Singing Insects Wrap-Up

by Carl Strang

October’s cold gradually is silencing another year’s array of singing insects. In recent weeks I have made some final trips to squeeze just a little more data out of the season.

In early September I succeeded in catching an Autumn yellow-winged grasshopper with actual yellow wings (most of them in the region have had red-orange hind wings).

In early September I succeeded in catching an Autumn yellow-winged grasshopper with actual yellow wings (most of them in the region have had red-orange hind wings).

On October 5 I made a final trip up to Illinois Beach State Park, and found some stripe-faced meadow katydids still singing.

On October 5 I made a final trip up to Illinois Beach State Park, and found some stripe-faced meadow katydids still singing.

By then, of course, they had developed their full color.

By then, of course, they had developed their full color.

I was able to complete a photo series on the species with some cerci shots.

I was able to complete a photo series on the species with some cerci shots.

On October 11 I returned to Gar Creek Forest Preserve in Kankakee County and made more recordings. I did not find any more Cuban ground crickets crossing the trail, but was surprised by several variegated ground crickets doing so.

I had never before seen a variegated ground cricket, like this male, wandering in the open.

I had never before seen a variegated ground cricket, like this male, wandering in the open.

This female has an interesting pattern of pale dashes on her wings.

This female has an interesting pattern of pale dashes on her wings.

It’s reasonable to assume that they walk about at night for most of the season, but like many singing insects extend their usual nighttime activity into the day as temperatures cool. I was glad to get the visual confirmation that this species is at the site along with the (probable) Cubans.

Probably my last singing insect photo series for 2016 was of this spotted ground cricket at St. James Farm on October 18.

Probably my last singing insect photo series for 2016 was of this spotted ground cricket at St. James Farm on October 18.

 

Beyond the Dead River

by Carl Strang

The Dead River, in Illinois Beach State Park, is so named because most of the time it appears not to be flowing. It ends just shy of the edge of Lake Michigan, a sand bar between the two. Reportedly there are times when enough water comes into it that it breaks through this narrow barrier. The area south of that river is highly protected, and to enter it I needed a permit from the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.

The Dead River and its extensions are free of invasive wetlands plants, though there are some unconnected wetlands in the area for which that is not the case.

The Dead River and its extensions are free of invasive wetlands plants, though there are some unconnected wetlands in the area for which that is not the case.

Sand savanna and prairie occupy the areas between the wetlands.

Sand savanna and prairie occupy the spaces between the wetlands.

My main goal was to survey the area for wetland singing insects. This was one of my last hopes for finding slender coneheads, but sadly there were none. I am beginning to think they have gone extinct in Illinois. On a much brighter note, I found that the area harbors a huge population of stripe-faced meadow katydids.

This male had developed his full facial color, but an intervening grass blade marred the portrait.

This male had developed his full facial color, but an intervening grass blade marred the portrait.

Profile view of a female.

Profile view of a female.

Illinois Beach remains the only place where I have found this wetland katydid, which even historically was never widely distributed.

I also heard a little chorus of nimble meadow katydids, out in the middle of a river offshoot in a patch of deeper-water arrowheads. There probably are other such groups elsewhere in the area. I plan to get a better idea of their numbers next year. This is the second place I have found them in the region, and the first for Illinois. I spent several days in my kayak this season searching for nimble meadow katydids in places in Illinois and Indiana where they were known in earlier decades.

Apparently the American lotus, shown here, and the yellow pond lily, which filled most of those sites, are too coarse for nimble meadow katydids.

Apparently the American lotus, shown here, and the yellow pond lily, which filled most of those sites, are too coarse for nimble meadow katydids.

I have found them among pickerel weeds and arrowheads, and historically they were known in patches of water knotweeds.

Water knotweed, like those others, is of intermediate coarseness.

Water knotweed, like those others, is of intermediate coarseness.

I suspect that the turbulence created by power boats favors the heavier plants that the insect apparently abhors. I wonder if Illinois Beach State Park also may harbor the last Illinois population of nimble meadow katydids. I have a few more places to check next year.

 

Small Wonders at Illinois Beach

by Carl Strang

Two targets for my friends from Ohio and West Virginia were stripe-faced meadow katydids and gray ground crickets, both of which can be found at Illinois Beach State Park. The stripe-faceds proved to be in their early-stage colors.

Even this nymph has the facial stripe, but it is brown and relatively fuzzy-edged compared to what it ultimately will become. New adults have the same brown colors, even though they are mature enough to sing and to mate.

