Even More Melodious

by Carl Strang

Relatively little has been published about melodious ground crickets (Eunemobius melodius). These tiny insects with their beautiful trilling songs first revealed themselves to me at Indiana Dunes State Park in 2012.

Melodious ground cricket

They were abundant in an open, low wet forest associated with the shrub swamp that occupies a central position within that park. The ground there has relatively little vegetation beneath the trees, with abundant rotting logs on the ground, mosses, ferns, and some other vascular plants, but much ground with nothing but wet leaf litter. On another day, I heard a few melodious ground crickets in a similar habitat at Warren Woods in Berrien County, Michigan, and in a shrub swamp in Warren Dunes State Park, also in Berrien. There the matter rested until I heard a single individual in a bottomland forest in Tippecanoe River State Park, Pulaski County, Indiana, late last year. That observation planted an idea: perhaps this species is more abundant than I realized. Flood plain forests, resembling that original site at Indiana Dunes State Park, can be found along all the major rivers in the Chicago Region. Could melodious ground crickets be found in all those places? That set the stage for one of this year’s goals.

I first tested the idea on August 11 at the Momence Wetlands, a state-owned property in Kankakee County, Illinois. As I walked into this Kankakee River floodplain forest, I was struck by its similarity to other places where I have found melodious ground crickets, and before long I began to hear them singing. As I have come to expect, they were on the ground, in or close to rotting logs. I made sound recordings to analyze for confirmation, but the contrast between their songs and those of Say’s trigs (Anaxipha exigua), which were singing nearby up in tall herbaceous vegetation, made the identification clear in my mind before the analysis later confirmed it. According to the comprehensive database used to build the species’ maps for the Singing Insects of North America website, this was the first time the melodious ground cricket was documented in Illinois.

That same day I found them on both sides of that same river in Indiana, adding Lake and Newton County records. With that success in hand, I put some time into searching for melodious ground crickets in other counties and river systems. So far, I have found them along the Kankakee River in Starke and LaPorte Counties, and the Tippecanoe River in Fulton and Marshall Counties, all in Indiana. The significance of this is that the Kankakee River flows west to co-form the Illinois River and flow into the Mississippi. The Tippecanoe joins the Wabash River, flowing south to the Ohio River. Though the Yellow River (a tributary of the Kankakee) and Tippecanoe both cross through Marshall County, their watersheds are well separated by miles of dry moraines and sandy areas. The crickets were absent from bottomland areas that recently had flooded, but rotting logs in slightly more elevated portions consistently held singing crickets.

In Illinois, I found melodious ground crickets in Will County around the confluence of the Kankakee and Des Plaines Rivers, and upstream from there along the Des Plaines in my home county of DuPage. That is as far as I will go with this pursuit as the season winds down, but I expect to add more counties to the list next year. I conclude that at least in this limited but widespread habitat type, the melodious ground cricket can be sought throughout the southern portion of the Chicago region. Here is the map to date:

Map showing counties where I have found melodious ground crickets in the Chicago region, updated with 2017 observations.

I close this post with a couple sound recordings, both made at the Des Plaines Riverway Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois, on September 6. The first, of a melodious ground cricket:

The second recording is the song of a Say’s trig:

Ground crickets, as the name suggests, sing from the ground (or, in the melodious ground cricket, sometimes from within a rotting log). Trigs sing from perches up in the vegetation. In this pair of recordings, the statistics quantify the differences you should be able to hear. The melodious ground cricket had a lower-pitched song, at 5.11 kHz, and a slower pulse rate, at 22/second. The Say’s trig’s corresponding numbers are 6.10 kHz and 31/second. The temperatures near the two singers bring out the contrast even more, the elevated trig at 17.7C and the ground cricket at 19C (i.e., if the trig had been singing at the ground cricket’s temperature, one would expect the dominant frequency and the pulse rate both to be even higher). The two species, as I mentioned above, often occur close to one another, making this difference worth noting.

 

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet Dossier

by Carl Strang

Our two species of kinglets are early season migrants. Today’s featured species usually shows up a little later than the golden-crowned kinglet.

