Sound Ideas: Gray Ground Cricket

by Carl Strang

In the vegetation that grows just behind the beaches around the western Great Lakes you may hear a very rapid, high-pitched trilling sound, as in this recording I made at Whitefish Point (on the north side of the tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) on September 16, 2009:

The area where the previous recording was made.

The area where the previous recording was made.

This interrupted trill is identical to the reference recording for the gray ground cricket on the Singing Insects of North America website. Indeed, this species is expected in open, sandy soil habitats. The only other ground cricket song I have heard that is close to this is that of the sphagnum ground cricket, which is restricted to sphagnum bogs and could not survive on sand. Allard’s ground cricket, when it occurs with the gray ground cricket, has a distinctly slower song.

The challenge for me with this species has been two-fold. First, I have never seen one. Second, I am pretty sure they occur inland as well. Here is a recording from Braidwood Dunes, a Will County Forest Preserve, September 7, 2011:

At the time I noted that there were pauses, but enough crickets were singing simultaneously that these are difficult to pick out in the recording. I have heard, and sometimes recorded, this same song in other inland locations in Kendall, Marshall and Fulton Counties. Sometimes the pauses are infrequent or nearly absent, but the songs all have a peak frequency of 8-8.5 kHz, and share similar patterns of amplitude irregularity in their sonographs. I am not aware of any other cricket that could occur in dry soils with a song like this. Furthermore, there are some mentions of inland gray ground crickets in the literature, and some authors refer to the trill as continuous. So, mainly by process of elimination I have decided to refer to all these crickets as gray ground crickets for now, but with a higher priority of catching one, particularly at one of the inland sites, for confirmation.

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Literature Review: Some Finer Points of Species Interactions

by Carl Strang

This week’s literature focus is on three papers that looked at complex interactions among species.

Ben-Ari M, Inbar M (2013) When Herbivores Eat Predators: Predatory Insects Effectively Avoid Incidental Ingestion by Mammalian Herbivores. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56748. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056748 They found that lady beetle adults and larvae of three species responded to the humidity and warmth of mammalian breath by dropping to the ground beneath their aphid plants. The adults dropped instead of flying.

A colony of aphids occupies a goldenrod top. If a deer were to munch that top the aphids would add some protein, but ladybugs preying on the colony might get away.

A colony of aphids occupies a goldenrod top. If a deer were to munch that top the aphids would add some protein, but ladybugs preying on the colony might get away.

Mouillot D, Bellwood DR, Baraloto C, Chave J, Galzin R, et al. (2013) Rare Species Support Vulnerable Functions in High-Diversity Ecosystems. PLoS Biol 11(5): e1001569. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001569 They looked at tropical fish, alpine plants and tropical trees, considering rarity vs. ecosystem function. Rare species often fill ecological roles that are not covered by common species, and so their loss could cause significant ecological damage.

Dunne JA, Lafferty KD, Dobson AP, Hechinger RF, Kuris AM, et al. (2013) Parasites Affect Food Web Structure Primarily through Increased Diversity and Complexity. PLoS Biol 11(6): e1001579. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001579 They compared food web structure with and without parasites, and found that for the most part the parasites’ influence was an increase in community diversity and complexity rather than adding new features to web structure. The exceptions were the incidental consumption of parasites with their hosts by predators, and the odd connections that result when some parasites have more than one host during their life cycle.

Sound Ideas: How the Does Saved the Day

by Carl Strang

Back before this blog, my main creative hobby was writing little songs, which I collected into recordings that I distributed as my Christmas cards each year. Only one song with a Christmas theme came out of that effort.

Caribou, North America’s version of the reindeer

Caribou, North America’s version of the reindeer

It was not one of my best, but the song had a smidgen of biology in it, so I feel I can share it here, in this week.

How the Does Saved the Day (by Carl Strang, copyright ©2006)

It was easy in the old days, when children were so few: a simple sled pulled by one reindeer, Santa could make do.

But as the children multiplied, the sled became a sleigh, and more and more deer needed, so much his bag did weigh.

And then when eight were not enough, “More speed!” was Santa’s cry. So with a genius miracle he taught those eight to fly.

He tinkered and adjusted, Santa was his own pit crew. But even magic has its limits, what could Santa do?

