Return to Berrien

by Carl Strang

Earlier this season I scouted some new sites in Berrien County, Michigan, and on Sunday I returned to see what singing insects I could find in the early portion of the peak season. A first quick stop at Mud Lake Bog produced a hoped-for population of sphagnum ground crickets, and I was reminded how utterly teeny tiny they are.

Most of the day, and a return trip in the evening, went into a place in the eastern part of the county called Chikaming Township Park. If this were Illinois, I wouldn’t expect much from a park district administered at the township level, but this is a good and well maintained site, and it yielded a pile of county records for my study. One of these was provided by a female curve-tailed bush katydid that flew to a landing right in front of me on one of the trails.

The dark-tipped green ovipositor with this shape and proportions, along with the katydid’s overall size and the habitat, permitted the identification.

The dark-tipped green ovipositor with this shape and proportions, along with the katydid’s overall size and the habitat, permitted the identification.

After release, she hung around long enough to let me take a single usable, if not absolutely sharp, photo.

After release, she hung around long enough to let me take a single usable, if not absolutely sharp, photo.

Perhaps the most bizarre observation came as a result of the day’s odd weather. I drove through intermittent rain to get to Berrien County, and waited out the last shower before going out onto the Mud Lake Bog boardwalk. Dark clouds remained until mid-afternoon, but they slowly drifted east and the sun was revealed at 4:00 local (eastern) time. Almost immediately, Chikaming’s swamp cicadas began to sing. These generally are limited to mornings, but here they were going in the late afternoon. This site proved to have the largest concentration I have encountered to date. At one point I wandered into a song battle taking place among a trio of males in a meadow with scattered tree saplings. One allowed a close approach.

None of our other cicadas matches the swamp cicada’s heavy black coloration.

None of our other cicadas matches the swamp cicada’s heavy black coloration.

Later in the evening I was able to pick up some additional species.

Among them was this Forbes’s tree cricket.

Among them was this Forbes’s tree cricket.

The highlight of the day, though, came at another site, Galien River County Park. I had set a goal for this season of listening for spotted ground crickets, which historically have been documented in several Chicago region counties, but which I had not noted to date. Described as a forest species, the spotted ground cricket’s song to my ear is similar to that of a common and widespread species, the Carolina ground cricket. I realized that while some of the forest crickets at Galien River indeed were Carolina ground crickets, others sounded a little different. I made recordings, and listened carefully, and was pleased to conclude that spotted ground crickets were there as well.

An example of a spotted ground cricket location.

An example of a spotted ground cricket location.

The songs have a similar tonal quality and pitch range to my ear. Where the Carolina ground cricket’s song is a steady purr with intervals of added overtones, the spotted ground cricket’s song is composed of regular pulses (about 4 per second), has no overtones, and lacks the continuous steady sound.

 

A Night Excursion to Kankakee Sands

by Carl Strang

Kankakee Sands is a Nature Conservancy site in Newton County, Indiana. Except for the early-season bioblitz there a few years ago, my visits have been in the daytime. Last week I made a nighttime trip to Kankakee Sands. This netted several new species observations for the county as well as the site, the best of which was a grasshopper I had not encountered before.

The handsome grasshopper is well named. A spindly little guy, he was rather jumpy after I caught him in the grasses and released him on the gravel parking lot.

The handsome grasshopper is well named. A spindly little guy, he was rather jumpy after I caught him in the grasses and released him on the gravel parking lot.

All of that was incidental to my main goal, however, which was to continue my collaboration with Gideon Ney of the University of Missouri. Gideon’s lab, led by Johannes Schul, is working out the evolutionary history and relationships of the conehead katydids, genus Neoconocephalus. Two of them, the robust conehead and the false robust conehead, are sibling species reliably separated mainly by differences in their songs.

Robust conehead…or is it?

Robust conehead…or is it?

I stopped at several locations, recording singing males and then trying to catch them. I need practice. They were quick to stop singing as I approached. Ultimately I was able to accumulate 12 recordings, catching the males producing 6 of them.

Here they are, ready to be packed for overnight shipping along with the recordings.

