Melodious Ground Cricket

by Carl Strang

On Saturday I returned to the Indiana Dunes area. My first stop was the State Park, where I hoped to confirm my suspicion that the abundant trilling coming from the leaf litter in the forest south of the shrub swamp would prove to be the songs of melodious ground crickets. It was a cool morning, which didn’t deter the forest’s Carolina ground crickets, but kept the confused ground crickets quiet. As the morning warmed degree by degree, I heard more and more of the mystery songs.

This is a wet woodland, with scattered plants, a lot of rotting logs, and much of the ground covered by varying thicknesses of leaf litter from the shading trees.

Frequent pairs of large yellow slugs, apparently reproducing, indicated how damp the environment was.

My permit allowed me to pursue the singing crickets. I stalked to the spot where a song was being produced, and slowly moved, ultimately on my knees and shifting my head position, until I had a good idea of exactly where the song was coming from. Most of the time this was leaf litter piled against a rotting log. Then I variously lifted leaves one by one, grabbed a big double handful of leaves and tossed it onto a white t-shirt, or otherwise attempted to expose the singer. More than a dozen such efforts produced two sightings of tiny black ground crickets. Both were quick to jump impressive distances. One got away after giving me only a glimpse, but the other had the misfortune to bounce off a log, giving me a chance to catch him in my hands. I put him into a jar, and later transferred him to a cage and took him home. I needed to confirm that this cricket belonged to the mystery species rather than being a Carolina ground cricket (it wasn’t a confused, lacking the snow-white palps of that species).

The cage set up at home. I provided food, and kept the bottom of the cage moist.

The cricket took a while to get settled, but then in the quiet of the evening began to produce the beautiful high-pitched trill I was hoping to hear. Indeed his identity as a melodious ground cricket is all but confirmed.

Here he is, in appearance practically identical to the Carolina ground cricket and a few other common species.

At some point I will need to check a final point under the microscope, but for now I am happy to keep him alive, protect him from parasitoids, and enjoy his nightly concerts.

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