Down the Rabbit Hole in Indy

by Carl Strang

Most bioblitzes occur in the spring, ahead of the main singing insects season. When one was announced for mid-September in Indianapolis, I was quick to sign on. Bioblitzes are good opportunities to go beyond one’s familiar region and gain wider experience, but this one brought enough strange observations that it was somewhat disorienting. The dominant singers everywhere were Japanese burrowing crickets.

Japanese burrowing cricket

Japanese burrowing cricket

That Asian species has been spreading from Mobile, Alabama, where it was introduced to North America in the 1950’s. I expect it eventually to become common in the Chicago region.

Walking a streamside trail at dusk on the first evening, I heard a meadow katydid that did not quite match other species of my acquaintance.

The pale face and eyes reminded me of a recent find by Lisa Rainsong in Ohio.

The pale face and eyes reminded me of a recent find by Lisa Rainsong in Ohio.

Oblique ventral view of the male’s cerci.

Oblique ventral view of the male’s cerci.

Another angle on the cerci. The tips are round rather than blade-like, and the teeth are not unusually long.

Another angle on the cerci. The tips are round rather than blade-like, and the teeth are not unusually long.

The song also was distinct, with very brief buzzes rather than ticks between the major buzzes, and significant pauses between. All of this points to the agile meadow katydid (suggested as a possibility by Wil Hershberger), a southern species not previously documented any closer than Tennessee or Virginia, according to the map in the Singing Insects of North America website.

If that weren’t enough, there were the strange finds in a little wetland area surrounded by a mowed Frisbee golf course at one of the parks.

Two little patches of cattails, grasses and sedges, with wet soil between.

Two little patches of cattails, grasses and sedges, with wet soil between.

There I found a female green-striped grasshopper.

This is a spring species in the Chicago area, totally unexpected in mid-September.

This is a spring species in the Chicago area, totally unexpected in mid-September.

They are known to have two annual generations in the South, and apparently such is the case as far north as Indy.

The bigger surprise was that these little habitat islands held a dense population of dusky-faced meadow katydids.

I caught and photographed males and females to be sure. There was only a little of the red facial spotting and network, but the cerci and ovipositors were definitive.

I caught and photographed males and females to be sure. There was only a little of the red facial spotting and network, but the cerci and ovipositors were definitive.

Also, the song was exactly the same as in the Chicago region. Perhaps this species is more abundant downstate, where invasive wetland plants reportedly are not as thoroughly established as they are farther north.

All in all, it was a horizon-expanding weekend.

 

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Beyond the Dead River

by Carl Strang

The Dead River, in Illinois Beach State Park, is so named because most of the time it appears not to be flowing. It ends just shy of the edge of Lake Michigan, a sand bar between the two. Reportedly there are times when enough water comes into it that it breaks through this narrow barrier. The area south of that river is highly protected, and to enter it I needed a permit from the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.

The Dead River and its extensions are free of invasive wetlands plants, though there are some unconnected wetlands in the area for which that is not the case.

The Dead River and its extensions are free of invasive wetlands plants, though there are some unconnected wetlands in the area for which that is not the case.

Sand savanna and prairie occupy the areas between the wetlands.

Sand savanna and prairie occupy the spaces between the wetlands.

My main goal was to survey the area for wetland singing insects. This was one of my last hopes for finding slender coneheads, but sadly there were none. I am beginning to think they have gone extinct in Illinois. On a much brighter note, I found that the area harbors a huge population of stripe-faced meadow katydids.

This male had developed his full facial color, but an intervening grass blade marred the portrait.

This male had developed his full facial color, but an intervening grass blade marred the portrait.

Profile view of a female.

Profile view of a female.

Illinois Beach remains the only place where I have found this wetland katydid, which even historically was never widely distributed.

I also heard a little chorus of nimble meadow katydids, out in the middle of a river offshoot in a patch of deeper-water arrowheads. There probably are other such groups elsewhere in the area. I plan to get a better idea of their numbers next year. This is the second place I have found them in the region, and the first for Illinois. I spent several days in my kayak this season searching for nimble meadow katydids in places in Illinois and Indiana where they were known in earlier decades.

Apparently the American lotus, shown here, and the yellow pond lily, which filled most of those sites, are too coarse for nimble meadow katydids.

