Closing the Book on Sulfur-wings

by Carl Strang

The sulfur-winged grasshopper is an early season species that I wanted to close out this year, in my regional survey of singing insects. Though it probably occurs in all 22 of the counties in my survey region, it is common only on soils heavy in gravel or sand. I targeted 3 counties with such soils where I had not yet found this crepitating (wing-rattling) grasshopper: Walworth in Wisconsin, LaPorte in Indiana, and Berrien in Michigan.

Success came first at the Lulu Lake natural area in Walworth County. I did not find it in the Nature Conservancy portion of the property, but gravel-hill openings in the forest on the state nature preserve side proved to have a good population.

One of the series of photos documenting sulfur-winged grasshoppers at Lulu Lake.

Subsequently I found them in the Lake Michigan coastal zone in LaPorte and Berrien Counties. In the process I learned a final lesson from the grasshoppers: they don’t like loose dune sand, and need to be sought a little farther inland, where plants and the accumulation of organic matter have made the soil more stable. That closes the book on sulfur-winged grasshoppers as far as my survey is concerned, and I will put my time into other species at this point of the season in future years.

The updated Chicago region sulfur-winged grasshopper map, marking counties where I have found it.

 

The Currency I Work in

by Carl Strang

The main focus of my research these days is traveling through the 22 counties of my survey area, seeking the singing insects that live in the Chicago region. I am building on previous years’ work, filling gaps in range maps. The currency I work in thus is county records. There are around 100 species known to have occurred here, and so the maximum total would be 2200 county records. This is not going to be the eventual result, however, because many of the species live only in limited areas within the region. For instance, last week I closed the book on the green-winged cicada.

This distant photo is the best I have so far of a green-winged cicada.

This distant photo is the best I have so far of a green-winged cicada.

I do not expect to find green-winged cicadas beyond the 10 marked counties.

I do not expect to find green-winged cicadas beyond the 10 marked counties.

They occur only in sand soil woodlands within the region. Though other counties have some areas with sand soils, I have searched them and failed to find the species. Their numbers clearly diminish at the periphery of their range. Four of these county records have been from this year.

Other species are widespread, and ultimately I expect to find them in every county. Two early season species now have filled maps as a result of my travels this spring and early summer: Roesel’s katydid, and gladiator meadow katydid.

Roesel’s katydid

Roesel’s katydid

There is learning involved in the process. Some species which historically have occurred in the area I have not yet found. Others I have found once or twice. At some point I become familiar enough with a species that I know how to find it. Then I seek it out in the appropriate habitat in the counties where I haven’t found it. The sulfur-winged grasshopper is an instructive example. This year I made a push to complete the map for this early-season species. Though I ran out of time before the end of its season, I got close.

Updated map for sulfur-winged grasshopper

Updated map for sulfur-winged grasshopper (open circles represent historical records)

Next year I will check sandy sites in two of the counties in Wisconsin, LaPorte County in Indiana, and Berrien County in Michigan. Though I suspect that sulfur-winged grasshoppers occur in every county, they are very few and hard to find away from sand soils. Though my own county of DuPage is marked, it is a clay soil county and over the many years I have lived here I have encountered fewer than 5 sulfur-wings in DuPage.

A final example is the northern bush katydid. I had heard two of these in the early summer of 2007, in woodlands in my county. I had heard none since. But a few days ago I went back to one of those sites and tried listening at night with the SongFinder, a device which reduces the pitch of sounds. Lo and behold, I discovered that Parson’s Grove at Danada Forest Preserve has a lot of northern bush katydids. I hadn’t realized that it was the deterioration of my hearing with age that had prevented my detecting them. Now I anticipate finding them in every county in the region.

So far this year I have accumulated 47 county records. I expect to end up with more than last year’s 174.

Short-winged Toothpick Grasshopper

by Carl Strang

The most fruitful recent singing insects search was at the Kankakee Sands preserve in Kankakee County, which has become one of my favorites for species that affiliate with sand-soil habitats. The June 28 visit yielded 3 county records, two of which were of familiar species, Roesel’s katydid and green-winged cicada.

Grasshoppers were building up their diversity at the site. Sulfur-winged grasshoppers still were going, and the season’s first mottled sand grasshopper also flashed his wings.

This was by far the earliest I have found this sand-soil specialist.

This was by far the earliest I have found this sand-soil specialist.

Then in the prairie beyond the savanna I started to hear the zuzz-zuzz-zuzz of stridulating grasshoppers. I had a hard time getting a look at who it might be. Eventually I saw a possible candidate.

This grasshopper has a somewhat slanted face, and color markings reminiscent of stridulating grasshoppers in genus Orphulella.

This grasshopper has a somewhat slanted face, and color markings reminiscent of stridulating grasshoppers in genus Orphulella.

