Berrien Explorations

by Carl Strang

The end of August found me in Berrien County, Michigan. The first stop was the Butternut Creek Fen preserve, where I met tree cricket specialist Nancy Collins. We spent an afternoon and evening seeking tamarack tree crickets, which had been found there years ago. There are abundant tamarack trees, but we were puzzled by the crickets’ no-show. None sang, and hours of arm-tiring sweeping of foliage with long-handled nets, as well as visual scanning of branches, were fruitless. We found other species, though, and provided the site owners with a list of what we observed.

When Nancy found this fork-tailed bush katydid I was hopeful that it would prove to be a rarer cousin, the treetop bush katydid, but no dice.

Oblong-winged katydids also are at the site. My new white chamber setup worked well in the back of the car.

The next day I wandered in Berrien, St. Joseph and LaPorte Counties. The best find was a new site for me, Glassman Park in Berrien County. I bypassed some nice-looking forest, then was captured by a mundane looking grassy area adjacent to the I-94 right-of-way. It proved to have some interesting grasshoppers.

Most of these proved to be pasture grasshoppers, only the second population of this locally distributed species I have found in my study region.

A second species had a much different look.

The handsome grasshopper has an even more slant-faced profile.

With a color pattern like this, the handsome grasshopper is well named.

The day was my final in Berrien County for 2018, but there is more singing insect work to be done there in coming years. That is bound to include at least one more listening stop at Butternut Creek.

 

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Ecoblitz Continued

by Carl Strang

The Indiana Forest Alliance, a non-profit conservation organization, has been sponsoring a species survey in portions of two state forests in southern Indiana. As it consists of repeated weekend sessions over a period of years, they are calling it an “ecoblitz” rather than a bioblitz, which is a one-time event limited to a 24- or 48-hour time span. I went down for a weekend last fall, and returned in early August to complete the singing insects portion of the survey.

The area is forested, except for some small areas of tall, dense herbaceous growth in stream bottoms. The singing insect fauna consequently is mainly of forest species.

Confused ground crickets were common on the forest floor.

Confused ground crickets were common on the forest floor.

Say’s trigs by the hundreds sang in the open herbaceous areas.

Say’s trigs by the hundreds sang in the open herbaceous areas.

Widely scattered small groups of rattler round-winged katydids could be heard at night.

Widely scattered small groups of rattler round-winged katydids could be heard at night.

This nymph is recognizable as a male fork-tailed bush katydid by the distinctive appendages at the tip of his abdomen.

This nymph is recognizable as a male fork-tailed bush katydid by the distinctive appendages at the tip of his abdomen.

Some of the other species that sang for us were swamp cicadas, Nebraska coneheads, lesser angle-wing katydids, jumping bush crickets and common true katydids.

I also helped with photography at a night-time moth survey at illuminated sheets.

This small-eyed sphinx was one of the two hummingbird moths we attracted.

This small-eyed sphinx was one of the two hummingbird moths we attracted.

A blinded sphinx also dropped in.

A blinded sphinx also dropped in.

A grape leaffolder

A grape leaffolder

This lesser grapevine looper appears to be sending out pheromone.

This lesser grapevine looper appears to be sending out pheromone.

A Cope’s gray treefrog hopped in, possibly sensing the smorgasbord we had created.

A Cope’s gray treefrog hopped in, possibly sensing the smorgasbord we had created.

 

A Visit with OecanthiNancy

by Carl Strang

Nancy Collins fell in love with tree crickets when a male two-spotted tree cricket found his way onto one of the potted plants on her apartment balcony and began to sing. That encounter led to one of the more remarkable stories in present-day singing insects research. Nancy’s passion has led to a comprehensive web site on tree crickets, expeditions in North and Central America, and co-authorship of scientific papers describing new species.

Nancy with a netting-enclosed cluster of goldenrod tops holding some Forbes’s tree crickets. Nancy is the one on the right (small joke).

Nancy with a netting-enclosed cluster of goldenrod tops holding some Forbes’s tree crickets. Nancy is the one on the right (small joke).

Nancy now lives in rural Racine County, Wisconsin, and last week showed me the study plot she is managing for her experimental studies. Her projects include the distribution of tree cricket species in Wisconsin, identifying characteristics of the various species’ nymphal stages, and color variation among Forbes’s tree crickets. That last species ranges considerably, from largely black to quite pale, often in the same local population. Nancy is enclosing groups of tree crickets segregated by color on various host plants, and will follow their offspring next year to begin sorting out genetic and other influences on that color variation.

During that visit I was able to add a few singing insect species to my spreadsheet for Racine County.

These included the fork-tailed bush katydid.

These included the fork-tailed bush katydid.

This female marsh meadow grasshopper had an unusually beautiful color pattern, but most of the many individuals of this species had the typical coloration.

This female marsh meadow grasshopper had an unusually beautiful color pattern, but most of the many individuals of this species had the typical coloration.

The green cerci and long wings identify this male slender meadow katydid.

The green cerci and long wings identify this male slender meadow katydid.

Note: the name in the title is Nancy’s, not mine. It is her handle for Internet use, combining the family name for the tree crickets (Oecanthinae) with her own. She does not capitalize the Nancy portion, however.

 

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.

 

Beauty in a Small Package

by Carl Strang

Working in one of my garden flowerbeds, I noticed a tiny critter with long hind legs. A glimpse was enough to interrupt the weeding and send me in for a camera.

He’s not even big enough to straddle a narrow daylily leaf. You can see why I wanted a photo.

He’s not even big enough to straddle a narrow daylily leaf. You can see why I wanted a photo.

