Block Count Summary

by Carl Strang

Neighborhood block counts are a survey method I have developed in my singing insects study. They consist of walks around the block in my residential neighborhood in Warrenville. I record the time and temperature, and count only the insects whose individual songs I can distinguish from the general background of tree cricket and ground cricket songs. I try to include a mix of times, especially early in the season to include cicadas, but concentrate most of the effort after dark when most species are singing. The overall species count in 2011 was 14 (no new species this year).

One of the streets on the block.

Most of these insects do not occur in high enough numbers to permit statistical comparisons between years. The high counts for each species this year were as follows: 1 for fall field cricket, jumping bush cricket, Say’s trig, and Davis’s tree cricket; 2 for Allard’s ground cricket and dog day cicada; 3 for snowy tree cricket, 4 for narrow-winged tree cricket, 5 for common true katydid, 8 for two-spotted tree cricket, 10 for Linne’s cicada, 14 for Carolina ground cricket, 16 for greater anglewing, and 26 for striped ground cricket. Most of these are typical of the past five years. Apart from statistical comparisons to follow, there seems to have been a decline in fall field crickets over that period (high counts of 5 in 2007, 4 in 2006, and 1 in the recent years, but in 2011 that count was on only one occasion).

Only three species occur consistently in large enough numbers to justify statistical comparisons between years. There never have been statistically significant differences between adjacent years in striped ground cricket counts, and the same was true in this year’s comparison with 2010 (overall medians 14.5 in both years; Mann-Whitney U-test, z = -0.14, P>0.01). Carolina ground crickets likewise were not different (median 4 in 2010, 7 in 2011; z = -2.07, P>0.01). Greater anglewing counts did show a statistically significant increase over last year (median 1 in 2010, 4 in 2011; z = -3.30, P < 0.01), and in general they and the fall field crickets have been the most volatile.

Song Peaks

by Carl Strang

My block count data allow me to look at when different kinds of singing insects are most active. I note the time of day for each count, and this year categorized four years’ counts with respect to number of hours before or after sunset.

Two-spotted tree crickets sang the most in the hour after sunset, then continued intermittently through the night.

Sample sizes were 1 count 5-6 hours before sunset, 3 counts 4-5 hours before sunset, 9 counts 3-4 hours before sunset, 13 counts 2-3 hours before sunset, 20 counts 1-2 hours before sunset, 29 counts 0-1 hour before sunset, 61 counts 0-1 hour after sunset, 59 counts 1-2 hours after sunset, 23 counts 2-3 hours after sunset, and 11 counts 3-4 hours after sunset. Some of these sample sizes are small enough to consider the results as tentative (especially for cicadas, which sing before sunset), but on the whole they seem to reflect my more general observations of activity peaks in DuPage County.

Snowy tree crickets peaked 2-3 hours after sunset. Some tree crickets like to nibble on human skin, given the chance.

I found the following peak singing times:  4-5 hours before sunset for Linne’s cicada, 1-2 hours before sunset for the dog day cicada, 0-1 hour after sunset for jumping bush cricket and two-spotted tree cricket, 1-2 hours after sunset for fall field cricket, snowy tree cricket, common true katydid and greater anglewing, 2-3 hours after sunset for striped ground cricket and Carolina ground cricket, and 3-4 hours after sunset for narrow-winged tree cricket.

Narrow-winged tree crickets showed the latest singing peak in my neighborhood, 3-4 hours after sunset.

One particular bias to keep in mind is that some loud singers may drown out others, reducing their counts. For instance, ground crickets are singing at the times when cicadas are active, but I can’t hear them above the cicadas’ loud drones.

Comparative Block Counts

by Carl Strang

In 2010 I made enough counts of singing insects in the small rural town of Culver, Indiana, to compare them to my block counts in Warrenville, Illinois, of the Chicago suburbs.

I walked around similar sized blocks in the two locations, counting the singing insects I heard. This is the south side of the Culver block.

The species count in Culver was 14; differences in species from Warrenville were the absence of Say’s trigs and common true katydids, and the addition of the lyric cicada.

