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.

 

McHenry County Visit

by Carl Strang

On September 3 I drove up to McHenry County, Illinois, to continue my regional survey of singing insects. I spent most of that hot afternoon at the Pleasant Valley Conservation Area.

This county park has some very good woodlands and savannas.

This county park has some very good woodlands and savannas.

The day produced 7 county records.

My first four-spotted tree cricket in McHenry was at Pleasant Valley.

My first four-spotted tree cricket in McHenry was at Pleasant Valley.

A shift to the Hickory Grove Conservation Area produced additional observations, some of them remarkable.

The most unexpected find was a small group of gladiator meadow katydids, still singing weeks after they normally are done.

The most unexpected find was a small group of gladiator meadow katydids, still singing weeks after they normally are done.

The photo shows the characteristic pronotum profile and cerci. The marsh habitat and the distinctive song pattern, with the ticks finishing, rather than preceding, the buzz portion of the song all were consistent with gladiator meadow katydid. The black spots on the abdomen may be signs of a parasite load; could that have delayed the completion of development?

The same site produced this marsh meadow grasshopper.

The same site produced this marsh meadow grasshopper.

The Lyons Prairie and Marsh, administered as part of Hickory Grove by the McHenry County Conservation District, actually is in Lake County. I followed the trail into a portion of the marsh dominated by reed canary grass. In addition to abundant slender and short-winged meadow katydids, I got an intriguing glimpse at a female Orchelimum that might have been a dusky-faced meadow katydid, which I have yet to find in Illinois. I was unsuccessful in getting a better look in that late afternoon, but at some point I need to get back there for a thorough search.

On the way back to the car I spotted this tiny grasshopper. Mature at around 3/8 inch long, it is a non-singing species, the black-sided pygmy grasshopper.

On the way back to the car I spotted this tiny grasshopper. Mature at around 3/8 inch long, it is a non-singing species, the black-sided pygmy grasshopper.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

by Carl Strang

One day last week I drove down to southern Cook County for singing insect survey work. I quickly found confused ground crickets for a county record in the Palos area, then proceeded to the Gensburg-Markham Prairie, which proved so fruitful that it occupied the rest of the afternoon. The dominant sound in that high-quality nature preserve was the buzzing of common meadow katydids.

The name is deceptive. This is one of the few places I have found to date where Orchelimum vulgare indeed is abundant.

The name is deceptive. This is one of the few places I have found to date where Orchelimum vulgare indeed is abundant.

There were other dry-habitat species present as well. I was able to add county records for woodland meadow katydid (my northernmost to date) and for straight-lanced meadow katydid.

This straight-lanced female was content to explore my finger and pose.

This straight-lanced female was content to explore my finger and pose.

The richest portion of the site’s singing insect fauna was the subfamily of stridulating slant-faced grasshoppers. I took lots of photos, thinking I had found the mother lode of species. When I examined them closely, however, the diversity turned out to be mainly within species, and I concluded that most of them in fact were marsh meadow grasshoppers.

Here is a classic adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

Here is a classic adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

But then there were a number of these. After much study I had to conclude that this, too, was an adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

But then there were a number of these. After much study I had to conclude that this, too, was an adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

Ditto for this one.

Ditto for this one.

Even more color variation was provided by nymphs. Again, I think they were marsh meadow grasshoppers.

This one in particular was strikingly colored.

This one in particular was strikingly colored.

And this individual seems aimed toward the pattern of the third adult above.

And this individual seems aimed toward the pattern of the third adult above.

These were my first of the species in Cook County, so they were a happy find. Two other grasshoppers also were my first for the county.

Wetter areas had plenty of short-winged green grasshoppers like this female.

Wetter areas had plenty of short-winged green grasshoppers like this female.

Prize of the day was this critter, the first spotted-wing grasshopper I have seen anywhere.

Prize of the day was this critter, the first spotted-wing grasshopper I have seen anywhere.

She wasn’t giving me good angles for photography, but fortunately I got a clear shot of the dorsal pronotum.

She wasn’t giving me good angles for photography, but fortunately I got a clear shot of the dorsal pronotum.

The inward-curving margins and their posterior big black triangles point to the two local species of Orphulella. There are two cuts in the dorsal surface, which point to O. pelidna rather than its close relative the pasture grasshopper O. speciosa.

This prairie is one I intend to visit in all portions of the singing insect season.

In Search of the Dusky-faced

by Carl Strang

Last year I recorded an insect song that was much like that of the dusky-faced meadow katydid, at the Bob Kern Natural Area in Fulton County, Indiana. My note from August 31: “I made recording 28 of an interesting meadow katydid that was producing long, loud series of ticks that were irregular but sometimes sort of doubled, followed by a buzz longer than that of a nearby black-leg. It best matches reference recordings of dusky-faced.” A channel too deep and wide for me to cross prevented my getting close enough to see the singer, but I secured a permit to go in there this year. Circumstances delayed me until the last Sunday in September. The marsh has that important quality that seems essential for the rarer wetland meadow katydids: a lack of invasive plants.

The near bog-like soft soil called for hip boots, and slow careful stepping among the bunch grasses and showy Bidens.

The near bog-like soft soil called for hip boots, and slow careful stepping among the bunch grasses and showy Bidens.

I found two grasshoppers of interest. One was a singing species.

This marsh meadow grasshopper had shorter wings than the one I photographed at the magic swale.

