August 28, 2015 at 6:33 am (singing insects)
Tags: Allonemobius maculatus, Berrien County, Carolina ground cricket, Chikaming Township Park, curve-tailed bush katydid, Eunemobius carolinus, Forbes's tree cricket, Galien River County Park, Mud Lake Bog, Neonemobius palustris, Neotibicen tibicen, Oecanthus forbesi, Scudderia curvicauda, sphagnum ground cricket, spotted ground cricket, swamp cicada, Tibicen tibicen
by Carl Strang
Earlier this season I scouted some new sites in Berrien County, Michigan, and on Sunday I returned to see what singing insects I could find in the early portion of the peak season. A first quick stop at Mud Lake Bog produced a hoped-for population of sphagnum ground crickets, and I was reminded how utterly teeny tiny they are.
Most of the day, and a return trip in the evening, went into a place in the eastern part of the county called Chikaming Township Park. If this were Illinois, I wouldn’t expect much from a park district administered at the township level, but this is a good and well maintained site, and it yielded a pile of county records for my study. One of these was provided by a female curve-tailed bush katydid that flew to a landing right in front of me on one of the trails.
The dark-tipped green ovipositor with this shape and proportions, along with the katydid’s overall size and the habitat, permitted the identification.
After release, she hung around long enough to let me take a single usable, if not absolutely sharp, photo.
Perhaps the most bizarre observation came as a result of the day’s odd weather. I drove through intermittent rain to get to Berrien County, and waited out the last shower before going out onto the Mud Lake Bog boardwalk. Dark clouds remained until mid-afternoon, but they slowly drifted east and the sun was revealed at 4:00 local (eastern) time. Almost immediately, Chikaming’s swamp cicadas began to sing. These generally are limited to mornings, but here they were going in the late afternoon. This site proved to have the largest concentration I have encountered to date. At one point I wandered into a song battle taking place among a trio of males in a meadow with scattered tree saplings. One allowed a close approach.
None of our other cicadas matches the swamp cicada’s heavy black coloration.
Later in the evening I was able to pick up some additional species.
Among them was this Forbes’s tree cricket.
The highlight of the day, though, came at another site, Galien River County Park. I had set a goal for this season of listening for spotted ground crickets, which historically have been documented in several Chicago region counties, but which I had not noted to date. Described as a forest species, the spotted ground cricket’s song to my ear is similar to that of a common and widespread species, the Carolina ground cricket. I realized that while some of the forest crickets at Galien River indeed were Carolina ground crickets, others sounded a little different. I made recordings, and listened carefully, and was pleased to conclude that spotted ground crickets were there as well.
An example of a spotted ground cricket location.
The songs have a similar tonal quality and pitch range to my ear. Where the Carolina ground cricket’s song is a steady purr with intervals of added overtones, the spotted ground cricket’s song is composed of regular pulses (about 4 per second), has no overtones, and lacks the continuous steady sound.
August 26, 2015 at 6:30 am (singing insects)
Tags: false robust conehead, handsome grasshopper, Kankakee Sands, Neoconocephalus bivocatus, Neoconocephalus robustus, robust conehead, Syrbula admirabilis
by Carl Strang
Kankakee Sands is a Nature Conservancy site in Newton County, Indiana. Except for the early-season bioblitz there a few years ago, my visits have been in the daytime. Last week I made a nighttime trip to Kankakee Sands. This netted several new species observations for the county as well as the site, the best of which was a grasshopper I had not encountered before.
The handsome grasshopper is well named. A spindly little guy, he was rather jumpy after I caught him in the grasses and released him on the gravel parking lot.
All of that was incidental to my main goal, however, which was to continue my collaboration with Gideon Ney of the University of Missouri. Gideon’s lab, led by Johannes Schul, is working out the evolutionary history and relationships of the conehead katydids, genus Neoconocephalus. Two of them, the robust conehead and the false robust conehead, are sibling species reliably separated mainly by differences in their songs.
Robust conehead…or is it?
I stopped at several locations, recording singing males and then trying to catch them. I need practice. They were quick to stop singing as I approached. Ultimately I was able to accumulate 12 recordings, catching the males producing 6 of them.
Here they are, ready to be packed for overnight shipping along with the recordings.
