Making a Case 2: Prairie Meadow Katydid

by Carl Strang

After more than ten years of study, I still have not found several species of singing insects that historically were known in the Chicago region. One of these was the prairie meadow katydid, one of the smaller members of its group. On August 16, Wendy Partridge and I were checking out the bike trail near the nature center at Illinois Beach State Park. Through the SongFinder, which allows me to hear high pitches, I heard faint rapid ticking sounds which, when heard from a closer position, resolved into brief buzzes. They were mechanical and katydid-like rather than cricket-like in quality, and didn’t match anything I had heard before. Wendy, with her unusually good hearing, barely could pick them up. Later, checking reference recordings, I decided they fit the song of the prairie meadow katydid. They were not in the habitat I would expect, however, being in dense vegetation where grasses were mixed with woody plants and forbs, generally shaded. That katydid species has been known to occur in that park, however.

Then on September 27 I caught and photographed a small female meadow katydid in a relatively dry portion of the Gensburg Prairie in Cook County.

Posterior portion of the Gensburg Prairie female.

Posterior portion of the Gensburg Prairie female.

Her color didn’t seem quite right for a short-winged meadow katydid, which is a common species at that site especially in the wetter portions. Studying the photos, and looking back at references, I have decided that she was a prairie meadow katydid. Along the way I looked back at all my photos of short-winged meadow katydids, and found two other individuals that met at least some of the criteria for prairie meadow katydid, one in 2011 at Mayslake Forest Preserve, and one in 2014 in the savanna woodland at Illinois Beach State Park.

The Mayslake female

The Mayslake female

The Illinois Beach State Park female

The Illinois Beach State Park female

All three have curved ovipositors that are slenderer in proportion than in a typical short-winged meadow katydid.

Typical female short-winged meadow katydid

Typical female short-winged meadow katydid

All three also have femoral patterns in which there is a lengthwise pair of lines, as in the short-winged, but have ladders of narrow crossbars rather than being clear between them as in typical short-winged. There is enough overlap in body length, according to references, that it is not a consideration in comparing those two species. The ovipositors are too short, and the femur patterns wrong, for straight-lanced meadow katydid to be a consideration. The Mayslake female is different from the other two individuals in three possibly significant ways: the femoral ground color is green rather than brown or tan, the wings are much longer, and the front of the head does not appear to rise so much (this last being a difference mentioned by W.S. Blatchley in his classic Orthoptera of Northeastern North America, which gives unusually detailed descriptions of species).

Anterior portion of the Gensburg Prairie female. Note the abrupt rise of the tip of the head when viewed from the side.

Anterior portion of the Gensburg Prairie female. Note the abrupt rise of the tip of the head when viewed from the side.

Dorsal view of the Gensburg Prairie female. Blatchley describes the wings of prairie females as covering only one-fourth of the abdomen, two-thirds in short-winged females. Furthermore, the tip of the head, when viewed from above, is relatively wide after an inward bending of its sides, expected from Blatchley’s description.

Dorsal view of the Gensburg Prairie female. Blatchley describes the wings of prairie females as covering only one-fourth of the abdomen, two-thirds in short-winged females. Furthermore, the tip of the head, when viewed from above, is relatively wide after an inward bending of its sides, expected from Blatchley’s description.

Compare this common meadow katydid, with its relatively narrow and straight-sided tip of the head, to the previous.

Compare this short-winged meadow katydid, with its relatively narrow and straight-sided tip of the head, to the previous.

 

Side view of the same male as in the previous photo. Again, note the lack of a rise in the top of the head profile.

Side view of the same male as in the previous photo. Again, note the lack of a rise in the top of the head profile.

Blatchley also believed that prairie meadow katydids occur only in “raw prairie,” a description which applies to Gensburg and Illinois Beach but not to Mayslake. I am inclined to regard the Mayslake individual as an anomalous short-winged meadow katydid, but pending study of museum specimens, am naming the other two prairie meadow katydids.

