And a Child Shall Lead

by Carl Strang

One of the great benefits of teaching is that the instructor learns as much or more than the students. Yesterday I mentioned my “Wild Things” presentation on Saturday in which I shared some information on singing insects with 80 or so members of my audience. Among them were two little girls, and they, along with the questions and comments I received during my presentation, led to a brainstorm afterwards that I still am working out, but would like to share here.

One of the challenges of working with singing insects is that no one has fully worked out yet how to conduct an organized monitoring program that covers all species. The biggest single difficulty is that different people hear the insects differently. Age is a major factor. Many singing insects have very high-pitched songs, and as we age we lose the capacity to hear those high frequencies. When I have taken people into the field to listen to singing insects, we often are hearing different things, and I haven’t figured out how to get around this problem.

The short-winged meadow katydid probably is our most abundant katydid. Their songs are loud, but I cannot hear them because I have lost the ability to hear the high-pitched sound frequencies they produce.

The model that has been developed for monitoring is that individuals are trained to recognize the members of a species group, whether it be dragonflies, butterflies, frogs (by song) or breeding birds (mainly by song). The monitors then go out to an assigned area and record the species they observe.

Perhaps the way to deal with the special challenge of singing insects is to have monitoring done not by individuals but by teams, and each team must include at least one interested child.

Of course, a younger adult still able to hear all the singing insects, unaided or with a device such as the SongFinder, could do solo monitoring.

I especially like the idea that the child would be an essential and necessary team member, doing something that big grownups cannot do, making an important contribution. The adults, less distracted by the songs they cannot hear, could focus on the singers in their hearing range. That is as far as I have taken the idea so far, but I am hoping to develop it enough to explore further.

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