Even this nymph has the facial stripe, but it is brown and relatively fuzzy-edged compared to what it ultimately will become. New adults have the same brown colors, even though they are mature enough to sing and to mate.

The nymphs and new adults were all in shades of tan and brown. We saw one or two adults which were beginning to develop their green body colors, and the more distinct facial features.

The nymphs and new adults were all in shades of tan and brown. We saw one or two adults which were beginning to develop their green body colors, and the more distinct facial features.

Gray ground crickets have been a challenge, and prior to this year I had gotten only a couple brief glimpses of them. This time I caught one, allowing us to take photos before releasing our subject back into the dunes.

The cricket was a female, probably made vulnerable by her moving about seeking a singing male.

The cricket was a female, probably made vulnerable by her moving about seeking a singing male.

Gray ground crickets are well named. I especially like the head stripes and the little dark rectangular markings on the wings.

Gray ground crickets are well named. I especially like the head stripes and the little dark rectangular markings on the wings.

We found other critters of interest along the way, of course.

Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers occupy the same ecological zone as the gray ground cricket.

Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers occupy the same ecological zone as the gray ground cricket.

Scattered cottonwood trees among the dunes were hosts for this striking beetle, a cottonwood borer.

Scattered cottonwood trees among the dunes were hosts for this striking beetle, a cottonwood borer.

The loudest nighttime insect singer was the robust conehead. We saw both brown and green males.

The loudest nighttime insect singer was the robust conehead. We saw both brown and green males.

 

Sound Ideas: Three Meadow Katydids

by Carl Strang

Today I am sharing recordings of 3 species of large meadow katydids (genus Orchelimum). One way or another their songs all fit the ticks-and-buzz pattern characteristic of their group. I will order them idiosyncratically, by how well I can hear them in the field. I will be interested in any comments on how well you can hear them in these recordings. The first is our most common species in the genus, the black-legged meadow katydid O. nigripes.

Black-legged meadow katydid

Black-legged meadow katydid

This was a very warm individual who was rushing the ticks. I render the pattern tickety-buzz, as there usually are 3 ticks leading directly into the buzz, with a brief pause before the next set. This species usually can be found in or near wetlands. I can hear its song unaided without any trouble.

Next up is the long-spurred meadow katydid, O. silvaticum.

Long-spurred meadow katydid

Long-spurred meadow katydid

Here the ticks have much the same quality as the buzz, several very brief rattles that merge into the rattling buzz. This is a katydid of woods edges and adjacent areas with tall herbaceous vegetation. I can hear some of these unaided in the field, on a calm day without other competing sounds, or when there are plenty of reflecting surfaces, but usually I need the SongFinder pitch-reducing device to detect them. I can hear this recording clearly, though.

Finally, here is a species I first encountered this past season, the stripe-faced meadow katydid, O. concinnum. It is a specialist in certain kinds of wetlands, and is much less common than the others.

Stripe-faced meadow katydid

Stripe-faced meadow katydid

This one I can’t hear at all from more than a few feet away, and I can barely hear it in this recording. I really need the SongFinder for this species. The ticks are more numerous, more separated, and more irregularly spaced, than in the black-leg.

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.

Where are the Conservatives?

by Carl Strang

It should be obvious that this title is not a political reference. In this election year both political conservatives and liberals are easy to find as they loudly and shrilly make their cases against each other, trying to attract voters (hm, reminds me of singing insects for some reason). The conservatives I am concerned about here are some of the wetland species of singing insects, habitat specialists that are found only within narrow ranges of ecological parameters and are sensitive to invasive species and other disruptions. Much of my research this year is focused on finding conservative species from my hypothetical list for the region.

I haven’t had a lot of luck with wetland conservatives. The northern mole cricket was one, but I still have not found them anywhere but Houghton Lake. The marsh conehead was another. We thought we also found slender coneheads at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, but Gideon discovered when he returned to his lab that they all were marsh coneheads as well, misleading because they were outside the size range of that species he was familiar with in Missouri.

Gideon also learned that the underside of the cone should be black, not gray as it was on the marsh coneheads we found.

But what about the several species of wetland meadow katydids in genus Orchelimum? Regionally there should be four species I haven’t yet found: dusky-faced, stripe-faced, delicate and nimble meadow katydids all have been elusive. I should have found dusky-faced meadow katydids, at least, because they are described as being common in a wide range of marshes. Instead I am finding lots of black-legged meadow katydids, a marsh species that spills into drier areas adjacent to wetlands.