Recent Photos

by Carl Strang

Time to bring out a backlog of photos from the first half of August. First, a couple bumble bees from my last day on the job at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

This Bombus auricomus was huge, practically dwarfing the carpenter bees working nearby. She must have been a new queen, stocking up for her long winter wait.

This Bombus auricomus was huge, practically dwarfing the carpenter bees working nearby. She must have been a new queen, stocking up for her long winter wait.

Nearby, this yellow bumble bee Bombus fervidus also worked the wild bergamot.

Nearby, this yellow bumble bee Bombus fervidus also worked the wild bergamot.

The remaining photos are from a few days’ bouncing around in singing insect surveys.

This oblong-winged katydid peeked out through a hole in the vegetation in the late dusk at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

This oblong-winged katydid peeked out through a hole in the vegetation in the late dusk at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

This mottled sand grasshopper at Kankakee Sands was my first for Newton County, Indiana.

This mottled sand grasshopper at Kankakee Sands was my first for Newton County, Indiana.

Female Carolina ground crickets are distinctive with their short ovipositors. This one posed at Subat Forest Preserve, Kendall County.

Female Carolina ground crickets are distinctive with their short ovipositors. This one posed at Subat Forest Preserve, Kendall County.

Haunted Mansion

by Carl Strang

Mayslake Hall provided a surprise for us last week, a consequence of the south courtyard’s external walls being the target of an upcoming restoration.

The deteriorating surface is protected by a double layer of tarps.

The deteriorating surface is protected by a double layer of tarps.

A visitor on one of the mansion tours noticed something when peeking into a closet whose window is behind the tarps.

What is making this odd shadow?

What is making this odd shadow?

Here is one isolated. Bats!

Here is one isolated. Bats!

They were very active, crawling around, grooming, even eating the odd fly that landed within reach. The opportunity to watch this entertaining shadow show drew me back several times. On one occasion, a bat crawled around to the surface facing the window.

These little critters taught us that bats do not just hang and sleep during the day.

These little critters taught us that bats do not just hang and sleep during the day.

They probably are all big browns. This part of the restoration will need to be delayed, as this is a maternal colony and the babies need to fledge (if that’s the word for bats) before the tarps can be removed.

July Flowering Phenology

by Carl Strang

July was the last month in which I collected phenology data from Mayslake Forest Preserve. The results provided a satisfactory conclusion.

Many of Mayslake’s prairie plants first open their flowers in July.

Many of Mayslake’s prairie plants first open their flowers in July.

First flower dates become less different among years as the summer progresses, and that was true this year as well. The median difference from 2014 was 0 days for 47 species, an insignificant 2 days earlier than in 2013 for 31 species and the same vs. 2011 for 37 species, 1 day later than in 2010 for 37 species, and a slightly larger 5 days earlier for 35 species in comparison to 2009. The odd early year of 2012 continued to be the outlier, but even that difference was down to 10.5 days for 38 species.

Michigan lily provides one of the preserve’s more extravagant floral displays.

Michigan lily provides one of the preserve’s more extravagant floral displays.

All those medians were smaller than those for June, except the one for 2013, which was the same.

 

The Familiar, the New, and the In-Between

by Carl Strang

As I approach the end of my 7-year stint of monitoring the natural history of Mayslake Forest Preserve, most of what I observe is familiar.

This longhorn beetle, Typocerus velutinus, is an expected visitor to the preserve’s flowers this time of year.

This longhorn beetle, Typocerus velutinus, is an expected visitor to the preserve’s flowers this time of year.

Likewise, this female azure bluet was not the first of her kind I have photographed on the preserve.

Likewise, this female azure bluet was not the first of her kind I have photographed on the preserve.

On the other hand, each week brings at least one new species to add to the preserve’s lists.

This moth is an example. The Vestal appears to be a simply white geometrid at first glance, but a closer look reveals shadings and highlights of yellow and gold.

This moth is an example. The Vestal appears to be a simply white geometrid at first glance, but a closer look reveals shadings and highlights of yellow and gold.

It also helps when someone else joins me on my walks. Nikki Dahlin is a beekeeper, and she is quick to point out the flower visitors.