Study of the photos, however, led to an identification as the meadow purple-striped grasshopper, Hesperotettix viridis, in the non-singing spur-throated grasshopper group. As I waded through the grasses I flushed out a couple really odd grasshoppers that begged to be photographed.

The blade-like antennas, subtle striping pattern, and especially the gangly skinniness of the critter were distinctive.

The blade-like antennas, subtle striping pattern, and especially the gangly skinniness of the critter were distinctive.

They reminded me of high school basketball players whose growth spurts have given them impressive height, but whose strength and coordination have some catching up to do. Though I saw and photographed only the minute-winged females, my identification and study convinced me that these were the stridulators. The short-winged toothpick grasshopper is well named, seeming to be constructed of toothpicks. It is a member of the slant-faced stridulating subfamily, and is described as being a frequent singer. The species, also known by the more mundane name of bunchgrass grasshopper (Pseudopomala brachyptera), now is removed from my hypothetical list for my survey region.

Recent Travels: Singing Insects

by Carl Strang

Though my main research focus is singing insects, I don’t end up photographing them much, as I am listening for them rather than looking for them. Sulfur-winged grasshoppers continued to be an early-season focus.

Though I added several more county records for the species, there was not additional range in their color variation. This female was at Cook County’s Bluff Spring Fen.

Though I added several more county records for the species, there was not additional range in their color variation. This female was at Cook County’s Bluff Spring Fen.

Here is a typical dark male, Illinois Beach State Park.

Here is a typical dark male, Illinois Beach State Park.

Not much different, this male was around the corner of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Not much different, this male was around the corner of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Only 8 species of singing insects could be found at Goose Pond. There will be many more there later in the season.

Green-striped grasshoppers still were displaying, but their days are numbered.

Green-striped grasshoppers still were displaying, but their days are numbered.

Spring field crickets seldom come into view. This female was a challenge to photograph as she crawled among the grasses.

Spring field crickets seldom come into view. This female was a challenge to photograph as she crawled among the grasses.

This katydid nymph climbed up onto the sheet illuminated by the UV light. I am reluctant to say which conehead species she might be.

This katydid nymph climbed up onto the sheet illuminated by the UV light. I am reluctant to say which conehead species she might be.

The season seems barely begun, but already I am closing the book on two species.

The Vermont Cemetery Prairie Preserve in Will County reportedly is one of the few places in the Chicago region which still harbors prairie cicadas. They were done, however, by the time I got there on June 26.

The Vermont Cemetery Prairie Preserve in Will County reportedly is one of the few places in the Chicago region which still harbors prairie cicadas. They were done, however, by the time I got there on June 26.

I have just 3 sites to check next year as good candidates for persisting prairie cicada populations. Protean shieldbacks also apparently are done. I added only 3 county records for them in their brief 2016 season. This was a wakeup call, and I will need to get on my horse right away when they start next year.

 

Sulfur-winged Variations

by Carl Strang

Memorial Day weekend brought a reunion with my brother, Gary, in our hometown of Culver, Indiana. Among the many reminiscences and activities were a few visits to places where I hoped to find early season singing grasshopper species. By the time I got home I had accumulated 5 county records for sulfur-winged grasshoppers.

This is the source of the name. I was careful in handling them, and released them all unharmed.

This is the source of the name. I was careful in handling them, and released them all unharmed.

Along the way I found color variations, between the genders and between locations.

Here is a typical female at Memorial Forest, Marshall County.

Here is a typical female at Memorial Forest, Marshall County.

Another female from the same population was yellower.

Another female from the same population was yellower.

On the whole, though, females were much less variable than males.

All the females had broad blue bands on their tibias.

All the females had broad blue bands on their tibias.

Males generally were darker than females and, as is typical in grasshoppers, were smaller.

At some sites, males had striking yellow edges on their forewings.

At some sites, males had striking yellow edges on their forewings.

From above, the pale streak resembles a piece of dead grass stem, and breaks up the general dark mass of the grasshopper’s outline.

From above, the pale streak resembles a piece of dead grass stem, and breaks up the general dark mass of the grasshopper’s outline.

Elsewhere males had little or no pale edging.

Elsewhere males had little or no pale edging.

Tibia color also was not consistent. This seems surprising, as the behavior of grasshoppers when they meet often includes a display of tibias.

Sometimes males showed the typical grasshopper pattern of matching female tibia colors, as in this individual from Newton County, Indiana.

Sometimes males showed the typical grasshopper pattern of matching female tibia colors, as in this individual from Newton County, Indiana.

Often, though, the lower tibias were completely black (Memorial Forest).

Often, though, the lower tibias were completely black (Memorial Forest).

There still is time to find sulfur-winged grasshoppers in more of the 22 counties of the region I am surveying, and I will be interested in seeing how these variations play out.