Black-legged meadow katydid

Black-legs sing so loudly, day and night, that I wonder how earlier researchers heard the other wetland species. I wonder if black-legs have become more abundant, conceivably pushing the others out. Have I not been looking in the right places or in the right way? Is the lack of success this year a consequence of the drought? Certainly it takes some effort this year to get wet feet in the marshes. I will continue to look. Last week at Chain O’Lakes State Park in Illinois I saw a number of Orchelimum nymphs that were relatively plain and green.

This female meadow katydid nymph is recognized as an Orchelimum by the curved ovipositor.

On the other hand, black-legs don’t get their full colors until after they mature.

This newly molted adult male black-legged meadow katydid still has not developed his full coloration.

I will continue to look this year, and hope for better conditions next year.

Three Missing Meadow Katydids

by Carl Strang

The final three species of singing insects that are reported to occur in northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana but that I have not yet found are meadow katydids in genus Orchelimum. These three are placed in the region in the 20th Century mainly from three published sources, Hebard (1934; Illinois Orthoptera), McCafferty and Stein (1976; crickets and katydids of Indiana), and Thomas and Alexander (1962; a paper that focused on these three species). The most abundant of these reportedly is the dusky-faced meadow katydid. Here is the map for that species in the Singing Insects of North America (SINA) website.

Thomas and Alexander write that the dusky-faced meadow katydid originally was described from northern Indiana in 1893, and their paper is the source for most records of that species in our region in the SINA database (in Indiana: Starke, Kosciusko, Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Marshall, and Fulton Counties; in Illinois: Lake, McHenry, Cook, Will, and DuPage Counties). Its face is said to be amber, with a red tinge. One early author described its northern Indiana habitat as upland pastures and dryer prairies, and seldom associated with lakes. Thomas and Alexander found it to be common, especially as compared to the stripe-faced and delicate meadow katydids, occurring in a wide range of marshes, “usually in vegetation over standing water,” and especially associated with grasses. The song is high pitched; I may need the SongFinder to hear it. Some sing during the day, but most singing is done from dusk into the night. Sometimes the song resembles those of the following two species, but usually it is different in having longer buzzes (more than 1-3 seconds), or longer strings of ticks (more than 5), or in eliminating ticks altogether (meadow katydid songs for the most part are variations on the pattern of several discrete, rapid ticks followed by a buzz). I am inclined to include this species in the broad range of wetlands I will continue to visit in my surveys.

Early descriptions placed the stripe-faced meadow katydid in dense grasses and sedges near ponds and streams. One account associated it with grasses and sedges around tamarack swamps and lakes. Here is its map from SINA.

Hebard gave swamps and bogs as habitat for the stripe-faced meadow katydid in Illinois. In the northeast part of the state he listed Glen Ellyn and the tamarack zone at Volo Bog as locations. Thomas and Alexander found it to be very limited in its distribution, occurring in “a few northern relict marl bogs and other alkaline situations.” The adult’s face is marked by a prominent stripe down its center, which Hebard says appears only after the final instar has matured. The song is high pitched; I may need the SongFinder to hear it. Some sing during the day, but most singing is done dusk into the night. To the ear the songs of this and the following species are nearly identical, having tick and buzz elements. Ticks are single rather than doubled, however. Indiana counties for which there are records are Lake, Starke, Fulton, Marshall, Kosciusko, and Porter. Illinois records are from Lake and Cook Counties. The old fish hatchery in Marshall County at Culver is a marl site worth exploring for this species.

Hebard found only females of the final species, the delicate meadow katydid, and his only northeast Illinois locations were Beach (at Lake Michigan in Lake County) and Algonquin (McHenry County). According to Thomas and Alexander, early authors stated that this species occurred in low meadows near large lakes in the Indiana counties of Marshall and Starke. These records are included in the species’ SINA map:

Thomas and Alexander say from their own experience that it is “largely restricted to swales adjacent to sand dunes or sand beaches, where it is often associated with …[the grass] Calamagrostis canadensis.” Its face is green. The song is high pitched; I may need the SongFinder to hear it. Some sing during the day, but most singing is done dusk into the night. To the ear the songs of the delicate and stripe-faced meadow katydids are nearly identical, having tick and buzz elements. Ticks may be doubled in this species, however. Places to seek it are Indiana Dunes State Park, Illinois Beach State Park, and marshes and lakes in Marshall and Starke Counties, Indiana.

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