New Sites

by Carl Strang

I enjoy going back to places I have visited before as I survey the singing insects of the Chicago region. Some are beautiful, some have the possibility of harboring species I haven’t found there yet. I am finding, however, that the greatest jumps in progress come from visiting new places. Today I wish to mention some of the ones I checked for the first time this year.

Stoutsburg Savanna Nature Preserve

The Stoutsburg Savanna is a state nature preserve in northern Jasper County, Indiana. I realized that I had done nearly all my Jasper County survey work in the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, and I needed to look elsewhere. Stoutsburg’s beauty was a pleasant surprise, and I made some nice observations there.

Mottled sand grasshopper, Stoutsburg Savanna

Another new Jasper County site was the combined NIPSCO Savanna and Aukiki Wetlands. Though much of the latter, sadly, has been taken over by reed canary grass and other invasive plants, part of the area remains good quality.

The prairie portion of the site had handsome grasshoppers.

An Aukiki broad-winged bush katydid

I was glad for the opportunity to get a series of photos of this female broad-winged bush katydid.

Another site I had been wanting to see was Wintergreen Woods Nature Preserve, a LaPorte County (Indiana) Conservation Trust property. This was another pleasant place to visit.

Wintergreen Woods provided me with a county record for the clipped-wing grasshopper, a crepitating species.

The best observation at a new site came from the Ruth Kern Nature Preserve, an Acres Land Trust property in Fulton County, Indiana.

An interesting looking katydid peeked at me from a grass leaf.

It proved to be a marsh conehead, the first I have seen outside the Great Marsh of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park.

I released the female after taking a series of documenting photos.

The Ruth Kern preserve’s forested trails are pleasant to walk, looping down to the Tippecanoe River.

I look forward to new discoveries in future years at sites I still haven’t explored. It is good to see the work done by governmental and private agencies to protect some of the best wild places.

Sound Ideas: Texas Bush Katydid

by Carl Strang

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

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.

More Mayslake Insects

by Carl Strang

Today, some recent photos of insects from Mayslake Forest Preserve.

Broad-winged bush katydid, July 26

Broad-winged bush katydid, July 26

Broad-winged bush katydids have been a personal challenge to photograph. They are very good at staying out of sight, and quick to flush when they know they have been seen. This one was on the move, making it easier to spot, and I was able to go slowly enough to get in a couple shutter clicks.

The red hind tibias are striking. They don’t seem to occur on every individual, but from photos made by others, and my own few observations, they seem to appear in this species more than others.

The red hind tibias are striking. They don’t seem to occur on every individual, but from photos made by others, and my own few observations, they seem to appear in this species more than others.

The banded longhorn beetle closely resembles Strangalia luteicornis, which also recently has been visiting Queen Anne’s lace.

Note the black antennae and thorax, and the more stripe-like elytra markings.

Note the black antennae and thorax, and the more stripe-like elytra markings.

Here is Strangalia, for comparison.

Here is Strangalia, for comparison.

Like Strangalia, the adult banded longhorns visit flowers, but this one is more a woodland species rather than woods edges, and its larvae live in decaying trees. Despite the superficial similarity, it is in a different genus.

Another longhorned beetle, Batyle suturalis, like so many adults in its family, feeds on pollen.

The larvae of this one most commonly bore oak and hickory trees.

The larvae of this one most commonly bore oak and hickory trees.

The seven-spotted lady beetle was imported from Eurasia for aphid control.

Seven-spotted lady beetle. The odd number of spots comes about from the forward most spot, which forms from a half on each elytron.

Seven-spotted lady beetle. The odd number of spots comes about from the forward most spot, which forms from a half on each elytron.

The introduced lady beetles have proven to be problematic, their competitive and possibly predatory activity driving down our native lady beetle species.

The final two insects are Hymenoptera.

This little wasp, Euodynerus hidalgo, is a solitary species. The females nest in holes in wood or in the ground, partitioning them with fine soil and feeding their young with paralyzed caterpillars.

This little wasp, Euodynerus hidalgo, is a solitary species. The females nest in holes in wood or in the ground, partitioning them with fine soil and feeding their young with paralyzed caterpillars

I am accustomed to seeing cicada killers, which indeed capture cicadas to feed their young, in sand soil regions. Where these are finding soil soft enough to dig their nursery tunnels at Mayslake is a bit of a mystery.

