by Carl Strang
After leaving Sarett Nature Center I drove down to central coastal Berrien County. A GoogleEarth study of the southern Lake Michigan shore had pointed to Grand Mere State Park as a site with wetlands that might contain some of the rarer meadow katydids. As it happened, I missed one of the signs pointing to the park entrance, and found myself on a road bordering a small lake. This proved to be a lucky accident. I stopped at a sandy informal boat launch, and when I waded out a short distance I heard unfamiliar buzzes coming from a patch of pickerel weeds.
A few bulrushes and water knotweeds were mixed with the pickerel weeds.
I soon found that the water was too deep for my knee boots, which rang a bell. I quickly changed out for hip boots, grabbed sound recorder and camera, and returned. Here is what I heard:
It reminded me of the song pattern for the woodland meadow katydid, except that the ticks between the buzzes were fewer, and I could hear the song clearly unaided (i.e., without needing the pitch-lowering SongFinder device). By this time I was sure I must be hearing nimble meadow katydids. Very little has been published about them. Morgan Hebard in his 1934 monograph on Illinois Orthoptera said he found them only where the water was waist deep (hm, now that I think about it, he did not give his height). I had searched for them by kayak in a few places, without success. As I waded out I found the pickerel weed patch was in water knee to mid-thigh in depth. I also found that both hip boots were leaking. I began getting glimpses of the katydids, and soon discovered they were well named. They were quick to fly, and flew up to 20 feet. One did something totally unexpected: he dove beneath the water and hid among the submerged stems.
Eventually I was successful in getting some photographs, and in catching a katydid for cerci shots.
Nimble meadow katydid. The head is colored like that of the black-legged meadow katydid, the hind femora green like those of dusky-faced meadow katydids, but with brown tibias, and it is the same size as those species, but the most distinctive feature is the yellow end of the abdomen, reminiscent of the much smaller short-winged meadow katydid.
This is the best I could do on a ventral cerci shot, balancing in the leaky boots and holding the struggling critter with one hand while manipulating the camera with the other. Note the beautiful colors, and the distinctive shape of the pointed, brown-tipped cerci.
The song is not so loud that I can expect to hear it from more than 15-20 feet away, but the fact that I can hear it unaided will be a huge help in future searches. The nimble meadow katydid’s adaptation to beds of emergent plants in deeper water means that its main threat probably is not invasive wetland plants but rather the mechanical disruption of habitat by power boats, waves bouncing off sea walls, and the like.
I was out of time. Grand Mere State Park still holds promise, and I look forward to returning next year.