Kinglet, Ruby-crowned

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Ruby-crowned kinglet

I have seen this little northern-breeding bird in migrations, in northern IL and IN. Usually they travel in flocks. In 1986 they moved north later than golden-crowned kinglets, in mid-late April, mainly, in DuPage County.

26OC86. Single seen in brush at Willowbrook.

18AP87. First of year seen at Dunes State Park, IN. Has louder, harsher voice than golden-crowned. More chatter. Resembles goldfinch with a burr.

24AP87. Pratts Wayne Woods (Prairie Path). Moving from bush to bush. No vocalizations. Also, little or no probing; foraging by sight only.

21AP89. First migrants of year seen in the little park across from the Newberry Library, Chicago.

22AP89. Both kinglets at Willowbrook, using a mix of hover-gleaning and even more pursuit. Also, this is the kinglet with the song, high and thin, that has one section of accelerating notes flowing into a “chee-chee-per-chi-bee” section.

24AP89. Still at Willowbrook.

25AP89. Lots of them at Willowbrook today. First warm early morning of the year.

26AP89. A few present at Willowbrook.

3MY89. Still a few.

21OC89. Present in West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve.

17AP90. Observed at Willowbrook.

22AP90. Winfield Mounds. Has song “tsee-tsee-…(accelerating)…tsee-tsurd-tserber-tsee-tsurd-tserber-tsee.”

15OC90. Ruby-crowned kinglets at Willowbrook.

23SE91. IL Beach State Park. Kinglet in black oak, reaching, lunging, and very short-flight hover gleaning. 3-12″ per move, less than 0.5 second per perch.

12AP99. Willowbrook. Golden-crowned kinglets nearly gone (saw only 1), but ruby-crowneds have arrived.

20AP99. Ruby-crowneds are showing their red crests today (first time since they started arriving), defending little feeding areas along the stream at Willowbrook. Flycatching and flush-pursuit foraging.

21AP99. Today they still are foraging with much aerial pursuit, but are moving together in groups. No crests showing.

7MY99. A second major wave of ruby-crowned kinglets, probably females, at Willowbrook. None seen after this date that spring.

1&11OC99. Migrants at Willowbrook.

12AP00. Migrants at Willowbrook, singing occasionally.

16AP00. Willowbrook. Several ruby‑crowned kinglets on the preserve, some singing. Two observed showed much more flycatching than golden‑crowneds showed this spring, and some hover‑gleaning. Longer pauses on each perch while searching for an insect to pursue.

22AP00. Morton Arboretum. Both kinglets still present.

14OC00. The past week at Willowbrook, and today at Fermilab, ruby-crowneds foraging mainly in prairie areas with scattered shrubs, concentrating on the shrubs but occasionally visiting goldenrods as well. This open area foraging contrasts with their usual spring woodland preference. Golden-crowneds this fall have been sticking to the woodlands.

7AP01. A couple ruby-crowns seen among numerous golden-crowns at Greene Valley Forest Preserve. One of them occasionally sang.

20OC01. A kinglet foraging alone in a tall herbaceous patch (mainly goldenrods that have gone to seed) at McKee Marsh. I have seen several others behaving similarly the past couple of weeks. It flies from stalk to stalk, perching just below the seed/flower heads and looking all around, apparently for insects. Occasionally makes a hover-gleaning move, often against a seed head.

13OC02. An individual giving a quick, 2-noted call similar to chattering of house wren or perhaps yellowthroat.

9OC05. West DuPage Woods. Golden-crowned kinglets foraging in crowns of trees while ruby-crowneds are mainly within 4 feet of the ground in herbs and shrubs beneath, only occasionally and briefly venturing into the lower canopies. Ruby-crowneds have a quick, chattering-quality “checkit” call. Hover-gleaning their most common foraging method today.

5-11NO05. During my southern vacation, I found golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets all the way to the Gulf of Mexico

23OC07. Fullersburg. A ruby-crowned flashed red in a brief squabble with another.