A couple of the songs seemed different to my ear, so I am hopeful that the effort will result in a mix of the two species, and an education on what to look for in sonographs of the recordings so I don’t have to capture them in the other counties of my survey region.
August 24, 2015 at 6:51 am (singing insects)
Tags: Chorthippus curtipennis, common meadow katydid, confused ground cricket, Conocephalus nemoralis, Conocephalus strictus, Dichromorpha viridis, Eunemobius confusus, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, marsh meadow grasshopper, Orchelimum vulgare, Orphulella pelidna, short-winged green grasshopper, spotted-wing grasshopper, straight-lanced meadow katydid, woodland meadow katydid
by Carl Strang
One day last week I drove down to southern Cook County for singing insect survey work. I quickly found confused ground crickets for a county record in the Palos area, then proceeded to the Gensburg-Markham Prairie, which proved so fruitful that it occupied the rest of the afternoon. The dominant sound in that high-quality nature preserve was the buzzing of common meadow katydids.
The name is deceptive. This is one of the few places I have found to date where Orchelimum vulgare indeed is abundant.
There were other dry-habitat species present as well. I was able to add county records for woodland meadow katydid (my northernmost to date) and for straight-lanced meadow katydid.
This straight-lanced female was content to explore my finger and pose.
The richest portion of the site’s singing insect fauna was the subfamily of stridulating slant-faced grasshoppers. I took lots of photos, thinking I had found the mother lode of species. When I examined them closely, however, the diversity turned out to be mainly within species, and I concluded that most of them in fact were marsh meadow grasshoppers.
Here is a classic adult marsh meadow grasshopper.
But then there were a number of these. After much study I had to conclude that this, too, was an adult marsh meadow grasshopper.
Ditto for this one.
Even more color variation was provided by nymphs. Again, I think they were marsh meadow grasshoppers.
This one in particular was strikingly colored.
And this individual seems aimed toward the pattern of the third adult above.
These were my first of the species in Cook County, so they were a happy find. Two other grasshoppers also were my first for the county.
Wetter areas had plenty of short-winged green grasshoppers like this female.
Prize of the day was this critter, the first spotted-wing grasshopper I have seen anywhere.
She wasn’t giving me good angles for photography, but fortunately I got a clear shot of the dorsal pronotum.
The inward-curving margins and their posterior big black triangles point to the two local species of Orphulella. There are two cuts in the dorsal surface, which point to O. pelidna rather than its close relative the pasture grasshopper O. speciosa.
This prairie is one I intend to visit in all portions of the singing insect season.
August 21, 2015 at 7:36 am (singing insects)
Tags: lyric cicada, Neotibicen lyricen, Neotibicen tibicen, swamp cicada, Tibicen lyricen, Tibicen tibicen
by Carl Strang
On Monday I returned to the area where I searched for northernmost lyric cicadas, as described two posts ago. I had thought I heard a swamp cicada at Penny Road Pond, and wanted to listen again to confirm it.
This time two were singing, and there was no doubt I was hearing swamp cicadas’ percussive vibrato. The observation represented a shift well to the north of my previous northernmost location for the species.
The red star indicates the previous location at West Branch Forest Preserve in DuPage County. Penny Road Pond is marked by the yellow star. The two places are around 12 miles apart.
I don’t know of any place in my 22-county survey region that has abundant swamp cicadas. As the map shows, I haven’t documented them in many counties. In large part that is because they sing only in the morning, and I have done most survey work in the afternoons and evenings when the majority of singing insects are displaying. On the other hand, I went for many long morning bicycle rides in Starke and Marshall Counties, Indiana, and heard only widely scattered individuals. Such a thin spread prevents me from being confident about finding the swamp cicada’s range boundary in the Chicago region.
Back to Monday of this week. I wanted to employ the bicycle as a tool again, this time to see if I could extend the lyric cicada’s northernmost point beyond last week’s record. I started from Trout Park, where I had heard that individual, and dropped down onto a bike trail that took me north along the Fox River. After going 6 miles without hearing a lyric cicada I turned around and headed back. Shortly after making that turn I heard a single lyric cicada, though, giving me a new north point 5 miles beyond the one reported earlier. That was it, however, as I heard no more on the return ride.
Revised lyric cicada map. The new location brings that species’ known range within 2 miles of the McHenry County border.
