Illinois’ Kankakee Sands

by Carl Strang

In the Chicago region when someone mentions the Kankakee Sands, usually they are referring to the Nature Conservancy project in Newton County, Indiana. There is, however, a nature preserve in southeastern Kankakee County, Illinois, also known as “Kankakee Sands,” which also is worth knowing about.

The preserve has very high quality oak savanna and prairie ecosystems.

The preserve has very high quality oak savanna and prairie ecosystems.

I paid my first visit to this site on Friday, and left with a good dozen singing insect county records.

Most species were sand-soil singers I had encountered before, but this was my first sprinkled grasshopper.

Most species were sand-soil singers I had encountered before, but this was my first sprinkled grasshopper.

He was buried in a grass clump, offering no chance of a good photo. Fortunately he was open to climbing onto my finger for a portrait. The all-black pronotum sides are unique.

The most common orthopterans were tinkling ground crickets and straight-lanced meadow katydids, unsurprising on this sand soil.

One of the many male straight-lanceds from Friday.

One of the many male straight-lanceds from Friday.

I was pleased also to find that my new friend the handsome grasshopper is common there.

Handsome grasshopper, male.

Handsome grasshopper, male.

Female handsome grasshoppers were a bit bigger and green rather than brown.

Female handsome grasshoppers were a bit bigger and green rather than brown.

Both mottled sand grasshoppers and Boll’s grasshoppers also were there, the former often punctuating the scenery with their bright yellow hind wings in flight.

Boll’s grasshopper also has yellow hind wings. These are concealed when both species are at rest.

Boll’s grasshopper also has yellow hind wings. These are concealed when both species are at rest.

There also were plenty of bush katydids.

Most were curve-tailed bush katydids.

Most were curve-tailed bush katydids.

One, slightly smaller, proved to be a male fork-tailed bush katydid.

One, slightly smaller, proved to be a male fork-tailed bush katydid.

Kankakee Sands are worth a visit on either side of the state line.

 

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Return to Illinois Beach

by Carl Strang

Recent success in finding new species of sand-dwelling grasshoppers brought me back to Illinois Beach State Park in hope of continuing the run. On the beach I confirmed the presence of seaside grasshoppers, but was startled at the color contrast between them and the members of their species at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Here is one of the Illinois Beach State Park hoppers.

Here is one of the Illinois Beach State Park hoppers.

And here is one from Indiana Dunes. Same species, different substrate, a nice study in natural selection.

And here is one from Indiana Dunes. Same species, different substrate, a nice study in natural selection.

Behind the foredune is a flat in which I found three species of singing grasshoppers, all in the band-winged grasshopper subfamily. The pattern continued of a larger species, a smaller one, with a couple Carolina grasshoppers thrown in for good measure.

The larger grasshopper was the by now familiar mottled sand grasshopper. These, like the seaside grasshoppers, were browner than their conspecifics in Indiana.

The larger grasshopper was the by now familiar mottled sand grasshopper. These, like the seaside grasshoppers, were browner than their conspecifics in Indiana.

The small band-winged grasshopper at first made me think of the longhorn band-winged grasshopper.

The head protrudes above the pronotum, the size is the same, and the antennae look long.

The head protrudes above the pronotum, the size is the same, and the antennae look long.

However, in place of the bright red patch at the base of the hind wing, here it is transparent. The hind tibia pattern also is different. Both areas are hidden in the resting insect, and so not subject to selection pressure by predators.

This was a new species for me, the Kiowa rangeland grasshopper.

This was a new species for me, the Kiowa rangeland grasshopper.

A little farther back from the shore, where the first trees appear, other insects may be found.

This is Dawson’s grasshopper, not a singing species (as you might guess from the dinky wings).

This is Dawson’s grasshopper, not a singing species (as you might guess from the dinky wings).

So far the meadow tree crickets I have found at Illinois Beach all have been four-spotteds. This one, too, as evidenced by the shapes of spots on the basal antenna segments.

So far the meadow tree crickets I have found at Illinois Beach all have been four-spotteds. This one, too, as evidenced by the shapes of spots on the basal antenna segments.

Finally, in the savanna zone, the dominant singing grasshopper is Boll’s grasshopper.

Boll’s is in the same genus, Spharagemon, as the mottled sand grasshopper.

Boll’s is in the same genus, Spharagemon, as the mottled sand grasshopper.

Like the mottled sand grasshopper, Boll’s grasshopper has bright yellow in the hind wings.

Like the mottled sand grasshopper, Boll’s grasshopper has bright yellow in the hind wings.

 

The easiest way to tell the two apart is to look at the angle of the back top edge of the pronotum (thorax shield). In Boll’s, here, the angle is more than 90 degrees. In the collared sand grasshopper it is acute.

The easiest way to tell the two apart is to look at the angle of the back top edge of the pronotum (thorax shield). In Boll’s, here, the angle is more than 90 degrees. In the mottled sand grasshopper it is acute.

A final treat from that portion of my exploration was a big, beautiful female bird grasshopper laying eggs in the sand of the trail.

The non-singing grasshoppers of genus Schistocerca can be difficult to tell apart. I decided this one was S. alutacea, the leather-colored bird grasshopper.

The non-singing grasshoppers of genus Schistocerca can be difficult to tell apart. I decided this one was S. alutacea, the leather-colored bird grasshopper.

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.

Return to Illinois Beach

by Carl Strang

A return to Illinois Beach State Park was called for last week, as my first visit was early enough in the season that more singing insects could have become active since. For instance, gray ground crickets were not singing yet in early August, but by last week they were active.

Gray ground crickets are common in the scattered clumps of grasses and other plants behind the Great Lakes beaches.

Hearing is not seeing, however, and despite my best efforts I could not expose a gray ground cricket for a photograph. They were in the larger patches of vegetation and trapped oak leaves, and it was too easy for them to sneak away when I tried lifting leaves and plant stems to look for the hidden singers. That disappointment was relieved somewhat by an amusing dung beetle.

It was having difficulty moving this far-from-spherical chunk.

I had better luck with grasshoppers. Some members of the grasshopper subfamily Oedipodinae are in the park. These qualify as singing insects, as their displays include wing-rattling flights. I found two species. One, a darker form, was in the savanna near the Dead River.

This appears to be a Boll’s grasshopper, a relatively dark individual of the species. The yellow and black hind wings are hidden when folded at rest.

The beach was another grasshopper habitat.

Some grasshoppers prefer this more open vegetation structure.

A common species was pale and well camouflaged.

This one appears to be a seaside grasshopper.

In the night, I followed a tree cricket’s song as it trilled in the gray ground cricket habitat.

The antenna spots don’t show here, but they clearly revealed that this was a four-spotted tree cricket.

Robust coneheads had become common in the campground woods.

This male sings from a patch of big bluestem grass within the savanna.

I found a few more species to add to the site list, but none were particularly uncommon.

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