Hypothetical Cicadas and Grasshoppers

by Carl Strang

Thanks to two publications, one very new and one very old, I have been able to fill out my list of singing insects that may occur in the Chicago region by adding possible cicada and grasshopper species. The new reference is a monograph published last year by the Entomological Society of America, The Cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadoidea: Cicadidae) of North America North of Mexico, by Allen F. Sanborn and Maxine S. Heath. There is not a lot of natural history information in it, as its focus is on sorting out species and their relationships, but it is complete in its species coverage and at least outlines the range for each. It allowed me to add three possible cicadas to my list. Two of them are tallgrass prairie specialists that are known in Illinois but may not occur this far north: the common grass cicada (Cicadetta calliope), a tiny early season species, and the bush cicada (Tibicen dorsatus), a late season species. The third added cicada, Walker’s cicada (Tibicen pronotalis), is a large insect of woodlands along streams.

The old reference is W.S. Blatchley’s Orthoptera of Northeastern America with Especial Reference to the Faunas, of Indiana and Florida. This one was published back in 1920, and is available as a 2012 reprint by the Forgotten Books company. The text is generally readable, but somewhat faint. The taxonomy and nomenclature for the grasshoppers have been remarkably stable over time, and most scientific names haven’t changed. I was able to make the necessary updates by referring to the most recent popular guide to grasshoppers, katydids and crickets by Capinera, Scott, and Walker. Blatchley’s book contains considerable natural history information, and is reminiscent of the Bent’s Life Histories of Birds in its style.

There are two subfamilies of singing grasshoppers. The stridulating slantfaced grasshoppers, subfamily Gomphocerinae, sing while perched or resting on the ground, lifting and lowering their back legs to rub them against the wings, producing a rapid zuzz-zuzz-zuzz sound that is distinct from other insect songs, but to my ear this stridulation seems much the same in different species. The only one for which I have a photograph is a northern species.

Thomas’s broad-winged grasshopper at Whitefish Point on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Thomas’s broad-winged grasshopper at Whitefish Point on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

That grasshopper does not occur as far south as our area, but another member of its genus, the sprinkled broad-winged grasshopper (Chloealtis conspersa) is one I’ll listen for, along with 7 other candidates in this subfamily. Though their songs probably are much the same, their habitats and details of their appearance are different.

The other singing subfamily of grasshoppers is Oedipodinae, the band-winged grasshoppers. These produce their sounds in a different way, crepitation, by rattling or rubbing together their wings in flight. The potential additions to the local list number a dozen species. One of these also was prominent at Whitefish Point.

A pair of clear-winged grasshoppers, Camnula pellucida

A pair of clear-winged grasshoppers, Camnula pellucida

The literature suggests more variation in the sounds produced by the crepitation method, but these grasshoppers are flying when they sing, and so should be easier to locate.

Singing Insects at Whitefish Point

by Carl Strang

The third goal of my Upper Peninsula trip last week was to study the singing insects there. Compared to northern Illinois, the singing insect fauna was very limited. At night the campground at Tahquamenon Falls State Park was quiet, except for the amazing snoring of one of my neighbors, thankfully only for one night. During the day the principal singing insect in the forest was the dog-day cicada.

Open areas such as Whitefish Point had more to offer. I was especially pleased to find that gray ground crickets are common there. Like all ground crickets these stayed well hidden. Here is typical habitat.

Gray ground cricket habitat b

This species is known from dunes areas around southern Lake Michigan, but the only time I was at Illinois Beach State Park listening for them was a windy day and I could not hear them clearly. At Whitefish Point I easily distinguished their song. Though the trills seem composed of discrete notes like those of Allard’s ground cricket, they are at least three times faster (Allard’s were there as well, making comparison easy). Also, the trills were not continuous but rather were interrupted by brief pauses that were spaced regularly in some individuals but at varying intervals in others. In addition to Allard’s, familiar crickets at Whitefish Point were fall field crickets and Carolina ground crickets.

Whitefish Point also was home to two singing grasshoppers that represented the two forms of grasshopper song production. One of them was a crepitating species like Illinois’ greenstriped grasshopper. My references point to the clearwinged grasshopper, Camnula pellucida, as the identification, though I am not certain.

Clearwinged grasshopper 2b

In the photo the male is on the left. Crepitation is sound production by the rattling or snapping of the wings in flight. In this species the rattle is much louder than that of the greenstriped grasshopper. Clearwinged grasshoppers occupied the more open dunes areas. The other form of sound production is called stridulation. A common grasshopper that stayed close to woody plants at Whitefish Point produced loud “zuzz-zuzz-zuzz” sounds with this method. My best stab at identification is Thomas’s broad-winged grasshopper, Chloealtis abdominalis.

Thomas's broad-winged grasshopper 3b

The black areas on the sides of the pronotum seem to point to that species. Another photo, taken just as the grasshopper turned to put some distance between itself and my camera, shows that from behind the legs have a lot of red on them.

Thomas's broad-winged grasshopper 5b

In stridulation, both legs are lifted and lowered at once, and rows of pegs on them rub against the folded wings to produce the sound.

I also found broad-winged bush katydids at Whitefish Point, but I will hold that discussion for a later time.

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