That is as much as I will do this year to determine the possible northward expansion of these two cicadas. I will be interested in pursuing this study in the future, mindful that the thin scatter of both species will lend some uncertainty to the results.
August 19, 2015 at 6:19 am (plant-eating insects, singing insects)
Tags: Amblycorypha oblongifolia, Bombus auricomus, Bombus fervidus, Carolina ground cricket, Eunemobius carolinus, Kankakee Sands, Mayslake, Midewin, mottled sand grasshopper, oblong-winged katydid, Spharagemon collare, Subat
by Carl Strang
Time to bring out a backlog of photos from the first half of August. First, a couple bumble bees from my last day on the job at Mayslake Forest Preserve.
This Bombus auricomus was huge, practically dwarfing the carpenter bees working nearby. She must have been a new queen, stocking up for her long winter wait.
Nearby, this yellow bumble bee Bombus fervidus also worked the wild bergamot.
The remaining photos are from a few days’ bouncing around in singing insect surveys.
This oblong-winged katydid peeked out through a hole in the vegetation in the late dusk at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
This mottled sand grasshopper at Kankakee Sands was my first for Newton County, Indiana.
Female Carolina ground crickets are distinctive with their short ovipositors. This one posed at Subat Forest Preserve, Kendall County.
August 17, 2015 at 6:19 am (singing insects)
Tags: lyric cicada, Neotibicen lyricen, range extension, Tibicen lyricen
by Carl Strang
Last week I took a morning to see if I could extend the northernmost known locations for the lyric cicada. Its song is easy to recognize, but at the north edge of the range they are few, and finding them takes time.
Last year the northernmost ones in Cook and Kane County were at the Carl R. Hansen Woods and Tekakwitha Woods Forest Preserves, respectively. This year I found them several miles farther north in each county. In Cook County the new north was at the entrance to the Crabtree Nature Center, 6 miles beyond the previous record and now only 5 miles south of the Lake County border.
Chicago region range map for the lyric cicada. Black dots indicate counties where the species occurs. Red stars indicate northernmost locations known through 2014. Yellow stars indicate northernmost locations found in 2015.
In Kane County, the new location was in Trout Park, at the north edge of Elgin. This represents a northward shift of 11 miles. Did the cicadas jump so far in just one year? That seems unlikely; I simply may not have looked in the right places in the past. I will continue to follow this each year, as I am doing for species such as the jumping bush cricket and broad-winged tree cricket, and in time should be able to get a sense of how rapidly the range expansion is occurring.
August 10, 2015 at 5:52 am (restoration, singing insects)
Tags: bush cicada, Linne's cicada, Loda Prairie, lyric cicada, Neotibicen dorsatus, Neotibicen linnei, Neotibicen lyricen, Okanagana balli, prairie, prairie cicada
by Carl Strang
Illinois has lost nearly all the remnants of its original prairie. Thanks to the efforts of conservation agencies and private organizations you can find prairies to enjoy, but these are restoration projects for the most part. Restored prairies are nice gardens, but they lack a significant portion of the animal life. It’s a mistake to assume that “if you build it they will come.” Too many obligate prairie insects and other animals are not good dispersers. The highest priority has to be preserving the remnants, when there is a choice between devoting resources to that or to developing restorations.
A case in point is the prairie cicada, which I have featured here in the past. Another is the bush cicada. I made a trip south of the Chicago region last week to get some experience with that species, so I would know what to listen and look for in my 22-county survey area. A 2-hour drive took me to the southern fringe of Iroquois County, to the Loda Prairie State Nature Preserve.
This remnant is only 12 acres, but its quality is excellent.
The term “charismatic fauna” is over-used. The bush cicada is the first Illinois insect I have encountered to which I would apply that term.
For one thing, they are big and colorful.
They also are noisy like the other species in genus Neotibicen (formerly Tibicen, the change justified in a paper just out this year from the UConn cicada group plus an Australian researcher). I was pleased to find bush cicadas are fully as audible as our familiar Neotibicen species.
Linne’s cicada, for instance.
The song is like a slowed lyric cicada song, the pulse rate closer to that of Linne’s but with sharp, separate pulses. The singing was in bouts, with sometimes 10 minutes of silence between, so that the males seemed to cue their singing off of one another. They also were very active, many of the males flying to a new perch after every song. Though their flight generally was well controlled, once one bounced off the side of my head.
A male bush cicada in full song.