Apparently the American lotus, shown here, and the yellow pond lily, which filled most of those sites, are too coarse for nimble meadow katydids.

I have found them among pickerel weeds and arrowheads, and historically they were known in patches of water knotweeds.

Water knotweed, like those others, is of intermediate coarseness.

Water knotweed, like those others, is of intermediate coarseness.

I suspect that the turbulence created by power boats favors the heavier plants that the insect apparently abhors. I wonder if Illinois Beach State Park also may harbor the last Illinois population of nimble meadow katydids. I have a few more places to check next year.

 

Why the Green Face?

by Carl Strang

This has been a good year for finding additional populations of dusky-faced meadow katydids, a wetland species that has caused me some concern. Once regarded as a ubiquitous marsh insect, they have proven hard to find. In the Chicago region they occur only in remnant marshes and wet prairies with significant amounts of native grasses (though Lisa Rainsong recently reported an Ohio population living in arrowheads), and little or no invasive wetland vegetation. They apparently don’t care for sedges. Such places have become few and far between. So far I have found no evidence of dispersal into restored wetlands.

Dusky-faced meadow katydid, from a newly discovered population at Houghton Lake, a Nature Conservancy site in Marshall County, Indiana.

Dusky-faced meadow katydid, from a newly discovered population at Houghton Lake, a Nature Conservancy site in Marshall County, Indiana.

That said, I have been pleased to find several more populations hanging on in the region. In addition to Houghton Lake, I have found them in two locations in Lake County, Indiana, and have found that they occupy a much larger area at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie than I realized.

For a time I thought I also had re-found delicate meadow katydids at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Back in 2012 I got a fuzzy photo of what I thought was that species:

She was gone before I could get anything clearer. The grass-green face seemed to point to delicate meadow katydid.

She was gone before I could get anything clearer. The grass-green face seemed to point to delicate meadow katydid.

When Lisa, Wendy, Wil and I returned to that site in August, we found more green-faced individuals. I also started seeing them elsewhere.

I labeled this photo as a delicate meadow katydid; the green face seemed unambiguous.

I labeled this photo as a delicate meadow katydid; the green face seemed unambiguous.

There were problems, however.

Though some tiny speckles reportedly can occur on the faces of delicate meadow katydids, the green-faced ones often showed the reddish networks typical of dusky-faced.

Though some tiny speckles reportedly can occur on the faces of delicate meadow katydids, the green-faced ones often showed the reddish networks typical of dusky-faced.

This green-faced male has especially heavy reddish markings.

This green-faced male has especially heavy reddish markings.

Also, the ovipositors were too short. They seemed relatively straight, but clearly were less than half the length of the femur.

Also, the ovipositors were too short. They seemed relatively straight, but clearly were less than half the length of the femur.

The songs of some of the males had relatively short intervals of ticks between relatively short buzzes. The ticks all were single, however.

The principal paper published on this species group is by Edward S. Thomas and Richard Alexander (1962. Systematic and behavioral studies on the meadow grasshoppers of the Orchelimum concinnum group (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae). Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan No. 626:1-31). After studying it closely I have to conclude that all these green-faced individuals are dusky-faced meadow katydids. Thomas and Alexander mention that dusky-faceds can have green faces occasionally (apparently more often around the southern end of Lake Michigan than in the species as a whole). The ovipositor length in females, and the lack of doubled ticks in the males’ songs, seem conclusively to rule out delicate meadow katydids in the individuals I have found. That’s a shame, because it may mean that the species has gone extinct in the region. But I’ll keep looking…

A Not-So-Silent Grasshopper

by Carl Strang

Until a couple weeks ago, the grasshoppers that drew my interest belonged to two subfamilies, the band-winged grasshoppers and the stridulating slant-faced grasshoppers. The former have displays in which they rattle their wings in flight (crepitation), and the latter produce sounds by scraping their folded wings with their hind legs (stridulation). There is an additional small subfamily known as the silent slant-faced grasshoppers. Structurally they resemble the stridulating ones in having faces that slant back distinctly from the tips of their heads, but they lack the minute pegs needed to produce the stridulating sounds.

I had encountered one of the members of this non-stridulating subfamily, the clipped-wing grasshopper, a few times in Indiana marshes.