This bee would not have drawn my eye. It seems unremarkable.

This bee would not have drawn my eye. It seems unremarkable.

Zooming out, however, reveals how tiny it is. There were dozens of these, ignoring the nectar of the wild bergamot flower tubes and focusing on the anthers and their pollen.

Zooming out, however, reveals how tiny it is. There were dozens of these, ignoring the nectar of the wild bergamot flower tubes and focusing on the anthers and their pollen.

I haven’t studied the native bees enough to know where to begin with an identification, which would be needed to access information on other aspects of this bee’s life. Another new insect for the preserve from last week is one I have encountered elsewhere, but wasn’t aware could be at Mayslake.

The rattler round-wing katydid usually stays out of sight during the day, but this female perched on her leaf as though basking in the intermittent sun.

The rattler round-wing katydid usually stays out of sight during the day, but this female perched on her leaf as though basking in the intermittent sun.

Another two weeks will bring my Mayslake chapter to a close, but in the fall a new one will open at St. James Farm.

 

Fresh Mayslake Insects

by Carl Strang

An alertness to the small things, backed by a bit of knowledge, can add interest and beauty to a walk in the wild places.

The forage looper, like so many moths, has a subtle beauty that rewards scrutiny.

The forage looper, like so many moths, has a subtle beauty that rewards scrutiny.

This tiny geometrid is the red twin-spot, and was an addition to the Mayslake Forest Preserve species list when I found it last week.

This tiny geometrid is the red twin-spot, and was an addition to the Mayslake Forest Preserve species list when I found it last week.

Insect behavior also is worthy of study, especially when it is odd.

This guy was acting for all the world like a Laphria bumble bee mimic robber fly. It perched on the tip of a Liatris stalk, frequently turning to scan its surroundings, occasionally moving to another stalk.

This guy was acting for all the world like a Laphria bumble bee mimic robber fly. It perched on the tip of a Liatris stalk, frequently turning to scan its surroundings, occasionally moving to another stalk.

It was not a fly, however. No beak, a fat rather than flattened abdomen, and once it spread its wings and revealed two on each side. This was in fact a bumble bee. Why the odd behavior?

My, what big eyes you have, Grandpa! This is a drone. Of the species known to occur at Mayslake, it seems most likely to be Bombus fervidus, the yellow bumble bee.

My, what big eyes you have, Grandpa! This is a drone. Of the species known to occur at Mayslake, it seems most likely to be Bombus fervidus, the yellow bumble bee.

The odd behavior implies this was a male on the make. His search was not for prey, but for a passing queen of his kind. His is not a highly abundant species at Mayslake, so he may have to wait a while.

More Mayslake Insects

by Carl Strang

As we progress into the warm season, more and more insects jump, fly or climb into view. Most of the recent photographic subjects at Mayslake Forest Preserve have been moths or butterflies.

Monarch butterflies have received a lot of attention lately. Here a nearly mature caterpillar nibbles at a common milkweed flower.

Monarch butterflies have received a lot of attention lately. Here a nearly mature caterpillar nibbles at a common milkweed flower.

The beauty of moths is more subtle. This one is called the confused eusarca, a member of the inchworm family.

The beauty of moths is more subtle. This one is called the confused eusarca, a member of the inchworm family.

The prairies and meadows have produced dozens of tiger moths in the genus Haploa. These all seem to belong to two species.

I identify this one as a reversed haploa. A dark line extends from the midpoint of the leading edge of the forewing to the back corner of the wing.

I identify this one as a reversed haploa. A dark line extends from the midpoint of the leading edge of the forewing to the back corner of the wing.

This one appears to be a LeConte’s haploa. Here the dominant line goes out from the tip of the wing.

This one appears to be a LeConte’s haploa. Here the dominant line goes out from the tip of the wing.

Each species is represented by an array of confusing variations on these themes.

It hasn’t been just about moths. Here a Batyle suturalis longhorn beetle visits an ox-eye daisy.

It hasn’t been just about moths. Here a Batyle suturalis longhorn beetle visits an ox-eye daisy.

