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.

 

Oops! Etc. at Midewin

by Carl Strang

A couple years ago I came across a population of large band-winged grasshoppers with bright red hind wings, at St. Joseph County’s (Indiana) Bendix Woods. Focusing on the intense red color, I declared them to be northwestern red-winged grasshoppers. In the first half of August this year I ran into a second population in Illinois, at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

They had the same bright red color as at Bendix Woods.

They had the same bright red color as at Bendix Woods.

These are large grasshoppers, approaching Carolina grasshoppers in bulk.

These are large grasshoppers, approaching Carolina grasshoppers in bulk.

This time, though, I noticed a discrepancy in my ID that should have struck me the first time.

There is a honkin’ big bulge on the top of the pronotum.

There is a honkin’ big bulge on the top of the pronotum.

The northwestern red-winged grasshopper, which I now realize I have yet to meet, has a flat pronotum profile that furthermore is cleft by a significant fissure. These prove to be autumn yellow-winged grasshoppers, which in fact can have a range of colors in the hindwings. The following week, returning with fellow singing insect enthusiasts Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge from Cleveland, and Wil Hershberger from West Virginia, we found many of these grasshoppers in fact have bright yellow wings. I need to get back there and get a photo of one for my singing insects guide.

While checking out the grasshoppers, we turned up two other species that were county records for my study.

The handsome grasshopper always is a delight. This one is a male.

The handsome grasshopper always is a delight. This one is a male.

Female handsome grasshoppers have green highlights in place of the male’s brown ones.

Female handsome grasshoppers have green highlights in place of the male’s brown ones.

Though still a nymph, this female is unambiguously a straight-lanced meadow katydid. The extra-long ovipositor and the diffuse-edged black band on the hind femur are giveaways.

Though still a nymph, this female is unambiguously a straight-lanced meadow katydid. The extra-long ovipositor and the diffuse-edged black band on the hind femur are giveaways.

Our main target in that visit was the dusky-faced meadow katydid, but that proves to be a much more complicated story deserving of its own blog post.

 

Ecoblitz Continued

by Carl Strang

The Indiana Forest Alliance, a non-profit conservation organization, has been sponsoring a species survey in portions of two state forests in southern Indiana. As it consists of repeated weekend sessions over a period of years, they are calling it an “ecoblitz” rather than a bioblitz, which is a one-time event limited to a 24- or 48-hour time span. I went down for a weekend last fall, and returned in early August to complete the singing insects portion of the survey.

The area is forested, except for some small areas of tall, dense herbaceous growth in stream bottoms. The singing insect fauna consequently is mainly of forest species.

Confused ground crickets were common on the forest floor.

Confused ground crickets were common on the forest floor.

Say’s trigs by the hundreds sang in the open herbaceous areas.

Say’s trigs by the hundreds sang in the open herbaceous areas.

Widely scattered small groups of rattler round-winged katydids could be heard at night.

Widely scattered small groups of rattler round-winged katydids could be heard at night.

This nymph is recognizable as a male fork-tailed bush katydid by the distinctive appendages at the tip of his abdomen.

This nymph is recognizable as a male fork-tailed bush katydid by the distinctive appendages at the tip of his abdomen.

Some of the other species that sang for us were swamp cicadas, Nebraska coneheads, lesser angle-wing katydids, jumping bush crickets and common true katydids.

I also helped with photography at a night-time moth survey at illuminated sheets.

This small-eyed sphinx was one of the two hummingbird moths we attracted.

This small-eyed sphinx was one of the two hummingbird moths we attracted.

A blinded sphinx also dropped in.

A blinded sphinx also dropped in.

A grape leaffolder

A grape leaffolder

This lesser grapevine looper appears to be sending out pheromone.

This lesser grapevine looper appears to be sending out pheromone.

A Cope’s gray treefrog hopped in, possibly sensing the smorgasbord we had created.

A Cope’s gray treefrog hopped in, possibly sensing the smorgasbord we had created.

 

The Currency I Work in

by Carl Strang

The main focus of my research these days is traveling through the 22 counties of my survey area, seeking the singing insects that live in the Chicago region. I am building on previous years’ work, filling gaps in range maps. The currency I work in thus is county records. There are around 100 species known to have occurred here, and so the maximum total would be 2200 county records. This is not going to be the eventual result, however, because many of the species live only in limited areas within the region. For instance, last week I closed the book on the green-winged cicada.

This distant photo is the best I have so far of a green-winged cicada.

This distant photo is the best I have so far of a green-winged cicada.

I do not expect to find green-winged cicadas beyond the 10 marked counties.

I do not expect to find green-winged cicadas beyond the 10 marked counties.

They occur only in sand soil woodlands within the region. Though other counties have some areas with sand soils, I have searched them and failed to find the species. Their numbers clearly diminish at the periphery of their range. Four of these county records have been from this year.

Other species are widespread, and ultimately I expect to find them in every county. Two early season species now have filled maps as a result of my travels this spring and early summer: Roesel’s katydid, and gladiator meadow katydid.