9AP13. Mayslake. A ruby-crowned kinglet was perched in place and chattering much like an irritated house wren.

Encounters Along the Way

by Carl Strang

As another season of field research into the region’s singing insects winds down, I am starting to look back at the highlights. Some of these were chance encounters that provided new photo opportunities. For example, there was a weakened common true katydid I found on a trail at Waterfall Glen in broad daylight. I didn’t have a good photo of the species, and posed him after removing him from the hazardous trail.

Unfortunately I neglected to place his hind legs in a natural position.

Unfortunately I neglected to place his hind legs in a natural position.

Another species for which I want a better photo is the handsome trig. Some were singing on a cloudy day down in Fulton County, Indiana, and one came out in the open, but the low light resulted in a less than sharp image.

Tiny but colorful, the handsome trig lives in the southern part of the region I am surveying.

Tiny but colorful, the handsome trig lives in the southern part of the region I am surveying.

The Indiana Dunes area provided several photographs.

This oblong-winged katydid female was emitting single clicks in response to the more complex songs of nearby males.

This oblong-winged katydid female was emitting single clicks in response to the more complex songs of nearby males.

A four-spotted tree cricket had escaped from my grasp before I could photograph it. While looking for it on the ground where it seemed to have gone, my headlamp revealed something better.

A female tinkling ground cricket, only the second member of the species I have seen (despite hearing hundreds).

A female tinkling ground cricket, only the second member of the species I have seen (despite hearing hundreds).

A similar encounter came when I was trying to get a better photo of a melodious ground cricket at Indiana Dunes State Park. Digging through the leaf litter in the area from which a male’s song seemed to be coming, I turned up a female ground cricket.

When I examined the photos, though, I saw that the palps were white. This was a female confused ground cricket, another species that was singing in the area, and the first female confused I have seen.

When I examined the photos, though, I saw that the palps were white. This was a female confused ground cricket, another species that was singing in the area, and the first female confused I have seen.

One of the last places I visited this year was the Bong Recreation Area in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. The prairie area there is extensive, and has a good population of common meadow katydids.

Despite its name, the common meadow katydid is much less frequently encountered than two of its congeners, the gladiator and black-legged meadow katydids.

Despite its name, the common meadow katydid is much less frequently encountered than two of its congeners, the gladiator and black-legged meadow katydids.

There were a few broad-winged bush katydids in the prairie, but I wasn’t successful in stalking one. This Texas bush katydid had to substitute.

There were a few broad-winged bush katydids in the prairie, but I wasn’t successful in stalking one. This Texas bush katydid had to substitute.

Such encounters, sprinkled through the field season, make for good memories.

Hoppers

by Carl Strang

Some singing grasshopper species mature late in the season, and I have begun to encounter a few. Their identification is based on fairly clear anatomical characteristics, but good views (photos or a specimen in hand) are needed of several body parts viewed from precise angles. The songs don’t help much. Members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily rattle their wings in flight, and members of the stridulating grasshopper subfamily rub their hind legs over the folded wings to make sounds that are essentially identical. Through trial and error I now know that I especially need: clear dorsal and lateral views of the thorax; the color and patterning of the tibias and inside surfaces of the femurs; and, usually, the color and patterning of both the front and hind wings.

The femur and tibia colors appear to be significant to the grasshoppers themselves. When a seaside grasshopper lands close to a member of the opposite gender, the two begin a stereotyped leg-lifting display.

Two seaside grasshoppers flash their colors to one another. Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan.

Two seaside grasshoppers flash their colors to one another. Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan.

The leg colors are hidden in the usual resting posture, which proves how well camouflaged these insects are. Seaside grasshopper, Indiana Dunes State Park.

The leg colors are hidden in the usual resting posture, which proves how well camouflaged these insects are. Seaside grasshopper, Indiana Dunes State Park.

The hind wing colors of the band-winged grasshoppers usually are folded out of sight. The yellow base of the seaside grasshopper’s wing looks brighter when the insect flies than it appears when fully expanded in the hand.