Here they are, ready to be packed for overnight shipping along with the recordings.

A couple of the songs seemed different to my ear, so I am hopeful that the effort will result in a mix of the two species, and an education on what to look for in sonographs of the recordings so I don’t have to capture them in the other counties of my survey region.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

by Carl Strang

One day last week I drove down to southern Cook County for singing insect survey work. I quickly found confused ground crickets for a county record in the Palos area, then proceeded to the Gensburg-Markham Prairie, which proved so fruitful that it occupied the rest of the afternoon. The dominant sound in that high-quality nature preserve was the buzzing of common meadow katydids.

The name is deceptive. This is one of the few places I have found to date where Orchelimum vulgare indeed is abundant.

The name is deceptive. This is one of the few places I have found to date where Orchelimum vulgare indeed is abundant.

There were other dry-habitat species present as well. I was able to add county records for woodland meadow katydid (my northernmost to date) and for straight-lanced meadow katydid.

This straight-lanced female was content to explore my finger and pose.

This straight-lanced female was content to explore my finger and pose.

The richest portion of the site’s singing insect fauna was the subfamily of stridulating slant-faced grasshoppers. I took lots of photos, thinking I had found the mother lode of species. When I examined them closely, however, the diversity turned out to be mainly within species, and I concluded that most of them in fact were marsh meadow grasshoppers.

Here is a classic adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

Here is a classic adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

But then there were a number of these. After much study I had to conclude that this, too, was an adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

But then there were a number of these. After much study I had to conclude that this, too, was an adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

Ditto for this one.

Ditto for this one.

Even more color variation was provided by nymphs. Again, I think they were marsh meadow grasshoppers.

This one in particular was strikingly colored.

This one in particular was strikingly colored.

And this individual seems aimed toward the pattern of the third adult above.

And this individual seems aimed toward the pattern of the third adult above.

These were my first of the species in Cook County, so they were a happy find. Two other grasshoppers also were my first for the county.

Wetter areas had plenty of short-winged green grasshoppers like this female.

Wetter areas had plenty of short-winged green grasshoppers like this female.

Prize of the day was this critter, the first spotted-wing grasshopper I have seen anywhere.

Prize of the day was this critter, the first spotted-wing grasshopper I have seen anywhere.

She wasn’t giving me good angles for photography, but fortunately I got a clear shot of the dorsal pronotum.

She wasn’t giving me good angles for photography, but fortunately I got a clear shot of the dorsal pronotum.

The inward-curving margins and their posterior big black triangles point to the two local species of Orphulella. There are two cuts in the dorsal surface, which point to O. pelidna rather than its close relative the pasture grasshopper O. speciosa.

This prairie is one I intend to visit in all portions of the singing insect season.

Return to Cicadas

by Carl Strang

On Monday I returned to the area where I searched for northernmost lyric cicadas, as described two posts ago. I had thought I heard a swamp cicada at Penny Road Pond, and wanted to listen again to confirm it.

Swamp cicada

Swamp cicada

This time two were singing, and there was no doubt I was hearing swamp cicadas’ percussive vibrato. The observation represented a shift well to the north of my previous northernmost location for the species.

The red star indicates the previous location at West Branch Forest Preserve in DuPage County. Penny Road Pond is marked by the yellow star. The two places are around 12 miles apart.

The red star indicates the previous location at West Branch Forest Preserve in DuPage County. Penny Road Pond is marked by the yellow star. The two places are around 12 miles apart.

I don’t know of any place in my 22-county survey region that has abundant swamp cicadas. As the map shows, I haven’t documented them in many counties. In large part that is because they sing only in the morning, and I have done most survey work in the afternoons and evenings when the majority of singing insects are displaying. On the other hand, I went for many long morning bicycle rides in Starke and Marshall Counties, Indiana, and heard only widely scattered individuals. Such a thin spread prevents me from being confident about finding the swamp cicada’s range boundary in the Chicago region.