Eastern cicada killer, the 200th insect species I have observed on the preserve.

Eastern cicada killer, the 200th insect species I have identified on the preserve.

Low Hanging Fruit

by Carl Strang

There haven’t been many new posts in this blog recently because mainly I am going after the low hanging fruit. In other words, most of my research time has been going into checking new counties and new sites, as well as return visits to sites visited earlier in the season, to build my database of singing insect species locations. Though this is productive work, most of that product consists of added locations for common species. That’s not exactly fodder for blogging. A few interesting points have come out, however.

Last week I was working in Indiana. The weather was unseasonably cool, but there was plenty of singing action. In Fulton County I heard a broad-winged bush katydid singing, which establishes that northern species down to the southern edge of the survey region. Clearly they are fewer there than farther north, however. As I drove the rural roads in temperatures that were dropping rapidly to the mid-50’s F, I started hearing a strange, unfamiliar song coming from wetter locations. It was a kind of slow, fluttering buzz, reminiscent of the protean shieldback but much louder, and the buzzes were in repeated short bursts. I pulled off at one such location, and soon realized that these were slightly musical coneheads, their songs altered by the cold, but still singing in lockstep unison. I also found that species in Pulaski County, so they are widely dispersed at least in the northwest Indiana counties.

Slightly musical conehead

Slightly musical conehead

On the way back home I explored some sites in Lake County, Indiana. The best of these was the Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve. This is a relatively large, high quality prairie and savanna property. Broad-winged bush katydids were abundant there.

A portion of the Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve

A portion of the Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve

On the way to Hoosier Prairie I passed a sign with a familiar name.

Tom Sporre Wildlife Area

Tom Sporre Wildlife Area

Tom Sporre was in the Purdue wildlife undergraduate program a year ahead of me. Personable and proficient, he went on to become a prominent Indiana waterfowl biologist who died much too young. I was pleased to see a marsh and prairie set aside under his name.

Kendall County Singing Insects

by Carl Strang

On Friday I took a vacation day to begin surveying singing insects in Kendall County, Illinois, just southeast of my home county of DuPage. It was a good, productive day, yielding a total species count of 19.  There are some high quality wet to mesic forests and restored prairies in the four sites I visited.

The best quality forest was in Richard Young Forest Preserve. There were few invasive plants in this sugar maple forest, which was cut by a nice stream or two and had a beautiful little kame named “Hepatica Hill.”

The best quality forest was in Richard Young Forest Preserve. There were few invasive plants in this sugar maple forest, which was cut by a nice stream or two and had a beautiful little kame named “Hepatica Hill.”

Harris and Hoover Forest Preserves show promise for future visits, though I did not pick up many species there on this trip. The most extensive area was Silver Springs Fish and Wildlife Area (formerly Silver Springs State Park).

Silver Springs has good bottomland forest along the Fox River, and a wide range of open lands. This meadow had many prairie grasses mixed in.

Silver Springs has good bottomland forest along the Fox River, and a wide range of open lands. This meadow had many prairie grasses mixed in.

This restored prairie was one of my favorite locations, yielding several singing insect species.

This restored prairie was one of my favorite locations, yielding several singing insect species.

I did not find much in the way of marshland, and no dry oak woodlands or savannas. I will need to see if Kendall County has good examples of such habitats. As for singing insects, highlights included good numbers of broad-winged bush katydids and a couple dog day cicadas, two of the species I am following for southern range boundaries. The dominant singer was the lyric cicada, with loud choruses providing a continuous background through the day.

This gladiator meadow katydid gave me a photo opportunity. Though the reflections from the flash reduce the quality of this as an image, they do a nice job of highlighting the relatively straight rear boundary of the pronotum, helpful in distinguishing this species from the common meadow katydid.

This gladiator meadow katydid gave me a photo opportunity. Though the reflections from the flash reduce the quality of this as an image, they do a nice job of highlighting the relatively straight rear boundary of the pronotum, helpful in distinguishing this species from the common meadow katydid.

The one species that I heard for the first time this year was the Nebraska conehead.

Many Nebraska coneheads were singing along River Road in the north part of Silver Springs and in residential properties adjacent to it. This one agreeably posed.

Many Nebraska coneheads were singing along River Road in the north part of Silver Springs and in residential properties adjacent to it. This one agreeably posed.