Now, Santa, think outside the box. Don’t need technology. The answer that you need, you’ll find in deer biology.

The word’s gone ‘round in deer land that Santa’s bucks can fly. A would-be groupie doe is looking wistful to the sky.

That doe has found a child’s house. She hopes the bucks stop here. It may be Christmas time for us, but it’s the rut for deer.

And now those sleigh bells fill the air, and Santa wonders why his deer are pulling harder now. They plummet from the sky.

And Santa looks below and sees beside the house, a doe. And in an instant understands, and shouts his “Ho ho ho!”

So, Santa, think outside the box. Don’t need technology. The answer that you need, you’ll find in deer biology.

So now they fly from house to house. The doe flies in the lead. She got her pinch of magic dust. The sled zooms at top speed.

And one by one, another seven does achieve their dream. And far from being groupies, they’re essential to the team.

The fastest deer are happy deer. They’re done in record time. And Santa’s very pleased with this new pulling paradigm.

His deer food budget’s doubled, to which he says, “Ho-kay!” His thoughts turn to more harnesses and a much larger sleigh.

So, Santa, think outside the box. Don’t need technology. The answer that you need, you’ll find in deer biology.

And so, we leave a happy scene of reindeer munching hay. They’re eying one another in the games real reindeer play.

And Baby Makes Three

by Carl Strang

Our recent snowfalls have been a boon, making it easier to read certain of the landscape’s stories. Last week at Mayslake Forest Preserve I saw this:

Three coyotes covered a large part of the preserve, moving in parallel.

Three coyotes covered a large part of the preserve, moving in parallel.

Sometimes they were close together, sometimes they spread out, sometimes one walked in another’s footprints, but it was clear they were a trio on a coordinated hunt. Last winter there never were more than two, and last summer their den clearly was in use much of the season. All of this points to a successful reproduction in 2013 with at least one pup surviving, and the parents are keeping it with them for the winter.

Mayslake’s coyotes have looked healthy and strong on the rare occasions when I have seen one (that infrequency itself a sign of their competence). If they were weak, they would not be able to afford to apprentice a youngster in this way. Doing so, they enhance their own fitness (in the genetic sense) by improving the likelihood that this offspring will survive its challenging first winter.

A different point came from an observation following our first significant snow, back in November. I noticed something in coyote tracks on the ice of Mayslake’s parking lot marsh.

The coyotes were trotting, as they usually do, but they were sticking to the straight trot rather than the diagonal trot.

The coyotes were trotting, as they usually do, but they were sticking to the straight trot rather than the diagonal trot.

I have noticed the straight trot in new snow before, and now I am wondering if it is an adjustment to an uncertain, potentially slippery surface. (For a primer on the trot gait, go to this earlier post). Certainly cottontails make an adjustment to such conditions, as I also have explained. Now I am wondering, in general, how often and in what conditions coyotes use the diagonal and straight versions of the trot.

Literature Review: Carefully Assessing Hazards

by Carl Strang

The Internet is a tremendous resource, providing ready access to all kinds of information. It also has become the foundation for significant social networking. Those two benefits have their dark side, however, as rumors and half-baked ideas spread readily and take on a semblance of fact. These might be amusing, except that they can take a nasty political turn, as in the attack on the American president’s legitimate citizenship, or unsupported fears regarding vaccines or genetically modified crop plants. Concerns about the measured declines in pollinator insects have drawn a lot of attention, and a wide range of hypotheses. This is good, as science works from hypotheses. The next step is to test these, but as is the case for the speculations listed above, lots of people want to jump directly from possibility to voting decisions or legislation without waiting for the results to come in. This week’s selected study from the 2013 scientific literature is an example of how possibilities need to be tested and sorted out. The results are not simple and straightforward the way Internet fear- and rumor-mongers would have it. The study focused on certain insecticides, white clover and our most common species of bumble bee.

Bombus impatiens worker. This is practically the only species of bumble bee we see in the Chicago area from August on.

Bombus impatiens worker. This is practically the only species of bumble bee we see in the Chicago area from August on.

White clover flower. This introduced legume has flowers strongly attractive to bees.

White clover flower. This introduced legume has flowers strongly attractive to bees.

