In Search of the Dusky-faced

by Carl Strang

Last year I recorded an insect song that was much like that of the dusky-faced meadow katydid, at the Bob Kern Natural Area in Fulton County, Indiana. My note from August 31: “I made recording 28 of an interesting meadow katydid that was producing long, loud series of ticks that were irregular but sometimes sort of doubled, followed by a buzz longer than that of a nearby black-leg. It best matches reference recordings of dusky-faced.” A channel too deep and wide for me to cross prevented my getting close enough to see the singer, but I secured a permit to go in there this year. Circumstances delayed me until the last Sunday in September. The marsh has that important quality that seems essential for the rarer wetland meadow katydids: a lack of invasive plants.

The near bog-like soft soil called for hip boots, and slow careful stepping among the bunch grasses and showy Bidens.

The near bog-like soft soil called for hip boots, and slow careful stepping among the bunch grasses and showy Bidens.

I found two grasshoppers of interest. One was a singing species.

This marsh meadow grasshopper had shorter wings than the one I photographed at the magic swale.

This marsh meadow grasshopper had shorter wings than the one I photographed at the magic swale.

The other I thought might belong to the same subfamily, as it had a strongly slanting face.

No question about the head shape.

No question about the head shape.

Later I was glad that I had followed my practice of taking photos of many parts of the grasshopper, from many angles.

Note the oval-shaped area on top of the head in front of the eyes, and the sword-shaped antennae, the basal portion broad and somewhat flattened, the tip more rounded. Those proved to be diagnostic features.

Note the oval-shaped area on top of the head in front of the eyes, and the sword-shaped antennae, the basal portion broad and somewhat flattened, the tip more rounded. Those proved to be diagnostic features.

This was the clipped-wing grasshopper, Metaleptea brevicornis. Note the end of the wing, which gives the species its common name.

This was the clipped-wing grasshopper, Metaleptea brevicornis. Note the end of the wing, which gives the species its common name.

It turns out that this species belongs to a small subfamily, the silent slant-faced grasshoppers: a nice wetland insect, but not a singer. I slogged on across the marsh, but the only meadow katydids were numerous black-legs, a common species. I should try again earlier in the season next year, but I have to consider the possibility that the recorded insect was an aberrant black-leg.

Black-legged meadow katydid (St. James Farm, DuPage County)

Black-legged meadow katydid (St. James Farm, DuPage County)

I headed up to LaPorte County, which I had not surveyed as well as most of the others in my 22-county region. I had visited the Kingsbury Fish and Wildlife Area earlier in the season, and hoped to pick up some county records there from this late date. Indeed I was to end up with 7, but one in particular needs to be related here. One marsh that is adjacent to the Kankakee River has a levee easily walked, so I checked it out, listening with the SongFinder.

The marsh had few invasive wetland plants.

The marsh had few invasive wetland plants.

I heard an unusual meadow katydid song at one point. The buzz was very long, 6 seconds or more, often with long spaces between, and 6 or 7 ticks leading into the buzz. I couldn’t hear it unaided at a distance, but through the SongFinder it was distinctly louder than the songs of nearby short-winged meadow katydids. I slowly moved in closer, needing to be patient and sit still when the singer paused for longer periods, possibly because of my approach.

The location was mundane, a mix of grasses and common forbs, with the insect ultimately proving to be perched on a tall nettle.

The location was mundane, a mix of grasses and common forbs, with the insect ultimately proving to be perched on a tall nettle.

Of all things, it was a dusky-faced meadow katydid.

Of all things, it was a dusky-faced meadow katydid.

In other words, the species I had set out to find in Fulton County showed up in LaPorte County.

This is only the second location I have to date for the species.

This is only the second location I have to date for the species.

I could hear it unaided when I was within 3-5 feet, but the lesson yet again was the necessity of using the SongFinder pitch-lowering hearing aid when searching for these rarer wetland katydids.

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1 Comment

  1. Lisa Rainsong said,

    October 6, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    What a beautiful face, and what an excellent discovery! I think both species are supposed to be in Ohio, but I haven’t yet seen either one of them. I consult your blog posts when I want to get a sense of where to look, and I very much appreciate your sharing your discoveries.


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