Making a Case 2: Prairie Meadow Katydid

by Carl Strang

After more than ten years of study, I still have not found several species of singing insects that historically were known in the Chicago region. One of these was the prairie meadow katydid, one of the smaller members of its group. On August 16, Wendy Partridge and I were checking out the bike trail near the nature center at Illinois Beach State Park. Through the SongFinder, which allows me to hear high pitches, I heard faint rapid ticking sounds which, when heard from a closer position, resolved into brief buzzes. They were mechanical and katydid-like rather than cricket-like in quality, and didn’t match anything I had heard before. Wendy, with her unusually good hearing, barely could pick them up. Later, checking reference recordings, I decided they fit the song of the prairie meadow katydid. They were not in the habitat I would expect, however, being in dense vegetation where grasses were mixed with woody plants and forbs, generally shaded. That katydid species has been known to occur in that park, however.

Then on September 27 I caught and photographed a small female meadow katydid in a relatively dry portion of the Gensburg Prairie in Cook County.

Posterior portion of the Gensburg Prairie female.

Posterior portion of the Gensburg Prairie female.

Her color didn’t seem quite right for a short-winged meadow katydid, which is a common species at that site especially in the wetter portions. Studying the photos, and looking back at references, I have decided that she was a prairie meadow katydid. Along the way I looked back at all my photos of short-winged meadow katydids, and found two other individuals that met at least some of the criteria for prairie meadow katydid, one in 2011 at Mayslake Forest Preserve, and one in 2014 in the savanna woodland at Illinois Beach State Park.

The Mayslake female

The Mayslake female

The Illinois Beach State Park female

The Illinois Beach State Park female

All three have curved ovipositors that are slenderer in proportion than in a typical short-winged meadow katydid.

Typical female short-winged meadow katydid

Typical female short-winged meadow katydid

All three also have femoral patterns in which there is a lengthwise pair of lines, as in the short-winged, but have ladders of narrow crossbars rather than being clear between them as in typical short-winged. There is enough overlap in body length, according to references, that it is not a consideration in comparing those two species. The ovipositors are too short, and the femur patterns wrong, for straight-lanced meadow katydid to be a consideration. The Mayslake female is different from the other two individuals in three possibly significant ways: the femoral ground color is green rather than brown or tan, the wings are much longer, and the front of the head does not appear to rise so much (this last being a difference mentioned by W.S. Blatchley in his classic Orthoptera of Northeastern North America, which gives unusually detailed descriptions of species).

Anterior portion of the Gensburg Prairie female. Note the abrupt rise of the tip of the head when viewed from the side.

Anterior portion of the Gensburg Prairie female. Note the abrupt rise of the tip of the head when viewed from the side.

Dorsal view of the Gensburg Prairie female. Blatchley describes the wings of prairie females as covering only one-fourth of the abdomen, two-thirds in short-winged females. Furthermore, the tip of the head, when viewed from above, is relatively wide after an inward bending of its sides, expected from Blatchley’s description.

Dorsal view of the Gensburg Prairie female. Blatchley describes the wings of prairie females as covering only one-fourth of the abdomen, two-thirds in short-winged females. Furthermore, the tip of the head, when viewed from above, is relatively wide after an inward bending of its sides, expected from Blatchley’s description.

Compare this common meadow katydid, with its relatively narrow and straight-sided tip of the head, to the previous.

Compare this short-winged meadow katydid, with its relatively narrow and straight-sided tip of the head, to the previous.

 

Side view of the same male as in the previous photo. Again, note the lack of a rise in the top of the head profile.

Side view of the same male as in the previous photo. Again, note the lack of a rise in the top of the head profile.

Blatchley also believed that prairie meadow katydids occur only in “raw prairie,” a description which applies to Gensburg and Illinois Beach but not to Mayslake. I am inclined to regard the Mayslake individual as an anomalous short-winged meadow katydid, but pending study of museum specimens, am naming the other two prairie meadow katydids.

