Tying a Knot on 2020

by Carl Strang

I know of no one who is sad about putting the year 2020 in the rear-view mirror. I have posted my research highlights for the year already, but find some miscellaneous photos remain that will fill out the story. As I detailed in earlier posts, ditch hopping was an important activity through the summer.

Another view of a drainage ditch in Kankakee County

I paid a couple visits to the Chicago Park District’s Big Marsh for the first time this year. Of greater interest to me than the wetlands was an area of sparse vegetation in the eastern part of the park.

When I run across scenes like this I automatically want to check for unusual grasshopper species.

Indeed, I found my third population of pasture grasshoppers (Orphulella speciosa) for the region here, and a second population of Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers (Trachyrhachys kiowa) for Cook County.

A pasture grasshopper at Big Marsh Park
One of the Big Marsh Kiowas

There also was a strikingly marked nymph.

The white spots stand out. I don’t have a species ID.

I made a day trip to the Nachusa Grasslands, west of my study region. The area has a nice variety of singing insects.

One of the few Texas bush katydids (Scudderia texensis) I encountered in 2020. This Nachusa female provided a nice photo of her sharply bending ovipositor.

In my home county of DuPage, West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve provided some highlights.

The prairie cicada (Okanagana balli) population at West Chicago Prairie continues to respond to the Forest Preserve District’s restoration efforts.
These small cicadas are active for only a brief time in the early summer.

Later in the season I made a slogging trudge to a remote corner of West Chicago Prairie, hoping to find rare wetland katydids.

There were no new species, but a separate location for long-tailed meadow katydids (Conocephalus attenuatus), including this male, within the preserve.
This West Chicago Prairie female’s ovipositor, fading out of focus in the dim light that day, illustrates how the species gets its common name.

Finally, I continued both monitoring and restoration efforts at St. James Farm Forest Preserve.

Typocerus velutinus is one of the more common longhorn beetles in DuPage County.
While gathering Joe-Pye weed seeds to spread in our cleared area, I found this mating pair of walking sticks (Diapheromera femorata).

Clearly 2020 had much to offer, after all, and I hope for plenty of new encounters in 2021. Happy New Year to you.

Ditch Hopping: Woodland Meadow Katydids

by Carl Strang

As I started seeking northern mole crickets in rural ditches at night, I realized that ditches and streams are oases of habitat winding through the biodiversity wastelands of corn and soybeans in large portions of the Chicago region. I started checking ditches during the daytime. The biggest hit came early on, when I discovered woodland meadow katydids beside a ditch in southeastern Kendall County, Illinois. I had dismissed expectations in that county for the species, so this was a big surprise.

Woodland meadow katydid (Conocephalus nemoralis)

The ditch seemed an unlikely location for that katydid, which I had found previously only at woodland edges. A single small tree was the only nearby woody plant.

One of the Kendall County locations for woodland meadow katydids

This proved to be a common pattern, however. As I added county after county to the list of those where I have found woodland meadow katydids, sometimes there were woodland edges adjacent to the ditches but sometimes there was little woody vegetation to be found.

Updated site map for woodland meadow katydids

I was frustrated in LaPorte County, Indiana, and Berrien County, Michigan. I later learned that woodland meadow katydids also can inhabit dune edge habitats along Lake Michigan, so I will seek them there in 2021.

Ditch Hopping: Northern Mole Crickets

by Carl Strang

Last year, while driving a rural road at dusk in Newton County, Indiana, I stopped beside a drainage ditch to listen for slightly musical coneheads. Instead I heard a northern mole cricket, and I realized that I needed to turn off the car engine to hear the low-pitched song.

Northern mole cricket specimen (Neocurtilla hexadactyla). This face-on view shows the modified front legs that make this cricket such a good digger.
Recording of northern mole cricket calling song

This turned out to be a lucky observation, as it opened a way for me to conduct my research profitably in this covid19 year. I spent most of the peak singing insect season ditch hopping. I used GoogleEarth and DeLorme map books to identify likely spots where rural roads intersect drainage ditches and streams. Such stops kept me away from concentrations of people.

Typical drainage ditch, Kankakee County

This method gave me a cluster of mole cricket locations on ditches and streams in northeastern Kankakee County, Illinois, all tributaries of the Kankakee River. I also added county records in Pulaski and Fulton Counties, Indiana. Otherwise, the many evenings of searching mainly told me where mole crickets are not, and I have concluded that I will add no more counties in Illinois or Wisconsin.

Map of the Chicago region showing where I have found northern mole crickets (black dots) and identifying counties where there are old records for the species (white dots).