The most dramatic recent insect observation was this Laphria robber fly, with its prey, a honeybee. Laphria are bumblebee mimics.

The most dramatic recent insect observation was this Laphria robber fly, with its prey, a honeybee. Laphria are bumblebee mimics.

June Flowering Phenology

by Carl Strang

First flower dates at Mayslake Forest Preserve in June continued the trend of convergence on earlier years that is typical of the progressing season. The median difference from 2014 for 71 species was only one day earlier, and two days earlier than 2013 for 69 plant species.

Butterfly weed was among the species that first opened flowers in June.

Butterfly weed was among the species that first opened flowers in June.

The biggest difference continues to be with the very early year of 2012, but that is down to a median of 11 days later for 71 species. The difference for the remaining three years is not large: 5 days earlier than 2011 for 61 species, 5 days later than 2010 for 49 species, and 6 days earlier than 2009 for 51 species.

Compass plants began to bloom just before the end of June.

Compass plants began to bloom just before the end of June.

These differences represented reductions of 6 days, 3 days, 7 days, 1 day, and 4 days from May values for the years 2014-2010. The difference for 2009 increased by 3 days.

Mayslake Animals and Plants

by Carl Strang

Time for an update on Mayslake Forest Preserve’s wildlife, both animal and vegetable.

A house wren has been active in the south part of the preserve.

A house wren has been active in the south part of the preserve.

Incidentally, the least flycatcher continues to hang around and sing. Might it have found a mate?

Tracks last week revealed that in addition to the buck featured in earlier posts, there is a doe with her fawn in residence on the preserve this summer.

Tracks last week revealed that in addition to the buck featured in earlier posts, there is a doe with her fawn in residence on the preserve this summer.

The most recent addition to Mayslake’s insect list is this moth, the six-spotted gray. Though it superficially appeared to be a member of the inchworm family, it proved to be one of the noctuids.

The most recent addition to Mayslake’s insect list is this moth, the six-spotted gray. Though it superficially appeared to be a member of the inchworm family, it proved to be one of the noctuids.

The former friary site gradually will recover from its year as a temporary off-leash dog area. In the meantime, a number of weedy plants have invaded.

One of these is the patience dock.

One of these is the patience dock.

It looks like an overlarge curly dock, with a strong red stem and a heavy array of flowers.

It looks like an overlarge curly dock, with a strong red stem and a heavy array of flowers.

Mayslake Nature Art Show

by Carl Strang

Lovers of nature and art can satisfy both interests by visiting the grounds of Mayslake Peabody Estate this summer. “When Art and Nature Meet” is a show honoring the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Centennial year.

The opening piece is this eagle launching itself into flight, by sculptor Dan Massopust.

The opening piece is this eagle launching itself into flight, by sculptor Dan Massopust.

Artists were encouraged to use collected materials. This is “Nest,” by Vivian Visser.

Artists were encouraged to use collected materials. This is “Nest,” by Vivian Visser.

The pieces all are labeled.

The pieces all are labeled.

The previous label describes this constellation of painted poles, each carved with images of owls. The cross in the background is not part of the piece, but is an artifact of the estate’s Franciscan period.

The previous label describes this constellation of painted poles, each carved with images of owls. The cross in the background is not part of the piece, but is an artifact of the estate’s Franciscan period.

Here is an example of artist Gary Lehman’s owl images.

Here is an example of artist Gary Lehman’s owl images.

Elisa DaSilva contributed an array of large dreamcatchers.

Elisa DaSilva contributed an array of large dreamcatchers.

An ash tree dying from an emerald ash borer infestation was topped rather than taken out entirely, so that Eric Widitz could carve the stem into this piece.

An ash tree dying from an emerald ash borer infestation was topped rather than taken out entirely, so that Eric Widitz could carve the stem into this piece.

Detail from Widitz’ carving. You have to see it up close and from all angles to appreciate it fully.

Detail from Widitz’ carving. You have to see it up close and from all angles to appreciate it fully.

These photos show fewer than half of the pieces. Come on out and see them!

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