Larson JL, Redmond CT, Potter DA (2013) Assessing Insecticide Hazard to Bumble Bees Foraging on Flowering Weeds in Treated Lawns. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66375. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066375

They looked at Bombus impatiens colony responses to lawns with white clover that were treated with two different lawn insecticides. Neither insecticide affected the bees if flowers present at spraying time were mowed from the plants. One of the insecticides (chlorantraniliprole) did not affect the bees, the other (chlothianidin, a neonicotinoid) affected bees that visited flowers that had been sprayed. New flowers opening after spray application did not affect bees.

Ecological interactions are complex. Biochemistry is complex. We humans have developed tools that help us deal with such complexity. Reason and intuition are two such tools, but when addressing real world problems involving physical entities or processes the formalized use of reason (i.e., science) is needed if we are to have clear and unambiguous answers. The fear-mongers manipulate peoples’ intuition to shape statements that sound right, but without the tedious sorting out of hypotheses through scientific studies such fearsome forecasts have to be regarded as nothing more than possibilities.

Green-winged Cicada Update

by Carl Strang

I have made a correction to yesterday’s post on green-winged cicadas. I always check my posts when I get to work, to make sure nothing is lost in the translation to another computer. In the process of checking links, I went to the Cassin’s 17-year cicada portion of the Michigan cicada website. There I saw something I hadn’t noticed before, mention of “Court II” and “Court III” signals. The Court III signal is produced by a male cicada as he connects with a female for mating.

Cassin’s 17-year cicadas, mating pair

Cassin’s 17-year cicadas, mating pair

When I played the Court III signal recording, it proved to be what I had attributed to green-winged cicadas in 2007. That both corrected my impression of Diceroprocta in DuPage County, and removed any confusion about my observations in 2013.

Sound Ideas: Green-winged Cicadas

by Carl Strang

One of the singing insects I have been seeking for several years in the Chicago area is the green-winged cicada (Diceroprocta vitripennis). Some references have suggested that this is an early-season species, and I thought I heard them in June of 2007 (the brief regular buzzes in the following recording, with Cassin’s 17-year cicadas in the background):

Those sounds were very similar to the cooler-temperature recording of Diceroprocta at the University of Michigan’s cicada website, though a little slower (the temperature was about 10 degrees cooler). The problem was that the periodical cicadas were in their peak year and season at the same time, and the identification was ambiguous because I couldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that these were Cassin’s 17-year cicadas warming up. Returns in subsequent years to places where I heard those sounds failed to turn up a repeat performance. Now I find that those actually were “Court III” signals of the Cassin’s cicadas, produced by the male as he connects with a female for mating.

During my survey work this past field season, I finally heard green-winged cicada songs on July 29, first at Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area, then at Jasper-Pulaski, both in Indiana (a scissor-grinder cicada song is in the background at the start):

Oak woodlands on sandy soils, including this one at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, are where I heard this song.

Oak woodlands on sandy soils, including this one at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, are where I heard this song.

These were a match for the warmer-temperature song at the University of Michigan website (the temperature was cooler for my recording, but the insect may have had a warm perch in the sun; I didn’t see it). That day was the extent of my experience with this species, though, so more observations are needed to get a better handle on the abundance, distribution and habitat of green-winged cicadas in the Chicago region.

A Tiny Dam

by Carl Strang

Back in April, a series of heavy rains resulted in some unusual flooding in DuPage County.

Water poured across the trail at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

Water poured across the trail at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

The swift waters had a scouring effect, and small streams county wide that previously had silt bottoms now were gravel bedded.

The stream at Mayslake was one example.

The stream at Mayslake was one example.

Now, more than 7 months later, the gravel continues to dominate wherever the water has continued to flow with any strength. It doesn’t take much to alter this, however. On a recent exploration of the lower part of Mayslake’s stream I found an elongate pool backed by a tiny dam.

The dam was formed by tree roots which captured a few sticks, with gaps filled by drifting leaves and other debris.

The dam was formed by tree roots which captured a few sticks, with gaps filled by drifting leaves and other debris.

Immediately below the dam, and above the pool, the stream remains gravel floored. In the pool, however, the gravel has become obscured by silt and organic detritus. This diversifies the ecology of the stream, as different invertebrates favor different substrates.

The pool above the dam

The pool above the dam

Little lessons in ecology, geology and change are always out there for us to discover and appreciate.

