smiling, waving, and greeting those I meet with a special emphasis on those of other races. I recognize that I am a symbol, and I try to create a positive, supportive moment of encounter to counterbalance the frowns and rejections.

It extends beyond race. I am a runner, and I love the girl runners. I love the way women have embraced my sport, and I am happy when I encounter a woman on the trails. As always, I wave and smile. Often the greeting is pointedly ignored. I understand this and admire the courage of a woman who goes out alone for a run, knowing how women runners have been sexually assaulted and killed by evil men. I recognize the fear and am saddened by it.

I suppose my behavior could be labeled racist or sexist. Yes, I recognize the race, gender, and age of every person I meet. Over the years I have learned through experience that differences of gender and race have little meaning for me, however. Each individual is worthy, and differences of race, gender, sexuality and so forth are insignificant compared to the uniqueness of each person. It is our behavior and regard of one another, not abstractions or stereotypes of race, gender, etc., that matter.

What about demonstrations? The motivation to express opposition to these wrongful killings is understandable, but they have a counterproductive component. Some express their outrage through violence. Even if only a few behave in this way, it supports the notion that the demonstrations are against the police as a whole, setting up an us-versus-them framework so that police sometimes respond in force, feeling unified in supporting one another and justified in using violence even against the peaceful protesters.

The opponent here is not the police, but something more abstract: a cultural tradition of tribal identity, loyalty and brotherhood. Those are strong bonds, but they must be made apparent as weaknesses being exploited by wrongdoers. They must be revealed as secondary to the reason we have police in the first place: to serve and protect. Serve. Protect. Serve and protect the public first, and fellow police officers second when the two come into conflict.

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