A New North for Nebraskas

by Carl Strang

The Nebraska conehead is a katydid whose northern range limit is within the Chicago region.

Nebraska coneheads can be green, like this one, or brown. The entire underside of the cone is black.

This insect of forest edges and open woodlands sings at night, its high-pitched buzzes readily audible through the window of a moving car. It is common and widespread in the southern counties of the Chicago region, but becomes less abundant, and more locally distributed, farther north. Entering this year, I had found it in nearly all the southern counties. There was a record in the literature for McHenry County, Illinois, but I had not found it there or in neighboring Lake County. I made it a focus for this year’s searching, and was able to complete the map. On July 30 I heard them in both the Lake and McHenry County portions of Chain O’Lakes State Park. I tried to find them in northern Lake County, Indiana, on August 2, but was unsuccessful. On August 11 I found a group of them a short distance north of the southern Lake County border.

Here’s another view.

Chain O’Lakes State Park is not far from Wisconsin, so on August 18 I drove the rural roads of southern Kenosha County, just north of the park. Though the habitat looked suitable in places, there were no Nebraska coneheads. They are already vanishingly thin in Lake and McHenry, so this was not surprising.

The Chicago region range map for the Nebraska conehead. Black dots indicate the counties where I have found the species. The red star marks Chain O’Lakes State Park, the northernmost known location in the region.

For my purposes, I am satisfied that I can close the book on Nebraska coneheads and focus on other species.

 

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Howl in the Night

by Carl Strang

One of the most memorable moments during my visit to Chain O’Lakes State Park last week came in the middle of the night. I was awakened by a long, low howl that immediately was joined by a chorus of high-pitched coyote howls, somewhere not too far from my campsite. There must have been at least 8 coyotes, a good-sized litter having matured to near independence at this point in the season.

Coyote at Mayslake Forest Preserve

But that first howl. Granted, I was awakened by it and therefore still half asleep. But it was a long howl, and its sound was so identical to those of wolf howl recordings I have heard that my waking-up was immediate and complete before the howl finished. I hoped it would repeat, but it did not, and the coyotes quickly subsided as well. I have been speculating since that moment.

Wolf at Indiana’s Wolf Park

A wolf was found road-killed in the vicinity of Chain O’Lakes a few years ago. Wolves have wandered into Illinois occasionally from the nearest population center in central Wisconsin during the past decade. Wolves are known to cross with coyotes, and this is thought to happen more frequently at the fringes of wolf populations in the Great Lakes region. So, what did I hear that night? I am not saying it was a wolf. As I said, I was half asleep. Still, it is conceivable that a wolf came down from Wisconsin and paired with a coyote in that park, which is extensive enough that a shy canid could stay out of sight.

Chain O’Lakes

by Carl Strang

Last week I spent a day and night at Chain O’Lakes State Park, near the Wisconsin border in Illinois. There are extensive wetlands in that park as well as dry upland areas. Though my singing insect search for the most part turned up common, expected species, I have hope for better results in a future wetter year. In the extensive upland restored prairie areas Allard’s ground crickets were the main daytime singers. In a lower, damper, goldenrod-dominated patch were some black-horned tree crickets (or, possibly, their sibling species the Forbes’s tree cricket).

The heavy but well separated basal spots on the antennae plus the dark antennal color identify this as a black-horned.

In a higher-quality prairie patch not far from some trees I found a bush katydid.

The species cannot be determined from this angle.

A quick capture made for an easy identification.

The brown, curved ovipositor distinguishes the female fork-tailed bush katydid.

Later, after dark, I heard a number of sword-bearing coneheads in the prairie areas.

This species, with its distinctive sewing-machine song, is common in meadows and prairies of the region.

Wetlands are abundant at this park, and some appear to be relatively high in quality.

Pike Marsh

The singing insects were of common species for the most part.

The slender meadow katydid is abundant in wet places.

The most conservative species I found at Chain O’Lakes was a female long-tailed meadow katydid.

This was the first green-legged female of this species I have seen. Usually they are all brown.

I will return to that park in a wetter year.

Where are the Conservatives?

by Carl Strang

It should be obvious that this title is not a political reference. In this election year both political conservatives and liberals are easy to find as they loudly and shrilly make their cases against each other, trying to attract voters (hm, reminds me of singing insects for some reason). The conservatives I am concerned about here are some of the wetland species of singing insects, habitat specialists that are found only within narrow ranges of ecological parameters and are sensitive to invasive species and other disruptions. Much of my research this year is focused on finding conservative species from my hypothetical list for the region.

I haven’t had a lot of luck with wetland conservatives. The northern mole cricket was one, but I still have not found them anywhere but Houghton Lake. The marsh conehead was another. We thought we also found slender coneheads at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, but Gideon discovered when he returned to his lab that they all were marsh coneheads as well, misleading because they were outside the size range of that species he was familiar with in Missouri.

Gideon also learned that the underside of the cone should be black, not gray as it was on the marsh coneheads we found.

But what about the several species of wetland meadow katydids in genus Orchelimum? Regionally there should be four species I haven’t yet found: dusky-faced, stripe-faced, delicate and nimble meadow katydids all have been elusive. I should have found dusky-faced meadow katydids, at least, because they are described as being common in a wide range of marshes. Instead I am finding lots of black-legged meadow katydids, a marsh species that spills into drier areas adjacent to wetlands.

Black-legged meadow katydid

Black-legs sing so loudly, day and night, that I wonder how earlier researchers heard the other wetland species. I wonder if black-legs have become more abundant, conceivably pushing the others out. Have I not been looking in the right places or in the right way? Is the lack of success this year a consequence of the drought? Certainly it takes some effort this year to get wet feet in the marshes. I will continue to look. Last week at Chain O’Lakes State Park in Illinois I saw a number of Orchelimum nymphs that were relatively plain and green.

This female meadow katydid nymph is recognized as an Orchelimum by the curved ovipositor.

On the other hand, black-legs don’t get their full colors until after they mature.

This newly molted adult male black-legged meadow katydid still has not developed his full coloration.

I will continue to look this year, and hope for better conditions next year.

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