Shaking Out the Photo Bag

by Carl Strang

Before I get going on a new series of posts, I want to share a few photos that didn’t fit into last year’s topics.

This seemed to be a good year for gray treefrogs across the region. I frequently ran into small ones.

Gray treefrogs can change colors, making themselves green to blend in.

For some reason, they often rested on milkweed leaves.

It was a good year of singing insect field work. Plenty of questions remain unanswered.

One of the smaller ones was the identity of this grasshopper nymph at the Indiana Kankakee Sands. My best guess is sprinkled grasshopper, which I found there in adult form later in the season.

An interesting observation in the Tefft Savanna Nature Preserve (within Indiana’s Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area) was that short-winged green grasshoppers (Dichromorpha viridis) were the usual green color in wetlands but were brown in the savannas.

A mating pair of brown variants.

Late in the season I visited my friends Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge, who live in the Cleveland suburbs. One goal was to see jumping bush crickets out in the foliage and branches of trees and shrubs. In the Chicago region they almost always stick to the trunks of trees and are difficult to see.

Sure enough, within a few minutes of searching I found a singing male in a bush.

They have an odd angular appearance, as though roughly carved from wood.

That’s it for now. Soon I will share results of a productive winter project.

The Tiny Ones

by Carl Strang

One of my goals this year was to achieve some clarity with two of the tiniest singing insects in the Chicago region. The variegated ground cricket (Neonemobius variegatus) and Cuban ground cricket (N. cubensis) are only a quarter to a third of an inch long. They are so unobtrusive, with their low-volume trills and hidden haunts, that you have to listen for them even to know they are around. Both species have rapid trills with crescendo starts, and unless you have perfect pitch and better hearing than me, telling their songs apart means working from sound recordings and getting technical.

Variegated ground cricket

Cuban ground cricket

My accumulated recordings of Neonemobius songs fall into two clusters, demarcated by a space that has remained remarkably consistent.

The dots in this graph each represent a recording of a Neonemobius cricket song, analyzed in the computer. The pulses represent the speed at which the cricket rubs his wings together to produce the song, and the frequency is the highness or lowness of the song’s pitch. Both measures increase with temperature. Note that variegated ground cricket songs fall into the upper left portion of the graph, Cuban ground cricket songs lower right. Dashed lines are my eyeball estimates of the space between the two clusters of points.

Variegated ground crickets vibrate their wings more slowly than Cuban ground crickets, yet have higher-pitched songs at a given temperature. This was the tentative conclusion I had drawn, but I needed some validation, and got it in October.

Here I have to back up a bit. I had found variegated ground crickets in the Chicago region, and would not have considered the possibility of Cuban ground crickets without the work of Lisa Rainsong. Cuban ground crickets had been known as a southern species until Lisa found them to be abundant in Cleveland. Her discovery alerted me to the possibility that they also might have reached the Chicago region. That possibility was realized when I found Cuban ground crickets in Gar Creek Forest Preserve in Kankakee County, Illinois. A captive Gar Creek Cuban ground cricket anchored the right-hand portion of the graph (yellow dots, yellow line).

A few observations of variegated ground crickets in previous years fell into the left-hand cluster, but I needed more. This year a captive variegated ground cricket from Gar Creek, which has both species, provided a series of recordings at various temperatures which fell as expected (red dots, red line).

Early in October I visited Lisa and her partner Wendy Partridge, and they showed me an area where Cuban ground crickets are abundant.

This meadow in the North Chagrin Reservation, a Cleveland Metroparks site, is packed with Cuban ground crickets. Lisa and Wendy check out tree crickets down the trail.

My recordings of two individuals at that site fit nicely into the previously established Cuban ground cricket cluster (green dots).

The final touch for 2018 came on October 18. I had 3 recordings, from 2006-2018, from north Blackwell Forest Preserve in DuPage County, all of which fit into the Cuban ground cricket cluster. Despite a few frosty nights, Neonemobius crickets had survived and were singing. I succeeded in flushing out one of these, and he was indeed a Cuban ground cricket. I regard this as a final validation of the graph. Now I need to go back to most of the 22 counties of the Chicago region in future years, and discover where each of these two species occurs.

Revised distribution of variegated ground crickets in the Chicago region, based mainly on analysis of sound recordings.