Roesel’s katydid

Roesel’s katydid

There is learning involved in the process. Some species which historically have occurred in the area I have not yet found. Others I have found once or twice. At some point I become familiar enough with a species that I know how to find it. Then I seek it out in the appropriate habitat in the counties where I haven’t found it. The sulfur-winged grasshopper is an instructive example. This year I made a push to complete the map for this early-season species. Though I ran out of time before the end of its season, I got close.

Updated map for sulfur-winged grasshopper

Updated map for sulfur-winged grasshopper (open circles represent historical records)

Next year I will check sandy sites in two of the counties in Wisconsin, LaPorte County in Indiana, and Berrien County in Michigan. Though I suspect that sulfur-winged grasshoppers occur in every county, they are very few and hard to find away from sand soils. Though my own county of DuPage is marked, it is a clay soil county and over the many years I have lived here I have encountered fewer than 5 sulfur-wings in DuPage.

A final example is the northern bush katydid. I had heard two of these in the early summer of 2007, in woodlands in my county. I had heard none since. But a few days ago I went back to one of those sites and tried listening at night with the SongFinder, a device which reduces the pitch of sounds. Lo and behold, I discovered that Parson’s Grove at Danada Forest Preserve has a lot of northern bush katydids. I hadn’t realized that it was the deterioration of my hearing with age that had prevented my detecting them. Now I anticipate finding them in every county in the region.

So far this year I have accumulated 47 county records. I expect to end up with more than last year’s 174.

Short-winged Toothpick Grasshopper

by Carl Strang

The most fruitful recent singing insects search was at the Kankakee Sands preserve in Kankakee County, which has become one of my favorites for species that affiliate with sand-soil habitats. The June 28 visit yielded 3 county records, two of which were of familiar species, Roesel’s katydid and green-winged cicada.

Grasshoppers were building up their diversity at the site. Sulfur-winged grasshoppers still were going, and the season’s first mottled sand grasshopper also flashed his wings.

This was by far the earliest I have found this sand-soil specialist.

This was by far the earliest I have found this sand-soil specialist.

Then in the prairie beyond the savanna I started to hear the zuzz-zuzz-zuzz of stridulating grasshoppers. I had a hard time getting a look at who it might be. Eventually I saw a possible candidate.

This grasshopper has a somewhat slanted face, and color markings reminiscent of stridulating grasshoppers in genus Orphulella.

This grasshopper has a somewhat slanted face, and color markings reminiscent of stridulating grasshoppers in genus Orphulella.

Study of the photos, however, led to an identification as the meadow purple-striped grasshopper, Hesperotettix viridis, in the non-singing spur-throated grasshopper group. As I waded through the grasses I flushed out a couple really odd grasshoppers that begged to be photographed.

The blade-like antennas, subtle striping pattern, and especially the gangly skinniness of the critter were distinctive.

The blade-like antennas, subtle striping pattern, and especially the gangly skinniness of the critter were distinctive.

They reminded me of high school basketball players whose growth spurts have given them impressive height, but whose strength and coordination have some catching up to do. Though I saw and photographed only the minute-winged females, my identification and study convinced me that these were the stridulators. The short-winged toothpick grasshopper is well named, seeming to be constructed of toothpicks. It is a member of the slant-faced stridulating subfamily, and is described as being a frequent singer. The species, also known by the more mundane name of bunchgrass grasshopper (Pseudopomala brachyptera), now is removed from my hypothetical list for my survey region.

Recent Travels: Singing Insects

by Carl Strang

Though my main research focus is singing insects, I don’t end up photographing them much, as I am listening for them rather than looking for them. Sulfur-winged grasshoppers continued to be an early-season focus.

Though I added several more county records for the species, there was not additional range in their color variation. This female was at Cook County’s Bluff Spring Fen.

Though I added several more county records for the species, there was not additional range in their color variation. This female was at Cook County’s Bluff Spring Fen.

Here is a typical dark male, Illinois Beach State Park.

Here is a typical dark male, Illinois Beach State Park.

Not much different, this male was around the corner of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Not much different, this male was around the corner of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Only 8 species of singing insects could be found at Goose Pond. There will be many more there later in the season.

Green-striped grasshoppers still were displaying, but their days are numbered.

Green-striped grasshoppers still were displaying, but their days are numbered.

Spring field crickets seldom come into view. This female was a challenge to photograph as she crawled among the grasses.

Spring field crickets seldom come into view. This female was a challenge to photograph as she crawled among the grasses.

This katydid nymph climbed up onto the sheet illuminated by the UV light. I am reluctant to say which conehead species she might be.

This katydid nymph climbed up onto the sheet illuminated by the UV light. I am reluctant to say which conehead species she might be.

The season seems barely begun, but already I am closing the book on two species.

The Vermont Cemetery Prairie Preserve in Will County reportedly is one of the few places in the Chicago region which still harbors prairie cicadas. They were done, however, by the time I got there on June 26.

The Vermont Cemetery Prairie Preserve in Will County reportedly is one of the few places in the Chicago region which still harbors prairie cicadas. They were done, however, by the time I got there on June 26.

I have just 3 sites to check next year as good candidates for persisting prairie cicada populations. Protean shieldbacks also apparently are done. I added only 3 county records for them in their brief 2016 season. This was a wakeup call, and I will need to get on my horse right away when they start next year.

 

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