Gadget 2

by Carl Strang

In an earlier post I wrote about how the soprano recorder, a musical instrument, has been helpful in my singing insects research. This summer I acquired another gadget and began exploring its potential.

SongFinder b

This is the SongFinder. Microphones on each earpiece take in sounds, the electronic box alters them by reducing their pitch, and sends the results back to the earpieces. You can slow sound frequencies by one-half, one-third or one-fourth. You also can set threshold sound frequencies below which the device does no alteration. At several hundred dollars, this is not an impulse buy. I waited a couple years until I had made a good start on the insect songs I could hear unaided. But now I am at the point where I want to begin surveying additional species, mainly small meadow katydids in the genus Conocephalus, whose songs are too high-pitched for me to hear without help.

Short-winged meadow katydid 2b

This is a short-winged meadow katydid. I never had heard its song until I used the SongFinder. The song has the typical meadow katydid tick-and-buzz pattern. In this case the song is very brief, lasting one to two seconds depending on temperature. The songs repeat continuously with no gap between them. The buzz has an exceptionally rattling quality, and the 2-3 ticks are very fast. At Mayslake Forest Preserve on a recent day I heard dozens of short-winged meadow katydids whose songs vanished from my hearing when I turned off the SongFinder. Thanks to the stereo design, I found I can locate the direction from which an altered sound is coming and trace it to the singer.

I have done my best to protect my hearing. I avoid louder music concerts, and use ear plugs when necessary, for instance in 2007 when, at their peak, periodical cicadas at mid-day were chorusing so loudly that my ears hurt without protection. Even with these precautions, age gradually has eroded the upper range of pitches I can hear. The SongFinder was created for birders and other natural history enthusiasts for whom sounds are an essential part of our aesthetic.

Slender meadow katydid female b

As I continue to make use of this device in future years I look forward to hearing additional species, such as the slender meadow katydid (though not the individual in the picture, which is a female).


  1. Gary said,

    October 16, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Does it work on sounds like bat echo-location calls too?

    • natureinquiries said,

      October 17, 2009 at 5:58 am

      Hi, Gary,
      I haven’t tried that yet, nor does the manufacturer mention it. I will want to try that out, though I’m not optimistic. The Wikipedia entry on bat detectors says that the ones using this kind of technology divide frequencies by 10, compared to the SongFinder’s maximum of 4. This implies that the Songfinder won’t lower bat cry pitches enough for us to hear them.

  2. July 13, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    […] a typical loss of hearing, particularly in the high frequency range. When I tried out the SongFinder device  on Roesel’s, I found that indeed their songs are quite loud, and I was grateful again for the […]

  3. August 24, 2010 at 6:10 am

    […] the many other louder species around them. Thanks to the SongFinder I have found two of these, the short-winged meadow katydid and the slender meadow katydid. Last week I employed another technique in this search: the sweep […]

  4. August 25, 2010 at 6:40 am

    […] continuous trill, which fates it to blend with all the other insect songs even with the aid of the SongFinder. The short-winged and slender meadow katydid songs are easier to pick out because the trills are […]

  5. September 13, 2010 at 6:03 am

    […] reference, but otherwise she is unidentified, for now. As I headed back out that trail I put on the SongFinder. When black-legs are around, their songs can overwhelm the hearing, and the SongFinder’s filters […]

  6. October 14, 2010 at 6:13 am

    […] frequently put on the SongFinder to see if I could locate woodland meadow katydids in or near the woods edges. There were none. […]

  7. August 30, 2011 at 5:55 am

    […] first I heard mainly Say’s trigs, but it seemed there was something else. I got out the SongFinder, and its frequency-lowering function allowed me to identify a second, fainter, more rapid trill. […]

  8. November 21, 2011 at 7:49 am

    […] standing water,” and especially associated with grasses. The song is high pitched; I may need the SongFinder to hear it. Some sing during the day, but most singing is done from dusk into the night. Sometimes […]

  9. September 19, 2012 at 6:07 am

    […] Children and young adults can hear these, I have found. A simple, if expensive, work-around is the SongFinder […]

  10. August 25, 2014 at 5:47 am

    […] 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 […]

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