With those legs, antennae, and colors, clearly this was a katydid nymph. But which one? A quick perusal of the BugGuide and Singing Insects of North America websites ruled out the species that I regularly have heard in my neighborhood block counts. It is a close match to photos identified as early-instar fork-tailed bush katydids, however. That makes sense for the neighborhood habitat, but I haven’t heard any here over the past couple of years. Or any other Scudderia species for that matter. I hope that this one, or a sibling, will survive to adulthood and sing so I can confirm their presence. This perhaps is a hint that I need to get in the business of rearing nymphs, like my esteemed Wisconsin and Ohio colleagues, Nancy Oecanthinancy and Lisa Rainsong.

A Last Hurrah, Maybe

by Carl Strang

A field excursion for singing insects took me back to Indiana on Friday. The sky was clear in the morning, with the temperature in the upper 50’s F, but conditions deteriorated back to October wind and clouds through the afternoon. As I drove back home I had the feeling that, except for noting last song dates for species I encounter while engaged in other activities, the 2014 field season is done. Nevertheless, I had picked up another 6 county records, bringing the year’s total to 101.

This female fork-tailed bush katydid was my first of that species for Pulaski County.

This female fork-tailed bush katydid was my first of that species for Pulaski County.

The kinked shape of the ovipositor’s dorsal edge, along with the insect’s small size, assured the identification. Note the teeth around the tip, used when cutting into plant tissue for egg laying.

The kinked shape of the ovipositor’s dorsal edge, along with the insect’s small size, assured the identification. Note the teeth around the tip, used when cutting into plant tissue for egg laying.

 

McHenry County Exploration

by Carl Strang

On Friday I took a vacation day to check out some sites in McHenry County for their singing insect potential. I saw parts of 4 widely scattered Conservation Areas (their equivalent of Forest Preserves), and picked up 4 county records for my study along the way.

Within minutes of arriving at the first site, Elizabeth Lake, I spotted this bush katydid feeding on a tansy flower head.

Within minutes of arriving at the first site, Elizabeth Lake, I spotted this bush katydid feeding on a tansy flower head.

The small body size, and the shape of the ovipositor, identified this female as a fork-tailed bush katydid.

The small body size, and the shape of the ovipositor, identified this female as a fork-tailed bush katydid.

That was not one of the county records, but I did pick up two at that site: Forbes’s tree cricket, and slender meadow katydid.

The area with the greatest potential proved to be Hickory Grove-Lyons. These areas are a political oddity. Though the Lyons portion is in Lake County, it is cut off by a bend of the Fox River, and so managed by the McHenry County Conservation District.

A boardwalk leads through a high quality marsh at Hickory Grove. Other marshes and woodlands in this, and the adjacent Lyons area, are priorities for future exploration.

A boardwalk leads through a high quality marsh at Hickory Grove. Other marshes and woodlands in this, and the adjacent Lyons area, are priorities for future exploration.

The year’s first Texas bush katydids, which also provided a county record, were singing in that marsh. The fourth county record, common true katydid (which seems oddly uncommon in McHenry), came at a good-looking forested preserve, Coral Woods. I look forward to return visits to some of these sites.

 

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.

Fork-tailed Bush Katydid

by Carl Strang

A final gift at Indiana Dunes State Park was of fork-tailed bush katydids singing near the nature center after dark, in the absence of greater angle-wings. Reference recordings of the two species’ songs sound very similar, the single brief buzz of the fork-tailed resembling the alternate song of the greater angle-wing (the latter species also produces an unmistakable ticking sound). Greater angle-wings are very common in northeast Illinois woodlands and residential neighborhoods, but fork-taileds are less so, leaving me wondering if I might confuse them in my surveys. A fork-tailed at the State Park resolved this dilemma.

He was singing in a small tree, just a few feet above the ground.

The fork-tailed’s song is not nearly as loud as the greater angle-wing’s (it is a noticeably smaller insect with narrower, more open wings). The greater angle-wing’s brief song also has a sharp, harshly rasping quality in contrast to the lisping nature of the fork-tailed’s song. Finally, greater angle-wings usually sing from high up in trees. The three fork-taileds I heard at Indiana Dunes all were within 8 feet of the ground. While phonetic renderings can be useful in some cases, I think they can only confuse in this instance: the same or similar syllables (tzip, thisp, etc.) could be used to describe either insect’s song.

Greater angle-wing

Reference recordings commonly are made of captive insects held indoors, with the microphone very close to the singing subject. This makes for a clear, isolated recording, but can produce misleading impressions, as the present case illustrates.

August Insect Phenology

by Carl Strang

I was able to accumulate first-of-the-year sightings for 11 insect species at Mayslake Forest Preserve in August that could be compared to last year’s dates. These ranged from 44 days earlier to 77 days later, with a median of 11 days earlier. The extremes in range are greater than I see in plants, and usually reflect either different generations of insects within a season (I missed spotting representatives of an earlier or later generation in one year or the other), or uncommon species.

I also added 13 new species to the preserve’s list. Some of these I have mentioned in earlier posts (straight-lanced meadow katydid, citrine forktail, and fork-tailed bush katydid). Others were the black blister beetle,

meadow fritillary,

common buckeye,

ailanthus webworm,

fiery skipper,

and green cloverworm moth.

The fiery skipper is a southern species that moves north in considerable numbers in some years. The green cloverworm moth is distinctive enough that the blurry photo is sufficient to identify it, a common species whose presence is expected. The remaining new species were eastern tailed-blue, common true katydid, jumping bush cricket, and swamp cicada. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have been alert for the presence of the swamp cicada in DuPage County, and was pleased to hear single individuals singing on three different days at Mayslake in August.

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