I have satisfied myself that I am not going to find them in Cook County, Illinois, but there still are a few places to check next year in St. Joseph County, Indiana, and Berrien County, Michigan.

Japanese Burrowing Crickets Spreading Rapidly

by Carl Strang

The Japanese burrowing cricket is, as the name suggests, an oriental species that was accidentally introduced to this country at one or more coastal ports. They have spread out from there, and I first encountered them in the Chicago region at Bendix Woods, a St. Joseph County park, in 2014.

Japanese burrowing cricket, Velarifictorus micado

Since then I have found them increasingly at sites throughout the southern portion of the Chicago region.

Counties of the Chicago region, with years when I first observed Japanese burrowing crickets in each.

Fulton County, at the southeast corner of the region, is the most remote from my home, so I don’t go there often. I rather imagine that Japanese burrowing crickets are in the city of Rochester, at least.

Note that I added 7 counties this year. This is in part because they are increasing in the region, and in part because I encountered them frequently while ditch hopping (more on that in later posts). Rural drainage ditches may be major dispersal corridors, along with human-assisted transport in landscape and building materials. The crickets also may fly to expand their range, but this possibility remains speculative.

Japanese burrowing crickets have been ubiquitous and abundant in Indianapolis for years. Last year I found them to be common in Rensselaer, Indiana, one of the southernmost cities of the Chicago region. There is every reason to believe that they will become abundant through most or all of the region over the next decade. They thrive in loose landscaping stone and in lawns, which are not prime habitat for our other members of the field cricket group, so it is possible there will be little effect on our native species.

Here is the most common calling song of the Japanese burrowing cricket:

Perhaps less commonly heard is this alternative:

Editorial: Are There Any Good Cops?

by Carl Strang

This is a nature blog, but from time to time I have felt the need to insert an editorial. This is one of those times. I am an ecologist, trained and practiced in seeing connections among things. The city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is in my study region and I have picked up singing insect county records in its parks. It saddens me to think that Kenosha may come to be thought of with the same negative connotations that saddled Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, in my youth.

The title of this post is deliberately provocative. Frequently I have seen the opinion expressed that bad cops who shoot to kill innocent civilians simply because they are black are a minority, that most cops are good cops. But I feel that at this point in our history we need a redefinition of what constitutes a good cop. Is it enough to be a police officer who does not grab any opportunity to kill a black man? Consider what happens in the wake of the headlines. Police unions close ranks in support of the officers who commit these killings. Seeing this, attorneys general do not press charges. We hear nothing from the supposed “good cops.”

Police officers are human beings. It needs to be acknowledged by all that this means some of them are mean spirited, that some are the manipulative sort who will call upon their “brothers” to support their evil actions. This needs to change. There needs to be a transformation of cop culture so that the ranks recognize and fail to support those few who use the power of their position to do evil. There need to be conversations in police stations, leadership by chiefs, making clear that those who try to use the power of their badge to do wrong will be outcast. Chiefs and veteran officers need to make clear to attorneys general that they need to do their jobs, and the good cops will support them.

It is fair to ask how I, an old white guy, have acted with respect to this issue. From the early times when wrongful killings of black men and women by white cops came into the news, I have imagined myself in the position of a black man and realized how this can make them fearful. I have felt profound respect for the patriotism and restraint of African American culture, given the history of slavery, lynchings, segregation and racism. My response has been on the personal level, smiling, waving, and greeting those I meet with a special emphasis on those of other races. I recognize that I am a symbol, and I try to create a positive, supportive moment of encounter to counterbalance the frowns and rejections.

It extends beyond race. I am a runner, and I love the girl runners. I love the way women have embraced my sport, and I am happy when I encounter a woman on the trails. As always, I wave and smile. Often the greeting is pointedly ignored. I understand this and admire the courage of a woman who goes out alone for a run, knowing how women runners have been sexually assaulted and killed by evil men. I recognize the fear and am saddened by it.

I suppose my behavior could be labeled racist or sexist. Yes, I recognize the race, gender, and age of every person I meet. Over the years I have learned through experience that differences of gender and race have little meaning for me, however. Each individual is worthy, and differences of race, gender, sexuality and so forth are insignificant compared to the uniqueness of each person. It is our behavior and regard of one another, not abstractions or stereotypes of race, gender, etc., that matter.

What about demonstrations? The motivation to express opposition to these wrongful killings is understandable, but they have a counterproductive component. Some express their outrage through violence. Even if only a few behave in this way, it supports the notion that the demonstrations are against the police as a whole, setting up an us-versus-them framework so that police sometimes respond in force, feeling unified in supporting one another and justified in using violence even against the peaceful protesters.

The opponent here is not the police, but something more abstract: a cultural tradition of tribal identity, loyalty and brotherhood. Those are strong bonds, but they must be made apparent as weaknesses being exploited by wrongdoers. They must be revealed as secondary to the reason we have police in the first place: to serve and protect. Serve. Protect. Serve and protect the public first, and fellow police officers second when the two come into conflict.

Psorting Out Psinidia

by Carl Strang

This year I found longhorn band-winged grasshoppers (Psinidia fenestralis) in Newton County, Indiana, Kenosha County in Wisconsin, and Lake and Cook Counties in Illinois. Previously I had found them in Porter and Marshall Counties, Indiana.

Longhorn band-winged grasshoppers are named for their disproportionately long antennae.

The hind wings of these small grasshoppers usually are bright red.

Two of the newly found populations raised questions. First, at Burnham Prairie in Cook County, they had bright yellow hind wings, in place of the usual red.

I learned that yellow hind wings are known to appear occasionally in the species.

Then I found red-winged ones in the same spot at Illinois Beach State Park where I found insects I had identified as Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers (Trachyrhachys kiowa) in 2014.

That original identification was based on one individual I captured with this wing pattern.

Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers typically have transparent bases in their hind wings, but these can be pale yellow. That fit my photos, and there are historical records for Lake County, Illinois, so I felt that my identification was correct. Now, poring over references and my photos, and going back and forth in my conclusions, I have decided that the 2014 grasshoppers in fact were Psinidia, and the individual I caught was an unusual one with transparent hind wings. The antennae had flattened bases and were as long as the hind femurs, like Psinidia but unlike T. kiowa, which have shorter, finer, rounder antennae. The hind tibias were largely bluish, but had black bands, then yellow, then black at their proximal ends, like Psinidia. Reference photos for kiowa show blue tibias interrupted by yellow bands toward the proximal ends, but no black.

Confusion between these two species is understandable: both are small, and both have heads that protrude above their thoraxes. Unfortunately, this removes the only present-day record I had for Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers in the Chicago region. I still hope to find them, because historical records place them not only in Lake County, Illinois, but also Will County, and Lake, Newton, and Jasper Counties in Indiana.

Experiment on Self: Update

by Carl Strang

A few years have passed since I last reported on my experimental return to running as my primary exercise. Increasing stiffness and pain in my early 50’s had forced me to switch from running to bicycling for a few years. Running had been a part of my identity, however, and I missed it badly. Then I read about barefoot running. What appealed was not the barefoot part, but the reduced-impact running style: shorter strides, quicker cadence, and a forefoot to midfoot plant rather than the jarring heel plant with every step that I had been taught in my youth was the proper way to run. At age 59 I gave it a try. I have been running ever since, except for a few episodes of frustrating injuries, none of them caused by running, which nevertheless forced me to take time off and start over again after healing was complete. Those incidents helped, in that they sent me to physical therapists whose core exercises and stretches have made me stronger and helped me avoid running injuries.

So, now at age 64, I continue to enjoy running. Yes, joy is a part of it. In my ideal world everyone is an athlete, finding a form of exercise that is enjoyable to them (that would be running only for some). Running feels the same as it did in my early 20’s, thanks to the injury-avoiding measures outlined above. I’m slower, in part because I respect the limitations of an aging skeletal-muscular system and train at half the weekly mileage I put in when marathoning in my 20’s, and in part because the body’s ability to absorb, transport and process oxygen diminishes significantly with age.

Up to half a dozen times a year I enter races in the 5k to half-marathon range. Races are exciting, provide goals that focus training, immerse participants among other runners, feed the undying desire to compete, and provide standard measures of progress (or, in an older runner, gauge the inevitable slow decline in speed). Thankfully, most races acknowledge that decline with age-class categories that allow one to compare results with peers of age and gender. Also, there are on-line calculators that compute one’s young-age equivalent time when age and gender are entered. Perhaps it seems strange that someone my age would think of himself as an athlete, but I am grateful for all of this support, and happy to contribute to the worthy causes of race sponsors with my entry fees. I am a happy runner again.

Me at some mid-race point during the recent half-marathon at Moraine Hills State Park.

Me at some mid-race point during the recent half-marathon at Moraine Hills State Park.

 

Introduction to St. James Farm III: Forest, Field, Restoration

by Carl Strang

The dominant wild habitat at St. James Farm Forest Preserve is its forest, the largest wooded block in the western half of DuPage County to survive from the original land survey to the present day.

[SJF forest 1. Caption: Portions of the forest are dominated by red oaks, some of which are huge. This is very unusual in DuPage County. ]

Portions of the forest are dominated by red oaks, some of which are huge. This is very unusual in DuPage County.

White and bur oaks, more typical of the county’s woodlands historically, are well represented as well.

White and bur oaks, more typical of the county’s woodlands historically, are well represented as well.

Not as big as the oaks, but equally remarkable, is this ironwood. It has a stem diameter of 11 inches.

Not as big as the oaks, but equally remarkable, is this ironwood. It has a stem diameter of 11 inches.

Ironwood seldom grows big enough to become part of the canopy.

Ironwood seldom grows big enough to become part of the canopy.

Significant portions of the forest recently have been cleared of invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle, and a first response has been a heavy growth of white snakeroot, a native forest annual.

Significant portions of the forest recently have been cleared of invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle, and a first response has been a heavy growth of white snakeroot, a native forest annual.

Trails ultimately will be improved to provide ready access through the preserve.

Here a recently constructed trail curves through a meadow. It also extends into the southern part of the forest.

Here a recently constructed trail curves through a meadow. It also extends into the southern part of the forest.

At the moment, the northern part of the preserve is closed as a major restoration project proceeds.

The focus of the project is this stream, once a straight ditch, now improved with meanders and streambed improvements.

The focus of the project is this stream, once a straight ditch, now improved with meanders and streambed improvements.

Following the ensuing growth and development of that area will be one theme of my monitoring observations to come.

 

Spicer Lake

by Carl Strang

Spicer Lake is a St. Joseph County (Indiana) park and nature preserve close to the triple border of two Indiana counties and Michigan. It is not far from Springfield Fen, so after thanking Scott last week I headed up there to prospect for singing insects. Those proved to be relatively common species, but it was a beautiful site well worth visiting.

One feature is an extensive flooded swamp fringing Spicer Lake. The photo shows native species, but reed canary grass and purple loosestrife sadly are well established.

One feature is an extensive flooded swamp fringing Spicer Lake. The photo shows native species, but reed canary grass and purple loosestrife sadly are well established.

Winterberry hollies provided delightful spots of color.

Winterberry hollies provided delightful spots of color.

The most common singing insect along the boardwalk was the black-legged meadow katydid.

I especially liked the translucent backlit wings of this singing male.

I especially liked the translucent backlit wings of this singing male.

That visit closed the book on my out-of-state singing insect excursions for the year.

Illinois’ Kankakee Sands

by Carl Strang

In the Chicago region when someone mentions the Kankakee Sands, usually they are referring to the Nature Conservancy project in Newton County, Indiana. There is, however, a nature preserve in southeastern Kankakee County, Illinois, also known as “Kankakee Sands,” which also is worth knowing about.

The preserve has very high quality oak savanna and prairie ecosystems.

The preserve has very high quality oak savanna and prairie ecosystems.

I paid my first visit to this site on Friday, and left with a good dozen singing insect county records.

Most species were sand-soil singers I had encountered before, but this was my first sprinkled grasshopper.

Most species were sand-soil singers I had encountered before, but this was my first sprinkled grasshopper.

He was buried in a grass clump, offering no chance of a good photo. Fortunately he was open to climbing onto my finger for a portrait. The all-black pronotum sides are unique.

The most common orthopterans were tinkling ground crickets and straight-lanced meadow katydids, unsurprising on this sand soil.

One of the many male straight-lanceds from Friday.

One of the many male straight-lanceds from Friday.

I was pleased also to find that my new friend the handsome grasshopper is common there.

Handsome grasshopper, male.

Handsome grasshopper, male.

Female handsome grasshoppers were a bit bigger and green rather than brown.

Female handsome grasshoppers were a bit bigger and green rather than brown.

Both mottled sand grasshoppers and Boll’s grasshoppers also were there, the former often punctuating the scenery with their bright yellow hind wings in flight.

Boll’s grasshopper also has yellow hind wings. These are concealed when both species are at rest.

Boll’s grasshopper also has yellow hind wings. These are concealed when both species are at rest.

There also were plenty of bush katydids.

Most were curve-tailed bush katydids.

Most were curve-tailed bush katydids.

One, slightly smaller, proved to be a male fork-tailed bush katydid.

One, slightly smaller, proved to be a male fork-tailed bush katydid.

Kankakee Sands are worth a visit on either side of the state line.

 

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