Three in One Day

by Carl Strang

This is the 13th year of my singing insects study, but there remain several species that historically were known in the Chicago region but that I have not yet found. Each year I have found one or two new ones. On Saturday, August 18, I found three.

This was down in Will County, Illinois. I had spotted a possible good site for singing grasshoppers within the Des Plaines Conservation Area late last year, and I made it my first stop. The first species I found were relatively common until I reached a portion of dolomite prairie where the bedrock was at the surface. Bare rock was edged by patches of grasses in poor, thin bits of soil. Among the grasses were tiny slant-faced grasshoppers, and I took photos of several of them.

They were colorful and variable, some green like this one, some gray, some brown with tan backs.

Here is one of the brown ones.

They proved to be pasture grasshoppers (Orphulella speciosa), smaller relatives of another species I had found in the Gensburg Prairie in Cook County, the spotted-wing grasshopper (O. pelidna). Both are described as locally distributed, and that clearly has been the case in my experience.

Out on the open bedrock I began seeing slightly larger grasshoppers that appeared to belong to another singing subfamily, the band-winged grasshoppers. Catching one was a challenge, but eventually I got good looks at a male and a female.

The male’s profile shows a head that protrudes above the thorax, a double-humped pronotal ridge, and antennas that are thread-like rather than flat, barely longer than the head. They were even shorter in the female I examined.

These were Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers (Trachyrhachys kiowa), a western species whose range reaches into the Chicago region. There are two variants, one with transparent wing bases.

The male proved to be of the pale yellow wing base variant.

This new-species haul was exciting, but I wasn’t done. I was driving to nearby Wilmington for dinner when I heard a sound I had begun to believe I would never hear in the region:

There was a continuous underlying drone, with an overlay of short monotone buzzes. A Walker’s cicada (Neotibicen pronotalis)! I pulled over to the edge of the road and approached the catalpa tree where the insect was perched. As I made the above recording I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. A sheriff’s officer had pulled his car beside me (his car motor covered the cicada’s drone, and you may have noticed a little blurp from his radio in the recording). He politely waited for me to finish, then explained that there had been troubles in that area. I admitted that my behavior might seem suspicious, but he accepted my explanation.

There are only a dozen or so species of singing insects that I might still find in the region. I doubt that I will again find as many as three in a single day.

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