This marsh meadow grasshopper had shorter wings than the one I photographed at the magic swale.

The other I thought might belong to the same subfamily, as it had a strongly slanting face.

No question about the head shape.

No question about the head shape.

Later I was glad that I had followed my practice of taking photos of many parts of the grasshopper, from many angles.

Note the oval-shaped area on top of the head in front of the eyes, and the sword-shaped antennae, the basal portion broad and somewhat flattened, the tip more rounded. Those proved to be diagnostic features.

Note the oval-shaped area on top of the head in front of the eyes, and the sword-shaped antennae, the basal portion broad and somewhat flattened, the tip more rounded. Those proved to be diagnostic features.

This was the clipped-wing grasshopper, Metaleptea brevicornis. Note the end of the wing, which gives the species its common name.

This was the clipped-wing grasshopper, Metaleptea brevicornis. Note the end of the wing, which gives the species its common name.

It turns out that this species belongs to a small subfamily, the silent slant-faced grasshoppers: a nice wetland insect, but not a singer. I slogged on across the marsh, but the only meadow katydids were numerous black-legs, a common species. I should try again earlier in the season next year, but I have to consider the possibility that the recorded insect was an aberrant black-leg.

Black-legged meadow katydid (St. James Farm, DuPage County)

Black-legged meadow katydid (St. James Farm, DuPage County)

I headed up to LaPorte County, which I had not surveyed as well as most of the others in my 22-county region. I had visited the Kingsbury Fish and Wildlife Area earlier in the season, and hoped to pick up some county records there from this late date. Indeed I was to end up with 7, but one in particular needs to be related here. One marsh that is adjacent to the Kankakee River has a levee easily walked, so I checked it out, listening with the SongFinder.

The marsh had few invasive wetland plants.

The marsh had few invasive wetland plants.

I heard an unusual meadow katydid song at one point. The buzz was very long, 6 seconds or more, often with long spaces between, and 6 or 7 ticks leading into the buzz. I couldn’t hear it unaided at a distance, but through the SongFinder it was distinctly louder than the songs of nearby short-winged meadow katydids. I slowly moved in closer, needing to be patient and sit still when the singer paused for longer periods, possibly because of my approach.

The location was mundane, a mix of grasses and common forbs, with the insect ultimately proving to be perched on a tall nettle.

The location was mundane, a mix of grasses and common forbs, with the insect ultimately proving to be perched on a tall nettle.

Of all things, it was a dusky-faced meadow katydid.

Of all things, it was a dusky-faced meadow katydid.

In other words, the species I had set out to find in Fulton County showed up in LaPorte County.

This is only the second location I have to date for the species.

This is only the second location I have to date for the species.

I could hear it unaided when I was within 3-5 feet, but the lesson yet again was the necessity of using the SongFinder pitch-lowering hearing aid when searching for these rarer wetland katydids.

The Magic Swale

by Carl Strang

After a summer that seemed dominated by rain and cool weather, late September brought a period of sun and warmth, offering hope of salvaging a field season that had been, on the whole, uninspiring. The Bendix Woods bioblitz brought some good results, and I was happy with my experiences at Midewin and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, so things were looking up. On my next stop I was passing a swale when I heard some curious songs through the SongFinder pitch-lowering device that led me to pause.

It doesn’t look like much in the photo, but this wet-bottomed depression had one quality increasingly hard to find in a wetland: a lack of invasive marsh plants.

It doesn’t look like much in the photo, but this wet-bottomed depression had one quality increasingly hard to find in a wetland: a lack of invasive marsh plants.

Long-tailed meadow katydids, not an everyday insect, were a good find, but they were not producing the mystery song.

Long-tailed meadow katydids, not an everyday insect, were a good find, but they were not producing the mystery song.

Reportedly a common species, the marsh meadow grasshopper had evaded my wish for a photo op until this day.

Reportedly a common species, the marsh meadow grasshopper had evaded my wish for a photo op until this day.

One of them stridulated before my eyes, rapidly raising and lowering its hind legs to scrape against the folded wings, producing the characteristic zuzz-zuzz-zuzz… of the slant-faced stridulating grasshopper subfamily.

The marsh meadow grasshopper provides yet another variation in the structural beauty of grasshoppers. The little rectangular shape above the antennae is one of the diagnostic features of this species.

The marsh meadow grasshopper provides yet another variation in the structural beauty of grasshoppers. The little rectangular shape above the antennae is one of the diagnostic features of this species.

Eventually the SongFinder led me to the singers in the swale. They will endure as the highlight of this year’s field season.

Stripe-faced meadow katydids!

Stripe-faced meadow katydids!

This is a species I have sought for years. The hints in the literature are vague in some ways, contradictory in others. I have slogged through marshes, bogs and marl in counties throughout the Chicago region, and yet here, where I would not have expected to find it, was a population of Orchelimum concinnum. They were beautiful, like the other wetland members of their genus, and well named with that ornamental stripe down the front of the head.

The stripe is not simple, but multicolored as you can see.

The stripe is not simple, but multicolored as you can see.

The song was faint to my ear. I needed to be within a few feet to hear it unaided. A few irregularly spaced ticks (3 or 4 in some individuals, 6 or 7 in others) led into a buzz a few seconds long. Increasingly I am leaning more and more on the SongFinder, but perhaps with that knowledge I will have more success in finding other populations of stripe-faced meadow katydids.

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