Return to Illinois Beach

by Carl Strang

Recent success in finding new species of sand-dwelling grasshoppers brought me back to Illinois Beach State Park in hope of continuing the run. On the beach I confirmed the presence of seaside grasshoppers, but was startled at the color contrast between them and the members of their species at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Here is one of the Illinois Beach State Park hoppers.

Here is one of the Illinois Beach State Park hoppers.

And here is one from Indiana Dunes. Same species, different substrate, a nice study in natural selection.

And here is one from Indiana Dunes. Same species, different substrate, a nice study in natural selection.

Behind the foredune is a flat in which I found three species of singing grasshoppers, all in the band-winged grasshopper subfamily. The pattern continued of a larger species, a smaller one, with a couple Carolina grasshoppers thrown in for good measure.

The larger grasshopper was the by now familiar mottled sand grasshopper. These, like the seaside grasshoppers, were browner than their conspecifics in Indiana.

The larger grasshopper was the by now familiar mottled sand grasshopper. These, like the seaside grasshoppers, were browner than their conspecifics in Indiana.

The small band-winged grasshopper at first made me think of the longhorn band-winged grasshopper.

The head protrudes above the pronotum, the size is the same, and the antennae look long.

The head protrudes above the pronotum, the size is the same, and the antennae look long.

However, in place of the bright red patch at the base of the hind wing, here it is transparent. The hind tibia pattern also is different. Both areas are hidden in the resting insect, and so not subject to selection pressure by predators.

This was a new species for me, the Kiowa rangeland grasshopper.

This was a new species for me, the Kiowa rangeland grasshopper.

A little farther back from the shore, where the first trees appear, other insects may be found.

This is Dawson’s grasshopper, not a singing species (as you might guess from the dinky wings).

This is Dawson’s grasshopper, not a singing species (as you might guess from the dinky wings).

So far the meadow tree crickets I have found at Illinois Beach all have been four-spotteds. This one, too, as evidenced by the shapes of spots on the basal antenna segments.

So far the meadow tree crickets I have found at Illinois Beach all have been four-spotteds. This one, too, as evidenced by the shapes of spots on the basal antenna segments.

Finally, in the savanna zone, the dominant singing grasshopper is Boll’s grasshopper.

Boll’s is in the same genus, Spharagemon, as the mottled sand grasshopper.

Boll’s is in the same genus, Spharagemon, as the mottled sand grasshopper.

Like the mottled sand grasshopper, Boll’s grasshopper has bright yellow in the hind wings.

Like the mottled sand grasshopper, Boll’s grasshopper has bright yellow in the hind wings.

 

The easiest way to tell the two apart is to look at the angle of the back top edge of the pronotum (thorax shield). In Boll’s, here, the angle is more than 90 degrees. In the collared sand grasshopper it is acute.

The easiest way to tell the two apart is to look at the angle of the back top edge of the pronotum (thorax shield). In Boll’s, here, the angle is more than 90 degrees. In the mottled sand grasshopper it is acute.

A final treat from that portion of my exploration was a big, beautiful female bird grasshopper laying eggs in the sand of the trail.

The non-singing grasshoppers of genus Schistocerca can be difficult to tell apart. I decided this one was S. alutacea, the leather-colored bird grasshopper.

The non-singing grasshoppers of genus Schistocerca can be difficult to tell apart. I decided this one was S. alutacea, the leather-colored bird grasshopper.

Return to the National Lakeshore

by Carl Strang

A couple weeks ago I went back to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, as usual seeking to add to the regional inventory of singing insects. I spent most of my time in the West Beach area.

Behind the beach is a beautiful sand prairie with plenty of blazing stars and showy goldenrods.

Behind the beach is a beautiful sand prairie with plenty of blazing stars and showy goldenrods.

The prairie hosted the same three species of band-winged grasshoppers as at the Memorial Forest in Marshall County, but their relative numbers were different. Carolina grasshoppers were present in small numbers, as at the Memorial Forest, but the other two species were reversed. The dominant one was the longhorn band-winged grasshopper.

They were colored a little differently at this site, but had the small size, bright red hind wings, and protruding head characteristic of the species.

They were colored a little differently at this site, but had the small size, bright red hind wings, and protruding head characteristic of the species.

The larger, yellow-winged species, the mottled sand grasshopper, was present in much smaller numbers.

Its colors were perhaps a little more smudged than at the Memorial Forest.

Its colors were perhaps a little more smudged than at the Memorial Forest.

Down on the beach beyond the vegetation, as is typical of the Lake Michigan shore in the Chicago region, the seaside grasshopper was common.

The camouflage of this species is truly impressive.

The camouflage of this species is truly impressive.