I hope to get back to Kendall County at least one more time this year.

The Other Side of Range Extensions

by Carl Strang

The aspect of singing insect studies that has been of greatest general interest, and about which I have presented talks most frequently, is range extensions. Most of the several examples uncovered so far have been northward extensions of species ranges, and it is easy to jump to the conclusion that this is a product of global climate change.

The first species I found well north of where it previously had been known was the broad-winged tree cricket.

The first species I found well north of where it previously had been known was the broad-winged tree cricket.

If climate is the primary influence in these range extensions, we would expect the southern boundary of a species’ range to shift north as well. However, sticking with the example of the broad-winged tree cricket, its range has expanded south as well as north. I know that only because Tom Walker, the authority responsible for the Singing Insects of North America website, informed me that he has found them spreading down into parts of Florida where they had not been before.

Documenting an expansion northward is easier than demonstrating a disappearance in the south portion of a species’ range. It is easier to prove a positive than a negative. Also, when one has limited time and financial resources, it is not possible to travel south and conduct the necessary regional surveys. So, what to do?

The best idea I have had so far is to identify species whose southern range boundaries occur in my region, and make a point of documenting their presence and estimating their abundance from year to year. There are four best candidates.

The dog day cicada Tibicen canicularis has the northernmost southern range boundary. It is mapped down into the very northern edges of Indiana and Illinois, but I have found it a little farther south, at Braidwood Dunes in Will County, Illinois, and in southern Marshall County, Indiana. My notes suggest that its numbers may vary considerably from year to year in the latter location.

Dog day cicada

Dog day cicada

The broad-winged bush katydid Scudderia pistillata is mapped a little farther south, but I have found it infrequent in DuPage County, Illinois, and its season of activity seems to conclude sooner here than it does farther north. So far my surveys have turned it up in Lake County, Illinois, as well, but not farther south.

Broad-winged bush katydid

Broad-winged bush katydid

The striped ground cricket and sword-bearing conehead are abundant in the region. Their southern range boundaries are mapped about half a state south, but that is the same distance as a number of the northern range shifts I have observed. If entire ranges are shifting, one would expect them to be more scarce.

Sword-bearing conehead

Sword-bearing conehead

This is yet another topic of interest I am keeping in mind while surveying the region’s singing insect species.

Early Singing Insects

by Carl Strang

To this point in the season I have heard singing males of 10 insect species in northeast Illinois. All but one began earlier than in any of the years from 2006 to 2011. This is consistent with more general insect phenology this year, and is attributable to a mild winter and a warm March which heated the soil earlier than usual. The only species with a later starting date was the spring field cricket, a species I usually hear first while running or bike riding, activities my back trouble prevented during the critical time period. And yet, despite that limited mobility, I have recorded dates for the other 9 species that ranged 5-22 days earlier than in any previous year (4 of the previous records were in 2007, 5 in 2010, 1 last year; they add up to 10 because of a tie). The only other case perhaps worth singling out was the broad-winged bush katydid, 22 days earlier than last year’s previous record. This species is not abundant or widely distributed, and I suspect it has a longer, earlier season than I have realized before. I should make some effort in future years to get a better handle on its starting and ending dates.

Broad-winged bush katydid

For those who may be interested, here are all the first song dates this year so far. Greenstriped grasshopper 3 April, 17 days earlier than the previous record. Spring field cricket 25 May, 20 days later. Roesel’s katydid 29 May, 11 days earlier. Protean shieldback 5 June, 7 days earlier. Linne’s cicada 14 June, 12 days earlier. Gladiator meadow katydid 14 June, 7 days earlier. Dog day cicada 15 June, 5 days earlier. Scissor-grinder cicada 19 June, 13 days earlier. Broad-winged bush katydid 23 June, 22 days earlier. Lyric cicada 24 June, 6 days earlier.

Singing Insect Season Heats Up

by Carl Strang

We have entered the part of the season when first appearances of mature singing insects accelerate. The transition in DuPage County began with the first gladiator meadow katydid singing on June 30. This was relatively early, though 9 days later than the earliest I have heard them in the 6 years of my study.

Gladiator meadow katydid.