Back to Monday of this week. I wanted to employ the bicycle as a tool again, this time to see if I could extend the lyric cicada’s northernmost point beyond last week’s record. I started from Trout Park, where I had heard that individual, and dropped down onto a bike trail that took me north along the Fox River. After going 6 miles without hearing a lyric cicada I turned around and headed back. Shortly after making that turn I heard a single lyric cicada, though, giving me a new north point 5 miles beyond the one reported earlier. That was it, however, as I heard no more on the return ride.

Revised lyric cicada map. The new location brings that species’ known range within 2 miles of the McHenry County border.

Revised lyric cicada map. The new location brings that species’ known range within 2 miles of the McHenry County border.

That is as much as I will do this year to determine the possible northward expansion of these two cicadas. I will be interested in pursuing this study in the future, mindful that the thin scatter of both species will lend some uncertainty to the results.

Recent Photos

by Carl Strang

Time to bring out a backlog of photos from the first half of August. First, a couple bumble bees from my last day on the job at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

This Bombus auricomus was huge, practically dwarfing the carpenter bees working nearby. She must have been a new queen, stocking up for her long winter wait.

This Bombus auricomus was huge, practically dwarfing the carpenter bees working nearby. She must have been a new queen, stocking up for her long winter wait.

Nearby, this yellow bumble bee Bombus fervidus also worked the wild bergamot.

Nearby, this yellow bumble bee Bombus fervidus also worked the wild bergamot.

The remaining photos are from a few days’ bouncing around in singing insect surveys.

This oblong-winged katydid peeked out through a hole in the vegetation in the late dusk at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

This oblong-winged katydid peeked out through a hole in the vegetation in the late dusk at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

This mottled sand grasshopper at Kankakee Sands was my first for Newton County, Indiana.

This mottled sand grasshopper at Kankakee Sands was my first for Newton County, Indiana.

Female Carolina ground crickets are distinctive with their short ovipositors. This one posed at Subat Forest Preserve, Kendall County.

Female Carolina ground crickets are distinctive with their short ovipositors. This one posed at Subat Forest Preserve, Kendall County.

New North for Lyric Cicadas

by Carl Strang

Last week I took a morning to see if I could extend the northernmost known locations for the lyric cicada. Its song is easy to recognize, but at the north edge of the range they are few, and finding them takes time.

Lyric cicada

Lyric cicada

Last year the northernmost ones in Cook and Kane County were at the Carl R. Hansen Woods and Tekakwitha Woods Forest Preserves, respectively. This year I found them several miles farther north in each county. In Cook County the new north was at the entrance to the Crabtree Nature Center, 6 miles beyond the previous record and now only 5 miles south of the Lake County border.

Chicago region range map for the lyric cicada. Black dots indicate counties where the species occurs. Red stars indicate northernmost locations known through 2014. Yellow stars indicate northernmost locations found in 2015.

Chicago region range map for the lyric cicada. Black dots indicate counties where the species occurs. Red stars indicate northernmost locations known through 2014. Yellow stars indicate northernmost locations found in 2015.

In Kane County, the new location was in Trout Park, at the north edge of Elgin. This represents a northward shift of 11 miles. Did the cicadas jump so far in just one year? That seems unlikely; I simply may not have looked in the right places in the past. I will continue to follow this each year, as I am doing for species such as the jumping bush cricket and broad-winged tree cricket, and in time should be able to get a sense of how rapidly the range expansion is occurring.

And That’s a Wrap

by Carl Strang

Yesterday was my last day as a working man. I retired after a 34+ year career with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, which followed 5 years as a biology professor, which followed the Ph.D. graduate fellowship. I have been employed ever since I began a part-time job in my mid-teens, except for a summer break after my junior year in high school for a National Science Foundation study program at Purdue. The District allowed several roles, for instance:

As Fun Gus…

As Fun Gus…

As Helmut Frankenstein, president of the University of Notre Dead…

As Helmut Frankenstein, president of the University of Notre Dead…

As Aldo Leopold…

As Aldo Leopold…

And as a presenter at conferences and workshops.

And as a presenter at conferences and workshops.

It has been my honor to work with thousands of kids, teachers, and others over the years. It’s been enjoyable, and I’m satisfied with my contribution as an educator, but now it’s time to step aside and make room for new talents and ideas. The next couple months will be filled mainly with field research on singing insects, and after that there will be more than enough worthwhile activities to fill my time. Stay tuned.