The hind wing colors of the band-winged grasshoppers usually are folded out of sight. The yellow base of the seaside grasshopper’s wing looks brighter when the insect flies than it appears when fully expanded in the hand.

Seaside grasshoppers are strongly associated with the Lake Michigan beaches in our region. I found more members of this subfamily in a waste area in Cook County, Illinois.

Two or three band-winged grasshopper species were here, the Carolina grasshopper and one or two with yellow wing bases.

Two or three band-winged grasshopper species were here, the Carolina grasshopper and one or two with yellow wing bases.

Some of them looked like this. Again, note the good camo.

Some of them looked like this. Again, note the good camo.

This was part of my learning process. I caught one of the grasshoppers and took some photos in the hand, but failed to get a crucial piece of information.

I was going to call this one a mottled sand grasshopper, but without a clear profile of the thorax I couldn’t be sure. Now that I have had a chance to study these photos a little more, I think this was an inland population of the seaside grasshopper.

I was going to call this one a mottled sand grasshopper, but without a clear profile of the thorax I couldn’t be sure. Now that I have had a chance to study these photos a little more, I think this was an inland population of the seaside grasshopper.

I need to go back to that site some time, not only to confirm the identity of this species, but also to check some individuals that had orange rather than yellow tibias, and may represent a different species.

Finally, there was a different-looking band-winged grasshopper at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Grasshopper colors can vary considerably with habitat, as they are strongly selected to match local background patterns. I can find no match for this color pattern in any of my references. This individual was on an old railroad bed in a savanna.

Grasshopper colors can vary considerably with habitat, as they are strongly selected to match local background patterns. I can find no match for this color pattern in any of my references. This individual was on an old railroad bed in a savanna.

I will need to go back for this one, too, but again with further study, focusing mainly on the shape and proportion of the thorax, wings and head, I am tentatively identifying it as a Boll’s grasshopper. If I’m correct, this is a dramatic example of how a species can vary from place to place. Compare the above photo to the next one.

Here is a Boll’s grasshopper at Illinois Beach State Park. This one is separated from the previous individual by only two counties’ distance.

Here is a Boll’s grasshopper at Illinois Beach State Park. This one is separated from the previous individual by only two counties’ distance.

These grasshoppers are fun. I hope to find more, as many more species in the two singing subfamilies have been found in the region historically.

Melodious Ground Cricket

by Carl Strang

On Saturday I returned to the Indiana Dunes area. My first stop was the State Park, where I hoped to confirm my suspicion that the abundant trilling coming from the leaf litter in the forest south of the shrub swamp would prove to be the songs of melodious ground crickets. It was a cool morning, which didn’t deter the forest’s Carolina ground crickets, but kept the confused ground crickets quiet. As the morning warmed degree by degree, I heard more and more of the mystery songs.

This is a wet woodland, with scattered plants, a lot of rotting logs, and much of the ground covered by varying thicknesses of leaf litter from the shading trees.

Frequent pairs of large yellow slugs, apparently reproducing, indicated how damp the environment was.

My permit allowed me to pursue the singing crickets. I stalked to the spot where a song was being produced, and slowly moved, ultimately on my knees and shifting my head position, until I had a good idea of exactly where the song was coming from. Most of the time this was leaf litter piled against a rotting log. Then I variously lifted leaves one by one, grabbed a big double handful of leaves and tossed it onto a white t-shirt, or otherwise attempted to expose the singer. More than a dozen such efforts produced two sightings of tiny black ground crickets. Both were quick to jump impressive distances. One got away after giving me only a glimpse, but the other had the misfortune to bounce off a log, giving me a chance to catch him in my hands. I put him into a jar, and later transferred him to a cage and took him home. I needed to confirm that this cricket belonged to the mystery species rather than being a Carolina ground cricket (it wasn’t a confused, lacking the snow-white palps of that species).

The cage set up at home. I provided food, and kept the bottom of the cage moist.

The cricket took a while to get settled, but then in the quiet of the evening began to produce the beautiful high-pitched trill I was hoping to hear. Indeed his identity as a melodious ground cricket is all but confirmed.

