Less Confused

by Carl Strang

An emerging theme of my field season this year is defining range boundaries of the singing insects I am studying. When there is a boundary within my 22-county study area, usually the population density thins out toward the edge. That has me looking critically at some of my past observations. A case in point is the confused ground cricket (Eunemobius confusus).

Confused ground cricket. These are little guys, a quarter of an inch long.

Looking at past records, I found that only two were north of the midpoints of Kane, DuPage and Cook Counties in Illinois. There was a single individual in the Lyons Prairie and Marsh area, legally within Lake County, Illinois, though managed by the McHenry County Conservation District. I had noted a small group of the crickets in the New Munster Wildlife Area in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. Now several years on without other records for those counties, I felt the need for a double check. I visited both sites and found no confused ground crickets. I did, however, hear other singing insects that I now believe fooled me.

Here is a recording of a confused ground cricket. This guy was singing in cool temperatures, and so was slowed somewhat:

Usually the song would be faster, with trills or chirps about a second long, alternating with equal-duration spaces within which the cricket produces stuttering sounds. The Lake County and Kenosha County observations both were made well into long days in the field, and my fatigue along with relative inexperience years ago, led me to mistakes. I now believe that the Lake County observation in fact was a Say’s trig, producing an uncommon alternative song composed of brief trills with the same timing as a confused ground cricket. Here is an example of that song:

You may notice there are occasional stutters between the trills. On my return visit to the New Munster site, I did not hear any confused ground crickets, but I noticed that there were a lot of black-legged meadow katydids singing in dry habitats, unusual and unexpected in that species. Furthermore, in the heat they were singing so fast that their buzzes were about a second long, with the ticks compressed in such a way that they resembled a confused ground cricket’s stutters. Here is a black-leg recording with similar timing:

These conclusions support my practice of making lists of the species I hear on each visit to each site. That makes the oddities stand out, helping me to correct errors like the ones I have described here. I now can close the book on confused ground crickets, with the final map:

Black dots indicate counties where I have found confused ground crickets. The red stars mark locations of the northernmost observations within Kane, DuPage, Cook and Berrien Counties.

Cicadas East, Cicadas West

by Carl Strang

Today’s puzzle is the odd range boundaries of two cicada species that occur in the 22-county area I define as the Chicago region.

The scissor-grinder cicada (Neotibicen pruinosa) is one of the four most abundant annually-appearing cicadas in northeastern Illinois.

Scissor-grinder cicada

Though individuals may sing occasionally from mid-morning to dark, their ee-oo-ee-oo-ee songs especially dominate the wild soundscape at dusk in mid- to late summer. In the following recording, the cicada is introduced and ushered out by a nearby striped ground cricket.


A recent review of North American cicadas (Sanborn and Phillips 2013, Diversity 5: 166-239) shows what appears to be a gap in the species’ distribution in north central Indiana. I was inclined to regard this as simply indicating a lack of sampling in that area, but this year I pushed to complete my own map for scissor-grinders. Here is the result:

Black dots indicate counties where I have observed scissor-grinder cicadas.

The numbers of scissor-grinders thin out dramatically in the eastern and northern counties of the region. I cannot find them at all in Walworth, Berrien, St. Joseph or Fulton Counties. They barely reach the southwest corner of Marshall County. Sanborn and Phillips show them picking up again farther east, but only one record each for Wisconsin and Michigan, in both cases outside my region.

There is no obvious explanation for the Indiana gap. It does not correspond to soil type, as scissor-grinders can be found in both sand and clay soil areas, and are absent from areas of both.

Swamp cicadas (N. tibicen) have a distribution mainly south and east of the Chicago region, and Sanborn and Phillips (2013) do not map them into the Illinois or Wisconsin portions of my region. My work extends that range a little, but they are scattered individuals in Illinois, with only one Kane County and one Kankakee County site.

Swamp cicada

Black dots indicate counties where I have observed swamp cicadas. Red stars show locations of the northernmost records.

Their song is a percussive vibrato. Here is a recording from southern Indiana in which several individuals provide overlapping songs:


They occur mainly in the Kankakee and DuPage River areas in Illinois. In the southeastern portion of the region, a few can be found along the Tippecanoe River in Fulton County, but they apparently drop out before that river reaches Pulaski County, which also is well south of the Kankakee River drainage. The swamp cicada’s range boundary is a western one, but explaining it is just as difficult as in the scissor-grinder. St. Joseph County seems to be the center of abundance in the region, with Potato Creek State Park having an especially high density.

The practice of science is largely about questions, and these newly discovered odd range boundaries provide good ones for these two cicada species.

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