Bush Cicadas

by Carl Strang

Illinois has lost nearly all the remnants of its original prairie. Thanks to the efforts of conservation agencies and private organizations you can find prairies to enjoy, but these are restoration projects for the most part. Restored prairies are nice gardens, but they lack a significant portion of the animal life. It’s a mistake to assume that “if you build it they will come.” Too many obligate prairie insects and other animals are not good dispersers. The highest priority has to be preserving the remnants, when there is a choice between devoting resources to that or to developing restorations.

A case in point is the prairie cicada, which I have featured here in the past. Another is the bush cicada. I made a trip south of the Chicago region last week to get some experience with that species, so I would know what to listen and look for in my 22-county survey area. A 2-hour drive took me to the southern fringe of Iroquois County, to the Loda Prairie State Nature Preserve.

This remnant is only 12 acres, but its quality is excellent.

This remnant is only 12 acres, but its quality is excellent.

The term “charismatic fauna” is over-used. The bush cicada is the first Illinois insect I have encountered to which I would apply that term.

For one thing, they are big and colorful.

For one thing, they are big and colorful.

They also are noisy like the other species in genus Neotibicen (formerly Tibicen, the change justified in a paper just out this year from the UConn cicada group plus an Australian researcher). I was pleased to find bush cicadas are fully as audible as our familiar Neotibicen species.

Linne’s cicada, for instance.

Linne’s cicada, for instance.

The song is like a slowed lyric cicada song, the pulse rate closer to that of Linne’s but with sharp, separate pulses. The singing was in bouts, with sometimes 10 minutes of silence between, so that the males seemed to cue their singing off of one another. They also were very active, many of the males flying to a new perch after every song. Though their flight generally was well controlled, once one bounced off the side of my head.

A male bush cicada in full song.

A male bush cicada in full song.

In the following days I sought them in several Chicago region counties, without success. The silence of those prairie remnants, some suffering from invasion by gray dogwood and other problem plants, was a sad contrast to Loda Prairie. In fairness, though, the bush cicada is primarily a southern and western species that may never have reached into the Chicago region. That won’t keep me from continuing to seek it here, though.

Haunted Mansion

by Carl Strang

Mayslake Hall provided a surprise for us last week, a consequence of the south courtyard’s external walls being the target of an upcoming restoration.

The deteriorating surface is protected by a double layer of tarps.

The deteriorating surface is protected by a double layer of tarps.

A visitor on one of the mansion tours noticed something when peeking into a closet whose window is behind the tarps.

What is making this odd shadow?

What is making this odd shadow?

Here is one isolated. Bats!

Here is one isolated. Bats!

They were very active, crawling around, grooming, even eating the odd fly that landed within reach. The opportunity to watch this entertaining shadow show drew me back several times. On one occasion, a bat crawled around to the surface facing the window.

These little critters taught us that bats do not just hang and sleep during the day.

These little critters taught us that bats do not just hang and sleep during the day.

They probably are all big browns. This part of the restoration will need to be delayed, as this is a maternal colony and the babies need to fledge (if that’s the word for bats) before the tarps can be removed.

July Flowering Phenology

by Carl Strang

July was the last month in which I collected phenology data from Mayslake Forest Preserve. The results provided a satisfactory conclusion.

Many of Mayslake’s prairie plants first open their flowers in July.

Many of Mayslake’s prairie plants first open their flowers in July.

First flower dates become less different among years as the summer progresses, and that was true this year as well. The median difference from 2014 was 0 days for 47 species, an insignificant 2 days earlier than in 2013 for 31 species and the same vs. 2011 for 37 species, 1 day later than in 2010 for 37 species, and a slightly larger 5 days earlier for 35 species in comparison to 2009. The odd early year of 2012 continued to be the outlier, but even that difference was down to 10.5 days for 38 species.

Michigan lily provides one of the preserve’s more extravagant floral displays.

Michigan lily provides one of the preserve’s more extravagant floral displays.

All those medians were smaller than those for June, except the one for 2013, which was the same.

 

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