Three species at Culver were abundant enough and showed enough of a difference in median counts to make statistical comparisons worth trying. Culver had more fall field crickets (median count 6, vs. 0 for Warrenville), fewer striped ground crickets (median counts 9.5 and 17 in the period of time covered by the Culver counts), and no statistically significant difference in greater anglewings (median counts 0.5 and 3.5 in Culver and Warrenville, respectively, during the sampling period,).

The Warrenville neighborhood had few fall field crickets in 2010. They were much more abundant in Culver.

I also heard two unfamiliar songs at Culver that may represent additional species. The first of these sang soon after dark on July 31, from a point off the ground and of the speed and pattern of an Allard’s ground cricket, but composed of dry clicks or ticks rather than notes or tones (listening to reference recordings the next day, I thought the most likely possibility was handsome trig).

During a Culver block count on September 4 I heard another unfamiliar song. The temperature was cool, between 55 and 60F, so the song may have been slowed. It had two parts, each consisting of fairly rapid phrases. The first part’s phrases were like doubled ticks, lispy in quality, produced for several seconds. The second part consisted of single ticks, reminiscent of the greater anglewing, lasting much longer (several seconds), and at a distinctly more rapid rate than in the first part. This pattern seems best to fit some member of the subfamily Phaneropterinae, the false katydids.

Block Counts

by Carl Strang

One easy data set to collect in my singing insects study is simply to walk around my neighborhood block (usually when going to my mailbox) and count the insects I hear. For this year I have comparisons between years, a comparison to my new count at my parents’ home in Culver, Indiana, and a consideration of species counts with respect to the time of sunset. Today I’ll focus on this year’s results in my neighborhood.

This photo of my yard is not representative of the neighborhood, in that most of my neighbors are lawn lovers who have very limited shrub and herbaceous plantings.

The overall count in my Warrenville, Illinois, block was 15 species in 2010 (for the complete list go here). No new species were added. Again in 2010 the only species abundant enough for comparisons between years were striped and Carolina ground crickets, and greater anglewing katydids.

Striped ground crickets are named for stripes on the top of the head.

Though striped ground crickets occur in prairies, they really hit their stride in mowed lawns. Not only are they the most abundant singing insect in my neighborhood, their numbers have been very consistent over the years with median counts of 13, 12, 12 and 14.5 in the respective years of 2007 to 2010. None of these differences are statistically significant.

The ticking song of the greater anglewing is a distinctive summer evening sound wherever this katydid occurs.

Carolina ground crickets, which hang out in denser plantings, and tree-dwelling greater anglewings likewise showed no changes between 2009 and 2010 (this year’s median counts 4 and 1, respectively).

Wings Flash

by Carl Strang

I was finishing a bike workout, pedaling the final blocks toward home, when a large insect flew across my path. Green, and with wings and legs widely spread, it gave me the split-second first impression was that I was seeing a praying mantis. But the wings were wrong, proportions were wrong, and it didn’t have the Edward Gorey weirdness of a mantis’ profile in flight. The insect turned around, flew back across the street, and crash landed on a lawn. I stopped, dug out the phone, and used it to photograph what I now realized was a greater anglewing.

The spread of that katydid’s wings in flight reminded me of another recent observation. I have taken opportunities to watch a few Texas bush katydids singing, and have been struck by how much the wings flip out to the sides, especially when compared to the more subtle vibrations of singing meadow katydids. I suspect I may be onto what made the Texas bush katydid I observed at Pratts Wayne Woods have such a slurred short-song, with a quality reminiscent of the broad-winged bush katydid’s corresponding advertisement. Here’s another shot of the Pratts Wayne katydid.

It’s missing a wing tip, and there also was scarring near the base of the left forewing. Such damage may well have caused the dramatically flipping wings to sound abnormal when rubbing together to produce the song. The typical crispness that would come from, say, this undamaged conspecific I saw in the dolomite prairie at Waterfall Glen, is compromised.

By the same token, the broad-winged bush katydid’s wings are shorter and wider, and might be expected to flop around more, so that the slurring typical of that species’ short song results. Experimental manipulations suggest themselves, but I’m not interested in captive studies at present.