A final stop was the marsh where I have found rare meadow katydids in the past. I thought I heard a couple dusky-faced meadow katydids, but was unable to confirm them visually. I did find a grasshopper that, if my identification is correct, is a relatively uncommon one, living in marshes in a limited portion of northern Indiana, southern Michigan and northwestern Ohio.

Paroxya hoosieri, variously known as the Hoosier grasshopper or the Indiana swamp grasshopper, does not belong to either of the singing grasshopper subfamilies.

Paroxya hoosieri, variously known as the Hoosier grasshopper or the Indiana swamp grasshopper, does not belong to either of the singing grasshopper subfamilies.

Memorial Forest Clearing

by Carl Strang

The Memorial Forest is a public site, essentially an undeveloped county park, in my home county of Marshall, in Indiana. As I have spent much of my time in that county over the years, my list of its singing insects is nearly as complete as that for DuPage. I had never looked at the Memorial Forest, however. I went there recently. The forest itself, though of good quality, had nothing new to add, but there is a cleared power line right-of-way through the forest which produced 4 county records, including a species I had not encountered before.

What made the clearing unusual was its sand soil.

What made the clearing unusual was its sand soil.

The nearly pure sand hosted oddities including velvet ants and a tiger beetle much larger than most species of my acquaintance. Almost right away I found my new friend, the woodland meadow katydid, and after a while ran across a species that may prove to be a frequent associate, at least in this region, as Lisa Rainsong has suggested.

A male straight-lanced meadow katydid.

A male straight-lanced meadow katydid.

There were large numbers of band-winged grasshoppers (the subfamily of grasshoppers which have wing-rattling flight displays, and thus qualify as singing insects). These ultimately sorted out to three species. In addition to the ubiquitous, and large, Carolina grasshopper, there were a medium sized and a small species.

The medium sized one was the mottled sand grasshopper, which I mentioned in a recent post on Jasper County.

The medium sized one was the mottled sand grasshopper, which I mentioned in a recent post on Jasper County.

Mottled sand grasshoppers were the most abundant singing insects in the clearing, their yellow hind wings flashing all around me as I walked. Then I noticed smaller bursts of bright red, and they led me to a grasshopper which up to that moment had been on my hypothetical list for the region.

You can get a sense of the red colored wings, and the small size of this insect, in comparison to my thumbnail. As usual, I released it unharmed.

You can get a sense of the red colored wings, and the small size of this insect, in comparison to my thumbnail. As usual, I released it unharmed.

The head and pronotum are beautifully patterned.

The head and pronotum are beautifully patterned.

This is the longhorn band-winged grasshopper, Psinidia fenestralis.

This is the longhorn band-winged grasshopper, Psinidia fenestralis.

The unusually wide black zone of the hind wing, the long, flattened antennae, and the banded yellow and black tibias, are additional features of this species. Old records placed it in the dune areas around the edge of Lake Michigan, so this well-inland site is unusual.

 

Hoppers

by Carl Strang

Some singing grasshopper species mature late in the season, and I have begun to encounter a few. Their identification is based on fairly clear anatomical characteristics, but good views (photos or a specimen in hand) are needed of several body parts viewed from precise angles. The songs don’t help much. Members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily rattle their wings in flight, and members of the stridulating grasshopper subfamily rub their hind legs over the folded wings to make sounds that are essentially identical. Through trial and error I now know that I especially need: clear dorsal and lateral views of the thorax; the color and patterning of the tibias and inside surfaces of the femurs; and, usually, the color and patterning of both the front and hind wings.

The femur and tibia colors appear to be significant to the grasshoppers themselves. When a seaside grasshopper lands close to a member of the opposite gender, the two begin a stereotyped leg-lifting display.

Two seaside grasshoppers flash their colors to one another. Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan.

Two seaside grasshoppers flash their colors to one another. Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan.

The leg colors are hidden in the usual resting posture, which proves how well camouflaged these insects are. Seaside grasshopper, Indiana Dunes State Park.

The leg colors are hidden in the usual resting posture, which proves how well camouflaged these insects are. Seaside grasshopper, Indiana Dunes State Park.

The hind wing colors of the band-winged grasshoppers usually are folded out of sight. The yellow base of the seaside grasshopper’s wing looks brighter when the insect flies than it appears when fully expanded in the hand.

The hind wing colors of the band-winged grasshoppers usually are folded out of sight. The yellow base of the seaside grasshopper’s wing looks brighter when the insect flies than it appears when fully expanded in the hand.

Seaside grasshoppers are strongly associated with the Lake Michigan beaches in our region. I found more members of this subfamily in a waste area in Cook County, Illinois.

Two or three band-winged grasshopper species were here, the Carolina grasshopper and one or two with yellow wing bases.

Two or three band-winged grasshopper species were here, the Carolina grasshopper and one or two with yellow wing bases.