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Oops! Etc. at Midewin

by Carl Strang

A couple years ago I came across a population of large band-winged grasshoppers with bright red hind wings, at St. Joseph County’s (Indiana) Bendix Woods. Focusing on the intense red color, I declared them to be northwestern red-winged grasshoppers. In the first half of August this year I ran into a second population in Illinois, at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

They had the same bright red color as at Bendix Woods.

They had the same bright red color as at Bendix Woods.

These are large grasshoppers, approaching Carolina grasshoppers in bulk.

These are large grasshoppers, approaching Carolina grasshoppers in bulk.

This time, though, I noticed a discrepancy in my ID that should have struck me the first time.

There is a honkin’ big bulge on the top of the pronotum.

There is a honkin’ big bulge on the top of the pronotum.

The northwestern red-winged grasshopper, which I now realize I have yet to meet, has a flat pronotum profile that furthermore is cleft by a significant fissure. These prove to be autumn yellow-winged grasshoppers, which in fact can have a range of colors in the hindwings. The following week, returning with fellow singing insect enthusiasts Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge from Cleveland, and Wil Hershberger from West Virginia, we found many of these grasshoppers in fact have bright yellow wings. I need to get back there and get a photo of one for my singing insects guide.

While checking out the grasshoppers, we turned up two other species that were county records for my study.

The handsome grasshopper always is a delight. This one is a male.

The handsome grasshopper always is a delight. This one is a male.

Female handsome grasshoppers have green highlights in place of the male’s brown ones.

Female handsome grasshoppers have green highlights in place of the male’s brown ones.

Though still a nymph, this female is unambiguously a straight-lanced meadow katydid. The extra-long ovipositor and the diffuse-edged black band on the hind femur are giveaways.

Though still a nymph, this female is unambiguously a straight-lanced meadow katydid. The extra-long ovipositor and the diffuse-edged black band on the hind femur are giveaways.

Our main target in that visit was the dusky-faced meadow katydid, but that proves to be a much more complicated story deserving of its own blog post.

 

Season’s End Photo Bag

by Carl Strang

Time to share miscellaneous left-over photos from this year’s singing insects prospecting trips. These are pictures that didn’t fit the posts that covered the locations where they were taken. All are from within my 22-county survey area.

This regal fritillary fed from blazing star flowers at an eastern Illinois location far from this rare species’ main Illinois range.

This regal fritillary fed from blazing star flowers at an eastern Illinois location far from this rare species’ main Illinois range.

Though field guides describe the common checkered-skipper as eastern North America’s most abundant butterfly, it is not one I encounter very often.

Though field guides describe the common checkered-skipper as eastern North America’s most abundant butterfly, it is not one I encounter very often.

This bush katydid flew to a high perch on a tree but remained just long enough for me to take a distant photo before moving on. I don’t know enough to identify the species.

This bush katydid flew to a high perch on a tree but remained just long enough for me to take a distant photo before moving on. I don’t know enough to identify the species.

Handsome trig. I added one more Indiana county to the ones where I have found this cricket, but have yet to find it in any of the Chicago region’s other states.

Handsome trig. I added one more Indiana county to the ones where I have found this cricket, but have yet to find it in any of the Chicago region’s other states.

Straight-lanced meadow katydid. I found this species in 6 more counties in 2015, in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Straight-lanced meadow katydid, long winged form. I found this species in 6 more counties in 2015, in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Lulu Lake

by Carl Strang

During a 3-day Wisconsin trip last week, I made a lot of stops in Racine, Walworth and Kenosha Counties, the most remarkable of which was a state natural area, Lulu Lake, in Walworth County.

The site includes a large, high quality bog.

The site includes a large, high quality bog.

For once, the songs of the sphagnum ground crickets were not buried among those of Say’s trigs, as has been true at other bogs I have visited.

The bog is surrounded by hills of glacial outwash gravel.

The bog is surrounded by hills of glacial outwash gravel.

Those hills held two species I have not observed elsewhere in Walworth County to date: tinkling and spotted ground crickets. The former seem to prefer dry woodland edges on well drained sandy soils. The latter like moist shaded spots in woods on well drained sandy soils.

The bog is reached from the south by a long walk through a meadow with a good percentage of prairie plants. This curve-tailed bush katydid was a resident of that meadow.

The bog is reached from the south by a long walk through a meadow with a good percentage of prairie plants. This curve-tailed bush katydid was a resident of that meadow.

One more photo from the Wisconsin trip comes from an Interstate rest stop, also in Walworth, where I found my first straight-lanced meadow katydids for that county.

Nancy Collins had remarked that the straight-lanced males on her site had brown cerci. Going back, I find that this is true of every male I have photographed over the years.

Nancy Collins had remarked that the straight-lanced males on her site had brown cerci. Going back, I find that this is true of every male I have photographed over the years.

This was a very productive trip, resulting in 22 county records for the three days.

 

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.

 

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

by Carl Strang

One day last week I drove down to southern Cook County for singing insect survey work. I quickly found confused ground crickets for a county record in the Palos area, then proceeded to the Gensburg-Markham Prairie, which proved so fruitful that it occupied the rest of the afternoon. The dominant sound in that high-quality nature preserve was the buzzing of common meadow katydids.

The name is deceptive. This is one of the few places I have found to date where Orchelimum vulgare indeed is abundant.

The name is deceptive. This is one of the few places I have found to date where Orchelimum vulgare indeed is abundant.

There were other dry-habitat species present as well. I was able to add county records for woodland meadow katydid (my northernmost to date) and for straight-lanced meadow katydid.

This straight-lanced female was content to explore my finger and pose.

This straight-lanced female was content to explore my finger and pose.

The richest portion of the site’s singing insect fauna was the subfamily of stridulating slant-faced grasshoppers. I took lots of photos, thinking I had found the mother lode of species. When I examined them closely, however, the diversity turned out to be mainly within species, and I concluded that most of them in fact were marsh meadow grasshoppers.

Here is a classic adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

Here is a classic adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

But then there were a number of these. After much study I had to conclude that this, too, was an adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

But then there were a number of these. After much study I had to conclude that this, too, was an adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

Ditto for this one.

Ditto for this one.

Even more color variation was provided by nymphs. Again, I think they were marsh meadow grasshoppers.

This one in particular was strikingly colored.

This one in particular was strikingly colored.

And this individual seems aimed toward the pattern of the third adult above.

And this individual seems aimed toward the pattern of the third adult above.

These were my first of the species in Cook County, so they were a happy find. Two other grasshoppers also were my first for the county.

Wetter areas had plenty of short-winged green grasshoppers like this female.

Wetter areas had plenty of short-winged green grasshoppers like this female.

Prize of the day was this critter, the first spotted-wing grasshopper I have seen anywhere.

Prize of the day was this critter, the first spotted-wing grasshopper I have seen anywhere.

She wasn’t giving me good angles for photography, but fortunately I got a clear shot of the dorsal pronotum.

She wasn’t giving me good angles for photography, but fortunately I got a clear shot of the dorsal pronotum.

The inward-curving margins and their posterior big black triangles point to the two local species of Orphulella. There are two cuts in the dorsal surface, which point to O. pelidna rather than its close relative the pasture grasshopper O. speciosa.

This prairie is one I intend to visit in all portions of the singing insect season.

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.

 

More J-P Singers

by Carl Strang

The woodland meadow katydids were the highlight of last week’s exploration of Jasper-Pulaski wildlife area in Indiana, as I described in the last post. It was a productive day, and I came out with 16 new county records for singing insects in the two counties. For example, I have not had a lot of success in the past with finding straight-lanced meadow katydids, but turned them up in both counties on Wednesday.

The females of this Conocephalus species have ovipositors longer than their bodies.

The females of this Conocephalus species have ovipositors longer than their bodies.

Males have cerci with relatively long straight ends beyond the spurs.

Males have cerci with relatively long straight ends beyond the spurs.

Finding singing grasshoppers requires a different methodology from those used for other singing insects. They sing so seldom that they need to be searched out visually. This approach resulted in two species at J-P.

The mottled sand grasshopper is amazingly camouflaged. I found it by flushing it into flight.

The mottled sand grasshopper is amazingly camouflaged. I found it by flushing it into flight.

As in most of our members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily, the mottled sand grasshopper has strikingly colored hind wings.

As in most of our members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily, the mottled sand grasshopper has strikingly colored hind wings.

The other singing grasshopper subfamily is the slant-faced stridulator group.

Short-winged green grasshoppers are common at J-P.

Short-winged green grasshoppers are common at J-P.

The males usually are green on top and brown on the sides, the larger females more completely green.

The males usually are green on top and brown on the sides, the larger females more completely green.

 

A final post from this area will focus on a variety of grasshoppers from non-singing subfamilies.

Straight-lanced Meadow Katydid

by Carl Strang

The Kankakee Sands bioblitz gave me the opportunity to learn more about the straight-lanced meadow katydid. My only certain identification in northeast Illinois was a male in Kane County last year. I had photographed some females with long ovipositors, but most of these seemed better fits as short-winged meadow katydids. An open area at the Conrad Savanna State Nature Preserve proved to have an abundance of straight-lanced, and they were the only members of their genus (Conocephalus) in that location.

This was a dry sandy-soil spot with grasses, whorled milkweed, hoary vervain, and a Lespedeza species as the major plants.

Mature females left no doubt.

The ovipositor length consistently exceeded the insects’ body length. Some of the literature I had seen had given femur length as the measure, but my experience in northeast Illinois had given me doubts.

Late-instar female nymphs likewise had exaggerated ovipositors.

In this one the ovipositor is much longer than the body.

Though I could hear the incessant buzzing, free of ticks typical of meadow katydid songs, that supposedly marks the straight-lanced song (using the SongFinder, of course), searching and sweep sampling produced just a single male, a nymph in the penultimate instar.

Already the cerci are showing extended flattened tips that will be even longer at maturity. They are long enough here to be diagnostic, I think.

I was paying attention to femur color patterns as well. Note the diffuse blackish stripe on the male nymph. I think this will prove to be diagnostic, when present. It is lacking in the mature female in the first photo, however. From this experience I am inclined to regard body length rather than femur length as the measure the ovipositor needs to exceed on a mature female meadow katydid to be considered a straight-lanced. Going back through my photo records, I found only one that met this criterion.

This one I caught in the dolomite prairie at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in 2010. Note the blackish stripe on the femur.

This was one of the two highlights of my singing insect survey at the bioblitz. I’ll share the other in my next post.

Red-legged Grasshopper

by Carl Strang

Over the past couple months there have been large numbers of grasshoppers at Mayslake Forest Preserve, especially around trail and parking lot edges where mowed lawns come up against a variety of unmowed forbs and grasses. My focus in recent weeks has been on singing insects, but with that research checklist essentially complete for the year I decided to look into those grasshoppers. Perhaps I waited too long, as every hopper I got a good look at last week appeared to belong to the same species. I collected a couple of them and, after a session with references and the microscope, settled on an identification.

Red-legged grasshopper, Melanoplus femurrubrum

As I went through the references and keys I was surprised by the number of similar species and the small features that can separate them. Very close ones often segregate by habitat, however, and red-legged grasshoppers are one of the most abundant, weediest species. Ecologists think of weeds as organisms which reproduce in large numbers and occur in disturbed habitats. Therefore, animals as well as plants can be weedy.

While scrutinizing grasshoppers in the field I also got looks at several small (Conocephalus) meadow katydids. All clearly were short-wingeds, except for one.

The oddest feature on this female is the kink in her ovipositor.

She had an abdomen tip colored like that of a straight-lanced meadow katydid, but the shorter ovipositor and leg striping pattern pointed to short-winged meadow katydid, so I am staying with that more conservative identification.

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