Our bush katydids, genus Scudderia, have some of the most interesting song variations of all our singing insects. They include two “counting” species, with increasing numbers of syllables over a sequence of songs. Often they have more than one song type, and this is true of today’s featured species, the Texas bush katydid S. texensis (back in the days of the Bush presidency I was fond of pointing out that there really was a Texas bush katydid).
Texas bush katydid
The following recording includes two of the 3 song types: single clicks, which I seldom have encountered in the Chicago region, and the characteristic dusk or nighttime song, a series of quick buzzes.
During the day this species produces a very fast, 3-syllable call which I render “dig-a-dig.” It is similar to the daytime song of the broad-winged bush katydid, but the latter has more syllables (sounds like 5, usually) and they are less distinct because they have a lisping quality.
The wild world provides a wealth of potential metaphorical material that artists long have used to express their insights. Today’s recording is a song I wrote back in 1997 when I learned of the serious illness of a friend, Jim Niemeyer. Jim passed away a few months later. I share the song now, as the anniversaries of my parents’ deaths last April approach.
We are within two months of the start of the singing insect season in the Chicago region. Opening day is marked by the first displays of the green-striped grasshopper.
Male green-striped grasshopper (females usually are green)
These grasshoppers get their early start because they overwinter as nymphs, and so can mature quickly in the spring. Their displays, which qualify them as singing insects, consist of short flights in which they rattle their wings, producing a buzzing sound:
That this is a display is demonstrated by the fact that when they are flying to avoid the pursuit of a possible predator, they do not make that sound.
“Vegemite” entered the American popular vocabulary in the early 1980’s, thanks to the song “Down Under” by the rock band Men at Work. One of the goals of my trip to Australia was to have lunches built around Vegemite sandwiches. As this is a biological product, and my lunches were experiments in new foods, I don’t feel I am stretching this blog’s mission too much by sharing here the song that resulted from those experiments.
Yes, I brought some back from Australia. And yes, haven’t opened them in over a decade. The song explains why.
The didjeridu is a notoriously difficult instrument to mike properly. I did my best. Here’s the chorus:
Vegemite, Vegemite, Vegemite, it’s a legendary substance and a pure delight. If you have no sense of taste or smell I’m sure you’ll agree that a Vegemite sandwich is ecstasy.
(I know I have a few Australian readers. Please don’t feel insulted. A common Australian attitude toward Vegemite was summed up by a woman who exclaimed with delight, upon seeing the diverse breakfast spread at one of the motels where I stayed: “Oh, you have Vegemite and everything!”).
The name “katydid” has come to cover a wide range of singing insects, most of whose songs do not sound anything like that name would suggest. Today I wish to share recordings of two species which seem to say something like that name. Both are common in the region. First up is the oblong-winged katydid:
The next recording is of a common true katydid. Though this individual has only two syllables per song, some have three to match the syllables in “katydid,” and others have 4 (“katy didn’t”) or more.
This week’s sound recording is another of the songs I wrote for the “Dandelion” story. That story follows a boy, Richard, who is adjusting to an unwanted move from the mountains to a suburb in the prairie. In his dreams he is guided by Dandelion, one of the few plants he recognized from his former home. Here is the lead-in to the song:
That night, Dandelion was back. “Look, Richard, you may be going too far with this people-pleasing routine. If you’re exactly like everyone else, or if everyone were like everyone else, the world would be a boring place. It’s good that you want to enjoy the friendship of others, but don’t give up being honest and being yourself for it. Say, maybe you should meet someone who is a very important part of that prairie you’re studying, but who is at the same time a real individual.”
Suddenly the room went black. And now, sprouting up from the floor of Richard’s room and into a spotlight was a very tall, very thin person, in glittering, rhinestone-covered green clothes that caught the light, sparkled and shone. It seemed there was applause all around, though Richard saw no audience. The green guy held up his hands with their long, thin fingers, and spoke.
“Thank you, thank you. I should introduce myself, since some of you folks are from out of town, new to the prairie. My name is Big Bluestem Grass, though you can call me Big Blue if you want. I am one of the tall grasses that made the prairie what it was. Two hundred years ago, the other prairie plants and I covered square mile after square mile of land. We’re still around, but harder to find. Listen here.” An unseen orchestra started to play, and Big Blue began to sing.
“They call me Big Blue, and my roots go deep,
My top is eight feet tall from my head to my feet.
But that’s not all, my roots go six feet down
To get that water far below the ground.
I’m taller than most other plants and you,
That’s why I’m Big Blue, yeah, Big Blue.