Here he is, in appearance practically identical to the Carolina ground cricket and a few other common species.

At some point I will need to check a final point under the microscope, but for now I am happy to keep him alive, protect him from parasitoids, and enjoy his nightly concerts.

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.

Marsh Conehead

by Carl Strang

My memory of the great marsh at Indiana Dunes State Park was of an extensive, grass dominated wetland. Perhaps it was once, but today it has succeeded to a shrub swamp.

A tower along one of the trails provides an overlook.

A shrub swamp is a valuable habitat, but for my purposes there are relatively few pockets of the grasses that would harbor the greatest diversity of singing insects.

Here is one such pocket along the north edge.

The drought that has dried the wetlands to a large degree no doubt also contributed to the low numbers of katydids and crickets I found in these grassy patches. One individual of interest, however, was a female conehead.

She instinctively trusted her camouflage, which allowed me to approach and catch her.

Not knowing which characteristics were essential and not wanting to kill her unnecessarily (though I did have the necessary permits), I took a series of photos.

The underside of the cone, its shape and its markings, are an important feature in conehead identification.

In many groups of katydids and crickets, ovipositor shape and size also is helpful in identifying females.

Here is the ovipositor of the female I caught.

Habitat also is helpful, in this case the marsh. Only two species of coneheads with unmarked cones are expected in marshes, the marsh conehead and the robust conehead. In this case the pinched, slightly elongate cone and the ovipositor shorter than the length of the femur point to marsh conehead. The only additional feature I should have checked was the insect’s length, a point to keep in mind for the future.

This finding, which seconds the identification of marsh coneheads that the Missouri students and I found at the nearby National Lakeshore, continues to open my eyes to the limitation of past records. Published accounts don’t show marsh coneheads this far north in Indiana. The same was true for slightly musical coneheads. Consequently I did not have either species on my hypothetical list for the region. Do these discoveries represent range extensions, or simply a mismatch between spotty past surveys of spottily distributed species? It may not be possible to say, but I have to be open to the possibility that my hypothetical list likewise may be incomplete for other groups of singing insects.

Indiana Dunes State Park Mystery

by Carl Strang

Indiana Dunes State Park is an older preserve than the National Lakeshore that surrounds it. Last week I spent a day there searching for singing insects. As was true at the National Lakeshore earlier in the month, most of the species I found were familiar, but there were a few added ones. For instance, a female rattler round-wing katydid was climbing the outside wall of the park’s nature center.

Later in the evening I heard a couple males singing nearby.

Also that evening I heard a number of jumping bush crickets. The dunes area had, as expected, gray ground crickets.

The day also brought a mystery. As had been the case at the National Lakeshore forest, confused ground crickets were common in the shaded areas, and there were a few tinkling ground crickets around the dry edges. In addition, however, in the wet-mesic forest south of the State Park’s great marsh, and extending well into the wooded margins of the marsh, a common third species was singing a clear and steady trill. It was similar in pattern, but distinctly lower in pitch and with a different tonal quality, than the Say’s trigs that were abundant in more open areas nearby.

Red oaks, ferns and deep leaf litter were characteristic of the mystery cricket’s song sites.

I remembered that the spotted ground cricket is a forest species I had not yet found, and thought that perhaps this would prove to be the solution. Later, however, when I consulted reference recordings, I was reminded that the spotted ground cricket has a pulsing trill unlike the mystery cricket’s steady song. Reviewing other possibilities, I hit upon the melodious ground cricket. The song was very close to what I heard.

The melodious ground cricket is not as well known as many other ground crickets. Edward S. Thomas and Richard Alexander first described it in 1957, and their work provides much of what has been published about it, at least in the North. They characterized it as a marsh species, but their more detailed site descriptions often, if not usually, place it among woody plants. “The majority of our specimens of melodius were secured by tearing apart a soggy, decayed log, honey-combed with insect burrows, about 20 feet from the marsh proper.” While this supports my tentative identification, at some point I will need to get back there and catch some of these crickets to make a positive determination.

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