Here is a female I photographed a couple years ago in Fulton County, Indiana. The slanting face is clear, as is the distinctive wing-end profile which gives the species its common name.

Here is a female I photographed a couple years ago in Fulton County, Indiana. The slanting face is clear, as is the distinctive wing-end profile which gives the species its common name.

On a recent visit to the Houghton Lake Nature Conservancy site in Marshall County, Indiana, I encountered a cluster of these insects in a little marsh meadow. I started hearing buzzing sounds, and was surprised to find that these were being produced by male clipped-wing grasshoppers.

One of the Houghton Lake males.

One of the Houghton Lake males.

They were behaving just like band-winged grasshoppers. Sometimes they crepitated when flushed, but they also were producing the rattling sounds in undisturbed display flights. They also can fly without crepitating. Their buzzes had the same loud, crackling quality as, say, a seaside grasshopper from the band-winged subfamily.

Looking back at the literature, I see that Richard Alexander included this subfamily in his list of Michigan singing insects, and so this is no new discovery. I wonder if the few species in this subfamily started out as stridulators that also could crepitate, and over time were selected to emphasize the latter display, then having ruled out stridulation lost the ability to perform it.

 

Wil’s White Box

by Carl Strang

The leading popular singing insects web page is The Songs of Insects, created by Wil Hershberger and Lang Elliott. Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge of Cleveland, who study northern Ohio’s singing insects much the same as I do for the Chicago region, are friends of Wil’s, and we planned a week together here to help further Wil’s expansion of the Songs of Insects project. We succeeded in finding a number of new species which ultimately will be added to that website. Along the way Wil showed us a white box, the portable version he invented to get amazing photos.

Here Lisa tries out the setup as a rightly proud Wil coaches.

Here Lisa tries out the setup as a rightly proud Wil coaches.

I got to try it, too.

This was my best shot of a confused ground cricket. Wil’s more elaborate home setup allows him to get even better exposures.

This was my best shot of a confused ground cricket. Wil’s experience allows him to get even better exposures.

My try with a marsh conehead was even more satisfactory.

My try with a marsh conehead was even more satisfactory.

As an ecologist, I philosophically prefer field shots of the insects in habitat, but I am tempted to create a white box of my own. The device certainly highlights the structure and colors of these creatures. Wil published the plans on line.

Small Wonders at Illinois Beach

by Carl Strang

Two targets for my friends from Ohio and West Virginia were stripe-faced meadow katydids and gray ground crickets, both of which can be found at Illinois Beach State Park. The stripe-faceds proved to be in their early-stage colors.

Even this nymph has the facial stripe, but it is brown and relatively fuzzy-edged compared to what it ultimately will become. New adults have the same brown colors, even though they are mature enough to sing and to mate.

Even this nymph has the facial stripe, but it is brown and relatively fuzzy-edged compared to what it ultimately will become. New adults have the same brown colors, even though they are mature enough to sing and to mate.

The nymphs and new adults were all in shades of tan and brown. We saw one or two adults which were beginning to develop their green body colors, and the more distinct facial features.

The nymphs and new adults were all in shades of tan and brown. We saw one or two adults which were beginning to develop their green body colors, and the more distinct facial features.

Gray ground crickets have been a challenge, and prior to this year I had gotten only a couple brief glimpses of them. This time I caught one, allowing us to take photos before releasing our subject back into the dunes.

The cricket was a female, probably made vulnerable by her moving about seeking a singing male.

The cricket was a female, probably made vulnerable by her moving about seeking a singing male.

Gray ground crickets are well named. I especially like the head stripes and the little dark rectangular markings on the wings.

Gray ground crickets are well named. I especially like the head stripes and the little dark rectangular markings on the wings.

We found other critters of interest along the way, of course.

Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers occupy the same ecological zone as the gray ground cricket.

Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers occupy the same ecological zone as the gray ground cricket.

Scattered cottonwood trees among the dunes were hosts for this striking beetle, a cottonwood borer.

Scattered cottonwood trees among the dunes were hosts for this striking beetle, a cottonwood borer.

The loudest nighttime insect singer was the robust conehead. We saw both brown and green males.

The loudest nighttime insect singer was the robust conehead. We saw both brown and green males.

 

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