I have to append my description of this species’ song. In the past I have said that they seldom include ticks in their song. I have been listening closely this spring, and in fact there usually are very faint ticks between the much louder buzzes. The ticks are variable. Commonly they seem to trail off from the end of a buzz rather than to lead into the next one as is typical of meadow katydids, but sometimes the latter pattern appears. Most of them have an irregular stuttering pattern in the ticks, though occasionally they are regular. The main distinction remains, however, that the ticks are very faint compared to the volume of the buzzes.

The “annual” cicadas of genus Tibicen were led in by a Linne’s cicada on July 3. The next day brought the first canicularis (dog day) cicada song, in my own yard. A lyric cicada debuted on the 11th, and finally a scissor-grinder (pruinosa) offered the first song on July 15. All of these were middle-of-the-road start dates.

Ground crickets also are due this time of year. The first was, as usual, a striped ground cricket, on July 13.

The most recent start-up was by broad-winged bush katydids, several of which were singing their short, lisping day songs at Fermilab on July 15, an early start for the species.

It’s appropriate here to remind you that I can e-mail my free guide to singing insects of the Chicago area to those who request it at my work address: cstrang@dupageforest.com

Wings Flash

by Carl Strang

I was finishing a bike workout, pedaling the final blocks toward home, when a large insect flew across my path. Green, and with wings and legs widely spread, it gave me the split-second first impression was that I was seeing a praying mantis. But the wings were wrong, proportions were wrong, and it didn’t have the Edward Gorey weirdness of a mantis’ profile in flight. The insect turned around, flew back across the street, and crash landed on a lawn. I stopped, dug out the phone, and used it to photograph what I now realized was a greater anglewing.

The spread of that katydid’s wings in flight reminded me of another recent observation. I have taken opportunities to watch a few Texas bush katydids singing, and have been struck by how much the wings flip out to the sides, especially when compared to the more subtle vibrations of singing meadow katydids. I suspect I may be onto what made the Texas bush katydid I observed at Pratts Wayne Woods have such a slurred short-song, with a quality reminiscent of the broad-winged bush katydid’s corresponding advertisement. Here’s another shot of the Pratts Wayne katydid.

It’s missing a wing tip, and there also was scarring near the base of the left forewing. Such damage may well have caused the dramatically flipping wings to sound abnormal when rubbing together to produce the song. The typical crispness that would come from, say, this undamaged conspecific I saw in the dolomite prairie at Waterfall Glen, is compromised.

By the same token, the broad-winged bush katydid’s wings are shorter and wider, and might be expected to flop around more, so that the slurring typical of that species’ short song results. Experimental manipulations suggest themselves, but I’m not interested in captive studies at present.

Pratts Wayne Woods

by Carl Strang

Pratts Wayne Woods is the largest of DuPage County’s forest preserves. While its 3500 acres have much to offer, the target of my most recent visit was the Brewster Creek Marsh. I had a couple species of meadow katydids in mind that I especially hoped to find there. The part of that marsh I was surveying was adjacent to a dry area where there are high-level equestrian jumping competitions. As I passed through part of that meadow I heard a bush cricket’s short song. It took some minutes to find him, as he took advantage of the light wind moving his perch to keep an edge toward me.

His song was a little ambiguous. I have come to think of the broad-winged bush katydid’s short song as sounding blurred, run together, and composed of more than 3 syllables. The Texas bush katydid usually has a three-syllable short song that sounds, to my ear, crisp and articulated: dig-a-dig! I needed to take the time to find this individual because his short song had 3 syllables but sounded slurred together.

The wing proportions alone say Texas bush katydid, but to be sure I caught him and photographed his tail plate, confirming the ID. Now it seems I will have to find a few more and confirm that it’s the syllable count rather than the crispness that matters in separating these two species. Soon thereafter I found myself in a wet area dense with tall sedges in northern Brewster Creek Marsh.

It was disappointing, however. There was essentially nothing to be found out in the sedge area, and just a few black-legged and short-winged meadow katydids singing along the edge. I moved west to a grassy area at the edge of a large pond. As I stepped out of the woods into that grass I caught a flash of golden brown as a slender jumper got out of my way. My immediate hope was fulfilled when a close look proved the insect to be one of my target species, a male black-sided meadow katydid.

This was the best photo I got of a male. The abdomen is mainly a shiny black in color. I saw several males, and also a female.

She easily is the most colorful small meadow katydid I have seen, and would vie with the male black-leg (a large meadow katydid) as the local show winners for subfamily Conocephalinae.

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