Back to the Drawing Board

by Carl Strang

In a recent post I featured fork-tailed bush katydids.

I mentioned that the notes of their song are very similar to those of a secondary song produced by the greater angle-winged katydid.

Greater angle-wings are common in woods and neighborhoods across the eastern and southwestern U.S. Their typical, very distinctive song is a series of rapid, regular ticks, perhaps 4-8/second and lasting a few seconds. Sometimes, though, they produce loud, single “zik” calls that are very similar to those of the fork-tailed. I mentioned that in the New York Cricket Crawl the instructions say that the greater angle-wing produces this note no more than once every minute, while the fork-tailed emits it several times per minute. I was not comfortable with this distinction, and in fact it is contradicted by another reference, Elliott and Hershberger’s Songs of Insects. They say that this note can be produced every few seconds by either species, but in the fork-tailed it is limited to series of 1 to 3 at a time.

Over the past few nights I have heard a pattern produced by three different greater angle-wings in two widely separated locations that better fits the Elliott-Hershberger description. The pattern consisted of the loud raspy notes at 2-3-second intervals over a period of 30 seconds to 2 minutes, a brief pause, the ticking sequence, pause, and then a resumption of the loud raspy notes. In each case the sounds all were coming from the same point high in a tree.

I can no longer go with the Cricket Crawl description, which may in fact be valid for that local area. For now I will stick with the Elliott-Hershberger suggestion, and hope that at some point I can learn to distinguish the sound quality of the notes produced by these two species.

Fork-tailed Bush Katydid

by Carl Strang

Earlier this week I encountered a katydid on the concrete drive near the friary at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

Its wing and head shape placed it among the bush katydids. It was too small for a Texas bush katydid, and its wings were too narrow for a broad-winged. To identify it I had to catch it and photograph the tip of its abdomen. I was rewarded with a surprisingly sharp nip on the finger which, though it grabbed my attention, didn’t even break the skin.

The distinctive shape of the gray structure gives this insect its common name. I had photographed one a few years earlier, at Fullersburg Woods.

Though references say these katydids frequent bushes and herbaceous growth as well as trees, in my limited experience this is a tree-dwelling species in northeast Illinois. Its song is a bit of a challenge, being typically a single quick lisping rasp of the wings that, to my ear, is not much different from the alternate song of the greater angle-winged katydid. The only suggestion I have seen that promises a solution to this difficulty is in the instructions for the New York Cricket Crawl. They suggest that this sound is produced only once every few minutes by the greater angle-wing, while the fork-tailed calls several times a minute. I suppose until I have reason to believe otherwise, or can learn to distinguish the two, I shall have to follow this demarcation.

Block Count Results

by Carl Strang

Earlier in the season I described my block counts of singing insects, in which I walk around the block where I live, counting the singing insects I hear. In these counts I heard 13 species in 2009, compared to 15 in 2008. The two missing species were the dog day and scissor-grinder cicadas, both of which I heard on my block at times other than sampling sessions.

Only 3 species have been present in large enough numbers to allow comparisons between years. Most abundant is the striped ground cricket, with median counts of 13, 14.5, and 12 for 2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively*. Statistical tests found no differences among years in the striped ground cricket.

Median counts of Carolina ground crickets were 3, 3, and 7 for the three years. The change from 2008 to 2009 was statistically significant. The third species, the greater angle-winged katydid, produced median counts of 7, 1, and 0. The drop between 2007 and 2008 was statistically significant, but that from 2008 to 2009 was not.

The other species I have noted in my neighborhood, in rough descending order of abundance, are two-spotted tree cricket, snowy tree cricket, fall field cricket, narrow-winged tree cricket, Linne’s cicada, common true katydid, Allard’s ground cricket, and a few species I have heard very infrequently: jumping bush cricket, Say’s trig, Davis’s tree cricket and possibly fork-tailed bush katydid.