Some of them looked like this. Again, note the good camo.

Some of them looked like this. Again, note the good camo.

This was part of my learning process. I caught one of the grasshoppers and took some photos in the hand, but failed to get a crucial piece of information.

I was going to call this one a mottled sand grasshopper, but without a clear profile of the thorax I couldn’t be sure. Now that I have had a chance to study these photos a little more, I think this was an inland population of the seaside grasshopper.

I was going to call this one a mottled sand grasshopper, but without a clear profile of the thorax I couldn’t be sure. Now that I have had a chance to study these photos a little more, I think this was an inland population of the seaside grasshopper.

I need to go back to that site some time, not only to confirm the identity of this species, but also to check some individuals that had orange rather than yellow tibias, and may represent a different species.

Finally, there was a different-looking band-winged grasshopper at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Grasshopper colors can vary considerably with habitat, as they are strongly selected to match local background patterns. I can find no match for this color pattern in any of my references. This individual was on an old railroad bed in a savanna.

Grasshopper colors can vary considerably with habitat, as they are strongly selected to match local background patterns. I can find no match for this color pattern in any of my references. This individual was on an old railroad bed in a savanna.

I will need to go back for this one, too, but again with further study, focusing mainly on the shape and proportion of the thorax, wings and head, I am tentatively identifying it as a Boll’s grasshopper. If I’m correct, this is a dramatic example of how a species can vary from place to place. Compare the above photo to the next one.

Here is a Boll’s grasshopper at Illinois Beach State Park. This one is separated from the previous individual by only two counties’ distance.

Here is a Boll’s grasshopper at Illinois Beach State Park. This one is separated from the previous individual by only two counties’ distance.

These grasshoppers are fun. I hope to find more, as many more species in the two singing subfamilies have been found in the region historically.

Dispersal Ability

by Carl Strang

In order for us to understand insects well enough to know which ones need the most attention in conservation, there are some pieces of information we need: how abundant they are, how broad or narrow their habitat needs, their reproductive potential, and their dispersal ability. The first two items are readily obtained in the course of a regional survey such as I am conducting for singing insects in northeast Illinois and counties in neighboring states. Reproductive potential has been studied to some extent and can be found in the literature for some species. Dispersal ability is a critical point that is not well studied as far as I can tell, and so it is good to take advantage of observations that reveal which species spread easily, and which ones do not.

Over the past two weeks I spent much time in the St. Joseph Hospital in Mishawaka, Indiana, where the medical professionals saved my mother’s life.

The hospital was built 3-4 years ago, and is surrounded by extensive areas planted mainly in native prairie plants.

The hospital was built 3-4 years ago, and is surrounded by extensive areas planted mainly in native prairie plants.

Occasionally I took walks along the paths, or made observations while arriving or departing. The species present in the plantings can be regarded as ones with high dispersal ability. These included field crickets (I cannot be sure which, as this was the cusp between the spring and fall field cricket seasons), striped and Allard’s ground crickets, Carolina grasshoppers, Roesel’s katydids, and a sword-bearing conehead. All of these are regionally abundant, and fairly broad in their habitat (dry to mesic mixes of grasses and forbs). Three have good flying ability (in the case of Roesel’s, there are long-winged individuals as well as medium and short-winged ones). Field crickets and the ground crickets can take advantage of their regional abundance and tendency to hop and walk over land. One limitation here is that I was only able to make observations over a brief portion of the season.

If I had to point to the weediest singing insect in our region, I’d have to say it’s the striped ground cricket, which is the quickest to appear in a new site.

Assorted Photos 1

by Carl Strang

Photo opportunities arise frequently during my preserve monitoring walks at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Sometimes these lead to blog posts, sometimes they simply are for identifying organisms when I’ve forgotten the distinguishing features, and sometimes they improve or add to my collection of species portraits. This week I’ll share a few of the last.

Hummingbird at cardinal flower.

That first one won’t win any photography prizes, but it does serve to document the use of one plant species for food by the bird, and the use of the bird by the plant for pollination. Another bird photo op came when I encountered a couple cooperative house wrens.

This bird adopted a humorous pose while grooming itself.

I also added to my photos of singing insects. The only picture I had of a Carolina grasshopper was one I took in Canada, and wanted a local example.

An area recently cleared of brush at the edge of the north stream corridor prairie has hosted a concentration of Carolina grasshoppers this year.

Live Tibicen cicadas usually are too high up in trees to photograph. When I found a dog day cicada singing from a tall coreopsis stem in the middle of the prairie I got a rare opportunity.

The wind was swaying the plant, so the insect isn’t perfectly sharp, but close enough for practical purposes.

More photos tomorrow.

%d bloggers like this: