Sarett Nature Center

by Carl Strang

Sarett Nature Center is located in northern Berrien County, Michigan. It has some high quality habitats, in particular a good sized fen and some upland forest. Glimpses of the facility’s education program that I got when I visited there last week pointed to high quality in that service, as well. Sarett’s singing insects provided a couple highlights worth sharing here.

While checking out a restored prairie and its adjacent tree line, I encountered a Forbes’s tree cricket laying eggs.

The female arched her body so as to bring her ovipositor in perpendicular to the sassafras stem. The line of eggs was around 3 inches long.

The female arched her body so as to bring her ovipositor in perpendicular to the sassafras stem. The line of eggs was around 3 inches long.

The fen was rich in sedges and other native plants.

A boardwalk provides access to the fen’s interior.

A boardwalk provides access to the fen’s interior.

Through the SongFinder I heard an unfamiliar insect song, a rapid tapping sound.

The singers proved to be black-sided meadow katydids.

The singers proved to be black-sided meadow katydids.

When I have encountered this species before, its song was overwhelmed by those of black-legged meadow katydids. Those were few in the fen. It became clear that the black-sideds were concentrated in portions of the fen that had coarse-stemmed red-osier dogwoods or broad-leaved cattails.

I left Sarett satisfied with my experience there, but a couple hours of light remained, and the day’s big highlight was still ahead…

 

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Wetland Concerns

by Carl Strang

A continuing theme in my regional survey of singing insects is the paucity of wetland species. The only one that is present in good numbers in many wetlands is the black-legged meadow katydid. Other species common in wetlands are habitat generalists such as the Carolina ground cricket and short-winged meadow katydid, which don’t truly count as wetland insects. One clear cause of this problem is the loss of high quality habitat to four invasive plant species (purple loosestrife, reed canary grass, common reed, and cattails). All four are capable of completely taking over a wetland, and examples of this can be found for all four. Small numbers of the singing insects mentioned above can be found in such places, but not the other wetland insect species.

This female long-tailed meadow katydid was a rare wetland species holdout in a small pocket of surviving diverse wetland plants surrounded by cattails, reed canary grass and common reed at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois.

This female long-tailed meadow katydid was a rare wetland species holdout in a small pocket of surviving diverse wetland plants surrounded by cattails, reed canary grass and common reed at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois.

On the other hand, there are some good wetlands out there. Many are small, and this along with their isolation may limit them.

This beautiful little fen at Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County is completely surrounded by woodland.

This beautiful little fen at Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County is completely surrounded by woodland.

Many of the interdune swales at Miller Woods in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have been taken over by the common reed. This one was an exception, but I found only black-legs there.

Many of the interdune swales at Miller Woods in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have been taken over by the common reed. This one was an exception, but I found only black-legs there.

This fen-like wetland at Bluff Creek in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest looks very good. I will want to check it earlier in the season next year.

This fen-like wetland at Bluff Creek in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest looks very good. I will want to check it earlier in the season next year.

Still, I have not given up hope. I found a third good population of mole crickets this year, in a swale at Miller Woods.

Mole cricket tunnels look like miniature mole tunnels. They occur around wetland edges, and occasionally have holes to let out the males’ deep chirping calls, and to provide access for attracted females.

Mole cricket tunnels look like miniature mole tunnels. They occur around wetland edges, and occasionally have holes to let out the males’ deep chirping calls, and to provide access for attracted females.

I also found melodious ground crickets at two new sites in Berrien County, Michigan. Though I did not find dusky-faced or delicate meadow katydids at the Indiana Dunes’ Great Marsh this year, I felt curiously encouraged by this.

Both species were there last year, but with the water level higher in 2013, the vegetation was arranged differently and I did not find them in the same place.

Both species were there last year, but with the water level higher in 2013, the vegetation was arranged differently and I did not find them in the same place.

Maybe the populations of many wetland species took a hit in last year’s drought, and were thinly dispersed in the expanded wet areas of 2013. This is, after all, the first year in which I have surveyed many of these sites. If they need a couple years to recover from the drought, maybe I will find the missing species in the future. Still, how to account for the lack of nimble meadow katydids? This species I have yet to find, anywhere. In the heart of the singing insect season I took my sea kayak into an area where they historically were known.

The channels at the south end of Lake Maxinkuckee in Marshall County, Indiana, have become heavily invaded by purple loosestrife.

The channels at the south end of Lake Maxinkuckee in Marshall County, Indiana, have become heavily invaded by purple loosestrife.

Even the patches of emergent water-dwelling knotweeds, a habitat specifically mentioned in some sources as good for nimble meadow katydids, had none as far as I could tell.

Even the patches of emergent water-dwelling knotweeds, a habitat specifically mentioned in some sources as good for nimble meadow katydids, had none as far as I could tell.

So the bottom line is a disappointing season for wetland species, with a few positive points and hope in the possibility that populations are at a low point from which they will recover.

Return to Houghton Lake

by Carl Strang

With the singing insect season winding down, I made a final trip of the year to Houghton Lake in north central Indiana. I had not been able to reach certain wetlands on my previous visit, but with much of my strength recovered I was able to wade through the tall dense vegetation.

The periphery of the wetland area was of good quality. There were many interspersed shrubs.

Farther in the center, the portion I explored quaked like a bog, but there was no sphagnum and I imagine it is more calcareous, over marl, and thus more fen-like. The plants were senescing, and I found no singing insects of interest in there, but it will be worth exploring earlier in a wetter year.

One highlight of the trip was a pair of black-horned or Forbes’s tree crickets I found engaged in courtship. My attention was drawn by the unusual buzzing quality of the male’s singing, which he produced whenever the female backed away.

Most of the time I watched them, she was feeding from the glands on his back at the base of his wings.

The male was relatively small and pale. The female was larger, and the darkest individual of this species pair I have seen.

Her head was black, and she had liberal amounts of black pigment on the rest of her body and legs.

These species remain active well into October, and I have wondered if the dark pigmentation is an adaptation for the late season.

A Slow Start

by Carl Strang

My first stop in my targeted search for new singing insect species was West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve. Two habitat units there are fens, and I had hopes of finding meadow katydids and ground crickets I haven’t seen elsewhere. A fen is a wetland at the base of a hill where there is a spring or seeping water with high pH, and often is a place where specialized plants and animals can be found. I didn’t find any new insects, but botanically the places were interesting.

This area had a lot of cattails, but between those were diverse other species. In the center of the above photo was a striking goldenrod I didn’t remember seeing before. The clusters of flowers were a little oversized, yet had fewer flowers in each than most goldenrods.

The leaves were wide, and the lowest were relatively huge, at least 8 inches long by 3 wide.

This is the swamp goldenrod, a species typical of fens and some swamps in northeast Illinois.

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