*For those interested in the technical details, I included only counts in August-October, the months when these species appeared consistently. Total numbers of counts were 49, 46 and 35 in the three years, respectively. I am very conservative in my use of statistical tests. Here I used the large-sample version of the Mann-Whitney U-test, a nonparametric test which produces (ironically?) a z test statistic. Non-parametric tests are needed for count data, and I seldom see anything like a normal distribution in the aspects of nature I study, anyway. Test statistic values for striped ground cricket counts were z = -0.73 for 2007 vs. 2008, and -1.58 for 2008 vs. 2009, both P > 0.01. Again, being conservative, I use the 1% rather than the 5% level of error. Carolina ground cricket counts showed no change between 2007 and 2008 (z = -0.68, P > 0.01), and an increase from 2008 to 2009 (z = -3.32, P < 0.01). Greater angle-wing counts showed a decrease from 2007 to 2008 (z = -3.33, P < 0.01), but no change from 2008 to 2009 (z = 0.32, P > 0.01).

A Salute to the NYC Cricket Crawl

by Carl Strang

When I began to study singing insects a few years ago, one of my hopes was that I would be able to develop protocols for a monitoring program. I was a participant in the dragonfly monitoring group, and I was aware of hearing-based monitoring programs for frogs and breeding birds. In subsequent years I have found that there is no clear way to comprehensive, all-species monitoring of singing insects. Because of the odd pitch ranges and harmonics, different people hear insect songs differently. For example, older people like me begin to lose their capacity to hear higher pitches, and need to rely on devices like the expensive Songfinder to hear some species. There are many insect songs to learn, in comparison to relatively few frogs and toads. Though the number of breeding bird species is greater, birds are popular. Few people will make the kind of effort needed to learn so many insect songs.

Fall field cricket female 1b

I was interested, therefore, to learn of a group in the New York City area which has come up with a different approach to singing insect monitoring. They call it the Cricket Crawl. They selected a date, September 11, on which they asked people to go out at night and listen to insect songs for one minute at one or more places, then report locations and species heard to the web site. Key to their plan was limiting the focus to seven species of insects with loud, distinctive songs that nearly everyone can hear. They acknowledged that others “form the background of soft churrs and trills that emanate from a series of different small ground and tree crickets.”

While results are not complete as of this writing, Sam Droege and other organizers immediately picked several patterns from the data. For instance, the fall field cricket (photo above of a female) proved to be the species most tolerant of the broad range of urban environmental conditions. The most common katydid was the greater anglewing (photo below).

Greater anglewing 4b

The species of greatest interest was the common true katydid, which historical data indicated at one time had become scarce or even extirpated locally. The September survey found several local populations, some of which may have become established from eggs transported on nursery stock from other parts of the country.

As I continue to ponder possibilities for insect song monitoring, the success of the Cricket Crawl will remain in mind as worth considering.

Block Counts

by Carl Strang

Sometimes I collect data without a particular question in mind, on the possibility that I may learn something that guides a future inquiry. My block counts of singing insects are an example.

Block count 1b

My mailbox is a block away from my home. When the singing insect season arrives in the latter half of July, I begin going around the block the long way to retrieve my mail. The above photo shows the first side of the block as I head north. Next, I turn the corner and head west.

Block count 2b

I vary the starting time, record that along with date and temperature, and count the number of individuals of each singing insect species I hear along the way. Here is the view as I turn south.

Block count 3b

This neighborhood may not look like much, but I have heard a total of 14 species here from 2007 to date, including field crickets, bush crickets, trigs, ground crickets, tree crickets, true katydids, false katydids and cicadas. These data allow me to get some understanding of how species vary in numbers between years, and how their singing changes over the season and with time of day. Once I have picked up the mail, here is the final block as I turn to home.

Block count 4b

One pattern I would have missed without the discipline of the block count is a pause in singing among the cicadas in late afternoon, followed by a big push as light fades toward dusk. I have documented the arrival of a new species, the jumping bush cricket, in the neighborhood. Striped ground crickets and greater anglewing katydids were the most abundant singers in 2007, but while the stripeds also were the top species in 2008 there was a big drop in numbers of singing anglewings. It’s a little early to say much about 2009, but so far there seem to be more Carolina ground crickets than in the previous two years.

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