In the following days I sought them in several Chicago region counties, without success. The silence of those prairie remnants, some suffering from invasion by gray dogwood and other problem plants, was a sad contrast to Loda Prairie. In fairness, though, the bush cicada is primarily a southern and western species that may never have reached into the Chicago region. That won’t keep me from continuing to seek it here, though.
August 3, 2015 at 5:39 am (singing insects)
Tags: Amblycorypha rotundifolia, Danada, Nebraska conehead, Neoconocephalus nebrascensis, Parson's Grove, rattler round-winged katydid
by Carl Strang
One evening last week I paid a visit to Parson’s Grove at Danada Forest Preserve. I felt that Nebraska coneheads were due to start singing, and Parson’s Grove has the largest population I have encountered in DuPage County, which makes it the northernmost significant population I have found to date in the Chicago region. There seemed to be more individuals singing that night than I remember from previous years. I tracked one down for a photo.
He proved to be a brown one. The conehead katydids all can be green or brown, but this is the first brown one of this species I have seen.
Another goal was to photograph a male rattler round-winged katydid, if any were going there. I have photos of a couple females, but lacked one of a male. I heard three at Parson’s Grove, and caught one in the open on a giant ragweed leaf.
My headlamp didn’t seem to disturb him as he casually groomed his feet.
The brown area on his back, which is part of the wings’ song-producing apparatus, is one distinguishing feature of males.
Parson’s Grove is a great place to hear a wide variety of nocturnal singing insects. DuPage County’s forest preserves provide a huge advantage to the region’s nature lovers, in that the preserves close an hour after sunset rather than right at sunset as is the case in the less enlightened surrounding counties.
July 28, 2015 at 5:52 am (plant-eating insects, singing insects)
Tags: Amblycorypha rotundifolia, Azure bluet, bee, Cabera variolaria, Enallagma aspersum, Mayslake, Monarda fistulosa, rattler round-winged katydid, the vestal, Typocerus velutinus, wild bergamot
by Carl Strang
As I approach the end of my 7-year stint of monitoring the natural history of Mayslake Forest Preserve, most of what I observe is familiar.
This longhorn beetle, Typocerus velutinus, is an expected visitor to the preserve’s flowers this time of year.
Likewise, this female azure bluet was not the first of her kind I have photographed on the preserve.
On the other hand, each week brings at least one new species to add to the preserve’s lists.
This moth is an example. The Vestal appears to be a simply white geometrid at first glance, but a closer look reveals shadings and highlights of yellow and gold.
It also helps when someone else joins me on my walks. Nikki Dahlin is a beekeeper, and she is quick to point out the flower visitors.
This bee would not have drawn my eye. It seems unremarkable.
Zooming out, however, reveals how tiny it is. There were dozens of these, ignoring the nectar of the wild bergamot flower tubes and focusing on the anthers and their pollen.
I haven’t studied the native bees enough to know where to begin with an identification, which would be needed to access information on other aspects of this bee’s life. Another new insect for the preserve from last week is one I have encountered elsewhere, but wasn’t aware could be at Mayslake.
The rattler round-wing katydid usually stays out of sight during the day, but this female perched on her leaf as though basking in the intermittent sun.
Another two weeks will bring my Mayslake chapter to a close, but in the fall a new one will open at St. James Farm.
July 20, 2015 at 5:35 am (singing insects)
Tags: Okanagana balli, prairie cicada, West Chicago Prairie
by Carl Strang
Prairie cicadas are very locally distributed in northeastern Illinois, and I have not yet found them in Indiana or Wisconsin. Their season is brief and variable, and so I rely on a population near my home, at West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve, to tell me when they are active each year. This year has been a bust in my search for new populations. The largest number I counted at West Chicago Prairie was only 4, on July 12, and they were difficult to pick out among the many gladiator meadow katydids, whose briefer buzz has a similar sound quality. Usually the cicadas are finished before the gladiators become numerous. There were no cicadas singing in my final check yesterday.
Side view of one of this year’s few singers.
Dorsal view of the same individual. These guys are little, about an inch long.
At least some cicada species have the ability to postpone emergence by a year. Perhaps the rain or periods of cool weather at the beginning of the usual emergence period persuaded some of these to wait. If so, there may be increased numbers next year, and I will be able to resume my search for undiscovered populations.