Literature Review: Hickory Evolution

by Carl Strang

The scientific papers that attract my attention are often ones that fill in pieces of life’s long history on Earth. What is happening today is plenty interesting, of course, but the present moment occupies only the tiniest fraction of billions of years of interesting stuff. One aspect of that story is the similarity of plants between Asia and North America. A study from earlier this year focused on hickories (trees in genus Carya), which occur in both places. The authors state their results well in their abstract, from which I’ll quote.

A shagbark hickory bud opening in spring

A shagbark hickory bud opening in spring

Zhang J-B, Li R-Q, Xiang X-G, Manchester SR, Lin L, et al. (2013) Integrated Fossil and Molecular Data Reveal the Biogeographic Diversification of the Eastern Asian-Eastern North American Disjunct Hickory Genus (Carya Nutt.). PLoS ONE 8(7): e70449. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070449

Abstract: “The hickory genus (Carya) contains ca. 17 species distributed in subtropical and tropical regions of eastern Asia and subtropical to temperate regions of eastern North America. Previously, the phylogenetic relationships between eastern Asian and eastern North American species of Carya were not fully confirmed even with an extensive sampling, biogeographic and diversification patterns had thus never been investigated in a phylogenetic context. We sampled 17 species of Carya and 15 species representing all other genera of the Juglandaceae as outgroups, with eight nuclear and plastid loci to reconstruct the phylogeny of Carya. … Our results support two major clades within Carya, corresponding to the lineages of eastern Asia and eastern North America. The split between the two disjunct clades is estimated to be 21.58 (95% HPD 11.07-35.51) Ma [millions of years ago, early Miocene]… [A]nalyses incorporating both extant and extinct genera of the Juglandaceae suggested that Carya originated in North America, and migrated to Eurasia during the early Tertiary via the North Atlantic land bridge. Fragmentation of the distribution caused by global cooling in the late Tertiary resulted in the current disjunction. The diversification rate of hickories in eastern North America appeared to be higher than that in eastern Asia, which is ascribed to greater ecological opportunities, key morphological innovations, and polyploidy.”

Juglandaceae is the plant family to which the hickories belong. It also includes the walnuts. The “eight nuclear and plastid loci” are genes in cell nuclei and chlorophyll-bearing organelles called plastids that the researchers analyzed. Mutations over the years accumulate at the same time species are splitting apart, allowing relationships to be discovered and time estimates for the process to be made.

Sound Ideas: Chickadee Song

by Carl Strang

Earlier I shared my “greatest hit” among adults. Today’s recording is the one kids like most. I wrote “Chickadee Song” as part of a little theatrical performance for preschoolers called A Day in the Forest. Its main limitation was the need for costume changes between characters which, though quick, were not quick enough to keep the pace going for that audience (the main items in the chickadee costume were a black baseball cap and a t-shirt with a drawing of a chickadee on it). Somewhat surprisingly, on more than one occasion a child recognized me months later and sang back part of the chorus to this song:

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Chickadee Song

by Carl Strang copyright ©1993

If you’re walkin’ through the forest and you happen to see an upside down, acrobatic chickadee,

Pay attention and you may find that havin’ a good time’s a state of mind.

Chorus: Chickadee-dee-dee, chickadee-dee-dee, chickadee-dee-dee, life is one big game to me.

I eat little insects that I find in trees, and I watch out for hawks that would like to eat me.

Winter or summer it’s all the same: life to me is one fast-paced game. (Chorus)

The forest is my gymnastic apparatus, and my family and me, we like to make a fuss.

You can hear us singin’ all through the day, havin’ fun the chickadee way. (Chorus)

There are things you can learn from watchin’ us birds. You can learn by imitation, you don’t need words.

You can have fun without bein’ rude, just keep a chickadee attitude. (Chorus, repeat first verse)

The forest is my gymnastic apparatus.

The forest is my gymnastic apparatus.

Only after writing the song did I realize that it is an upbeat song in a minor key. Apparently that can work. I don’t get all bothered about anthropomorphism the way some do. Even little kids are able to keep people and animals separate in their minds. The point is to find aspects of ourselves reflected in, and inspired by, wild things. Anthropomorphic characters are more about us than the creatures that serve as masks for our qualities in these cases, and we have a long tradition of folk tales that use this device.

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