Now when the prairie covered almost all this land,
When the forest by the prairie fire was banned,
The grasses ruled, and up above them all,
Was me, Big Blue, standing proud and tall.
I’m still around, but it’s a rarer view
To see some Big Blue, yeah, Big Blue.
So find a prairie plot,
’Cause you and I should meet.
Look up and find my tops,
Shaped like a turkey’s feet.
Then you can tell your folks and best friends, too,
Today I share recordings of 3 ground crickets. The first of these, the melodious ground cricket, is not very well studied, and recordings of its song are not commonly available.
Melodious ground cricket
The song is a fairly loud, steady trill with a pleasant tone:
That song is most like that of Say’s trig, which can occur in close proximity as both are wetland species. When such is the case, the distinction is clear. Here is a recording of Say’s trig for comparison:
The recordings are a little misleading in that both species can be equally loud. Next up is the sphagnum ground cricket.
Sphagnum ground cricket. This species does not occur away from sphagnum moss.
The song is higher pitched and more rapid than that of Say’s trig, which again often co-occurs.
The final species has an interrupted trill, unlike the continuous singing of the previous crickets. The confused ground cricket usually is found in drier portions of woodlands than the more swamp-dwelling melodious ground cricket.
Confused ground cricket
The song is about one second on, one second off. If there are few other sounds, you may hear some stuttering during the “off” intervals:
A highlight of my trip to Australia more than a decade ago was a peaceful morning spent at the edge of a stream bordering Mount Field National Park in Tasmania. I had expressed my desire to see platypuses to my hosts at the National Park Hotel, and they got permission for me to go onto property owned by friends, where they often sit and relax, and where there are resident platypuses.
National Park Hotel
It was the most peaceful place of my experience, and if I had a way to go instantly back to Australia, it is the precise place where I would choose to land. Occasional strips of deciduous eucalypt bark fell from the trees on the opposite bank, and once a brilliantly colored fairy wren, so chickadee-like in its behavior, passed by. I didn’t have to wait long for the first platypus to appear, and I got to observe those odd creatures as they swam, dove and foraged in the pool below.
If I returned, I would have a better camera. The platypus’s duckbill-like snout is on the left end.
I was writing music in those days, and the following is an impression of my feelings that morning.
Today I am sharing recordings of 3 species of large meadow katydids (genus Orchelimum). One way or another their songs all fit the ticks-and-buzz pattern characteristic of their group. I will order them idiosyncratically, by how well I can hear them in the field. I will be interested in any comments on how well you can hear them in these recordings. The first is our most common species in the genus, the black-legged meadow katydid O. nigripes.
Black-legged meadow katydid
This was a very warm individual who was rushing the ticks. I render the pattern tickety-buzz, as there usually are 3 ticks leading directly into the buzz, with a brief pause before the next set. This species usually can be found in or near wetlands. I can hear its song unaided without any trouble.
Next up is the long-spurred meadow katydid, O. silvaticum.
Long-spurred meadow katydid
Here the ticks have much the same quality as the buzz, several very brief rattles that merge into the rattling buzz. This is a katydid of woods edges and adjacent areas with tall herbaceous vegetation. I can hear some of these unaided in the field, on a calm day without other competing sounds, or when there are plenty of reflecting surfaces, but usually I need the SongFinder pitch-reducing device to detect them. I can hear this recording clearly, though.
Finally, here is a species I first encountered this past season, the stripe-faced meadow katydid, O. concinnum. It is a specialist in certain kinds of wetlands, and is much less common than the others.
Stripe-faced meadow katydid
This one I can’t hear at all from more than a few feet away, and I can barely hear it in this recording. I really need the SongFinder for this species. The ticks are more numerous, more separated, and more irregularly spaced, than in the black-leg.
This week’s sound recording is one of my compositions for tenor recorder. “Moonlight on the Hoodoos” began as an improvisation some years ago. I went down into Bryce Canyon (Utah) at dusk, and sat just outside a cluster of hoodoos, columnar rock formations for which that national park is famous.
Bryce Canyon scene
Ravens flew over, on their way to their night roost. They deliberately called, a clear play behavior as the reflecting surfaces of the pillars echoed and distorted their vocalizations. The moon was full that week.
Bryce Canyon moonrise
I got out the tenor recorder and began to improvise, like the ravens enjoying the echo effect. Some of what came out stuck with me and I later wrote it down, eventually developing the following recording.
Bryce Canyon is on the short list of places I’d like to get back to sometime.