Revised distribution of Cuban ground crickets. One or both of the two species occur in every county, but I have not yet made sound recordings everywhere I heard Neonemobius crickets singing.

This story is an excellent example of hidden surprises that are waiting for researchers to uncover.

One Last Look Back

by Carl Strang

My recent blog posts have shared highlights of this year’s field season, as I searched for singing insects in the 22-county area I define as the Chicago region. Those accounts haven’t told the whole story, though, and I have a few last photos to shake out of the bag. These fill out some of the experience of doing this kind of regional study.

For instance, other animals have enhanced the delight.

The chalk-fronted corporal is a dragonfly I have encountered only in the northern portion of the region, in this case at the Lulu Lake Nature Preserve in northern Walworth County, Wisconsin.

Walsh’s grasshopper was a new one for me. Not a singing species, but an interesting find at the Poverty Prairie in DuPage County’s Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve.

Turkey vultures assemble at dusk on the Culver, Indiana, water tower. My travels take me back to my home town a few times each season.

Interesting and beautiful scenes are to be found in the relatively undisturbed wild areas which are my main destinations.

An early evening rainbow at Conrad Station in the Indiana Kankakee Sands presaged a thunderstorm-dodging drive home on July 2.

Pinholes between tree leaves cast solar eclipse shadows at Blackwell Forest Preserve. Though the moon covered around 90% of the sun at peak, I detected no change in singing insect activity.

One of the more beautiful scenes was this panne in the Indiana dunes.

I had hoped to find delicate meadow katydids in the pannes. Dusky-faced meadow katydids were a good find there, but that species has a solid hold in other dunes wetlands.

The Pembroke Savanna in the Illinois Kankakee Sands is one of my favorite sites.

I believe these white pines at Warren Dunes State Park in Berrien County, Michigan, are the same ones where Richard Alexander found treetop bush katydids in 1971. He described the trees as small, but all are tall now. They still foster pine tree crickets, but I did not find any bush katydids.

I ended up with 115 county records for the season, totaling all newly found singing insect species over all the counties.

So far, I have found sprinkled grasshoppers only in oak savannas on sand soils.

Dusky-faced meadow katydids at the Indiana Kankakee Sands were a Newton County record.

This curve-tailed bush katydid at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana provided a Jasper County record for my study.

I found a healthy population of long-tailed meadow katydids, including this brown-legged male, at Ferson Creek Fen in Kane County.

The Ferson Creek population also had green-legged variants, including this female.

Lisa Rainsong, Wendy Partridge and I drove south to Loda Prairie to check out the bush cicadas there. I concluded this year that the species does not occur in the Chicago region.

This Texas bush katydid was singing in early October at Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve, DuPage County. I had an observation of this species on October 17, my latest ever in the region.

Most of the long winter remains, and as I compile data, write reports, and visit museums, I will be looking forward to another collection of rich experiences as I resume my field study in 2018.


More Prairie Meadow Katydids


by Carl Strang

Last year I first encountered what I thought were prairie meadow katydids (Conocephalus saltans), in my survey of the Chicago region’s singing insects. Further study confirmed my identifications, and set the stage for finding the species in a third location in 2017. On September 2, Lisa Rainsong and I ran into a cluster of small meadow katydids at the Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve, a Nature Conservancy savanna in eastern Kankakee County. These proved to be a mix of two species, straight-lanced meadow katydids (Conocephalus strictus) and prairie meadow katydids.

A scene at Pembroke Savanna, which I regard as the most beautiful site in the 22-county Chicago region.

Finding these two similar species together provided us with a tutorial in distinguishing them. Most of the individuals were females, and the contrast in their ovipositors could not be starker. Those of the prairie meadow katydids had a slight curve, and were much shorter.

Female prairie meadow katydid, Pembroke

Straight-lanced females have straight ovipositors that typically are as long as their bodies, or longer.

Female straight-lanced meadow katydid, Judy Burton Nature Preserve, Indiana. This one is atypical in having long wings. Most have wings about a third the length of the abdomen.

Prairie meadow katydids have wings that usually are only a quarter of the abdomen length. The knob at the tip of the head is more pronounced, though both species have this knob. The sides of the hind femurs also are different. In prairie meadow katydids there is a pattern of thin lines that resemble a ladder, on a brown leg. There usually is a diffuse black line that appears to be within the straight-lanced meadow katydid’s green hind femur. Some variation occurs in many of these features, so I advise caution and the examination of several individuals within a population.

Males have been fewer in both species, in the populations I have examined.


Male prairie meadow katydid, Pembroke

Again, the more exaggerated head knob, shorter wings, and different femur pattern are helpful. Cerci are very different in the two species, also.

Male straight-lanced meadow katydid, from another eastern Kankakee County savanna site.

I did not get a photo showing the prairie meadow katydid’s cerci, but their ends are much shorter, proportionately, than those of the straight-lanced in the photo, comparable in length to the teeth, and bend outward somewhat rather than being straight.

A final curious note from Pembroke was that the prairie meadow katydids were all brown, as the photos show. The straight-lanced meadow katydids had considerable amounts of green color. This may have been the result of local selective pressures, as this is not a consistent difference across the species’ ranges.

Wil’s White Box

by Carl Strang

The leading popular singing insects web page is The Songs of Insects, created by Wil Hershberger and Lang Elliott. Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge of Cleveland, who study northern Ohio’s singing insects much the same as I do for the Chicago region, are friends of Wil’s, and we planned a week together here to help further Wil’s expansion of the Songs of Insects project. We succeeded in finding a number of new species which ultimately will be added to that website. Along the way Wil showed us a white box, the portable version he invented to get amazing photos.

Here Lisa tries out the setup as a rightly proud Wil coaches.

Here Lisa tries out the setup as a rightly proud Wil coaches.

I got to try it, too.

This was my best shot of a confused ground cricket. Wil’s more elaborate home setup allows him to get even better exposures.

This was my best shot of a confused ground cricket. Wil’s experience allows him to get even better exposures.

My try with a marsh conehead was even more satisfactory.

My try with a marsh conehead was even more satisfactory.

As an ecologist, I philosophically prefer field shots of the insects in habitat, but I am tempted to create a white box of my own. The device certainly highlights the structure and colors of these creatures. Wil published the plans on line.

Adventures with Lisa and Wendy

by Carl Strang

Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge are two admirable women from the Cleveland area. For years I have been corresponding with Lisa about our parallel explorations of singing insects in our respective regions. They honored me with a visit over the Labor Day weekend. We spent two full days site-hopping in northwest Indiana.

Wendy and Lisa stalk a long-spurred meadow katydid at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Wendy and Lisa stalk a long-spurred meadow katydid at Indiana Dunes State Park.

This was a three-way learning exchange. I provided local knowledge of species with which Lisa and Wendy needed more experience. Dr. Rainsong, who teaches university courses in music theory, models slow and deliberate observation that gives her more of an in-depth understanding of each species than I have been able to acquire so far. She also demonstrates the value of making a lot of sound recordings. Her Listening in Nature blog shares her observations, and I realize how I need to do more of this kind of work myself.

Wendy is a fine artist and art restoration specialist whose love and knowledge of nature frequently draws her into the field with her partner. She keeps her eyes open and notices many beautiful scenes, plants and animals that remind me not to be so narrowly focused. She also took the time to sit and create a couple watercolor sketches that were simply amazing. Wendy has the best ears of us three for the higher-pitched insect songs.

One of our sites was Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area.

A population of woodland meadow katydids provided good exposure to that dry-soil species.

A population of woodland meadow katydids provided good exposure to that dry-soil species.

This tinkling ground cricket had a darker brown head than most, but he was very cooperative, giving us many photo ops as he slowly moved across the parking lot.

This tinkling ground cricket had a darker brown head than most, but he was very cooperative, giving us many photo ops as he slowly moved across the parking lot.

Another highlight was a levee at Kingsbury Fish & Wildlife Area.

The dusky-faced meadow katydid was a priority species. We were able to observe two males.

The dusky-faced meadow katydid was a priority species. We were able to observe two males.

This Texas bush katydid, my first for LaPorte County, displayed the engaging personality of his kind.

This Texas bush katydid, my first for LaPorte County, displayed the engaging personality of his kind.

I benefited not only from observing Lisa’s and Wendy’s methods, but also picked up a total of 8 county records along the way for my study. We look forward to more exchange visits over the next few years.


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