 

Return to J-P

by Carl Strang

A few hours of singing insect searching over the weekend produced 8 county records (across 3 counties), and some photos I’d been hoping to get. High on the list of priorities for the latter this year was the green-winged cicada, Diceroprocta vitripennis. I found a number of them singing Saturday at Jasper-Pulaski State Fish & Wildlife Area in Indiana. Finding a singing cicada up in a tree is a challenge when it can be done at all. The good part is that I found one.

The less than great part is that the only line of sight was from a distance and through a canopy hole, so I will hope for a better opportunity at another time.

The less than great part is that the only line of sight was from a distance and through a canopy hole, so I will hope for a better opportunity at another time.

I also heard one of that species singing Sunday at Braidwood Dunes in Will County, my first Illinois location. So far all have been in black oak sand savannas.

Back at J-P, I was able to catch a sulfur-winged grasshopper, so as to get a photo of the bright yellow hind wing.

If anything, the yellow was more intense than the photo indicates.

If anything, the yellow was more intense than the photo indicates.

The critter stayed put when I released it, making a portrait possible.

Though study of reference material confirmed the ID, this one was much paler than the individual I photographed within 50 feet of this location last year.

Though study of reference material confirmed the ID, this one was much paler than the individual I photographed within 50 feet of this location last year.

That 2013 hopper may have had the more typical color pattern. I saw its twin at Braidwood Sunday.

That 2013 hopper may have had the more typical color pattern. I saw its twin at Braidwood Sunday.

Nearby at J-P was a pair of grasshoppers that begged to be photographed. They do not belong to either of the singing subfamilies of grasshoppers, but they were attractive to look at.

These appear to be narrow-winged grasshoppers, Melanoplus angustipennis.

These appear to be narrow-winged grasshoppers, Melanoplus angustipennis.

As I drove out of J-P, I was arrested by this group of plants beside the road.

Brilliant red flowers topped the tall stems.

Brilliant red flowers topped the tall stems.

They appear to be targeting hummingbirds as pollinators.

They appear to be targeting hummingbirds as pollinators.

The foliage accounts for the odd name (for an herbaceous plant) of standing cypress.

The foliage accounts for the odd name (for an herbaceous plant) of standing cypress.

Gilia rubra is native to the southern states, but has established some colonies of escapes from cultivation in the sand counties of northwestern Indiana.

First SFC’s

by Carl Strang

On Sunday afternoon, during a bike ride through Fermilab, I heard the first spring field crickets of the year. They had just begun, as there were only 3 of them. This is the third earliest date I have heard them in DuPage County, a little surprising given the late spring, though the deep snow that covered the ground most of the winter certainly provided the nymphs with protection. If a larger population survived, some statistical outliers could be starting up earlier than otherwise would be the case.

Cheating a little here: this is a fall field cricket female, but that species is physically identical to its spring sibling species.

Cheating a little here: this is a fall field cricket female, but that species is physically identical to its spring sibling species.

Apart from such uncommonly encountered critters as sulphur-winged grasshoppers and spring trigs, the next common singing insects to mature should be the predaceous katydids (Roesel’s katydid and the protean shieldback), and gladiator meadow katydids. By then I hope that the spring field crickets will have built numbers to the point where I can finish my county survey of their distribution.

Scouting Jasper County

by Carl Strang

The Jasper-Pulaski State Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana started out as a recreational destination for hunters and fishermen. Natural history enthusiasts in the region associate J-P with sandhill cranes, as the big birds pause there by the thousands when they migrate north and south, and birders congregate as well, to see them.

J-P seemed a good place to find singing insects in Jasper County, and I stopped there to scout the property on my way home from last weekend’s trip. Some of the back roads lead to extensive ponds and marshes, which will be of interest later in the season. My favorite spot, though, was at an intersection of two gravel roads where the soil was heavy in sand, with a black oak savanna and wide berms of sand prairie vegetation.

Tiny oaks form a vanguard as the savanna reaches into the prairie.

Tiny oaks form a vanguard as the savanna reaches into the prairie.

As I walked one of the roads, I flushed a sulfur-winged grasshopper. I had been hoping for a photo opportunity with this species.

At first glance this insect seems doomed, its dark color contrasting with the pale sand.

At first glance this insect seems doomed, its dark color contrasting with the pale sand.

Unless you are very close to it, however, the grasshopper just looks like a little stick or piece of debris.

The folded forewings conceal bright yellow hind wings with broad black edges.

The folded forewings conceal bright yellow hind wings with broad black edges.

The next time a similar opportunity comes up, I’ll try for a flight photo that will show those hind wings. In any case, I drove away from J-P with some great locations, and three early-season species to start my Jasper County singing insects list (green-striped grasshopper and spring field cricket were the other two).

Bioblitz Species Hunt

by Carl Strang

Yesterday I introduced last weekend’s bioblitz at Connor Prairie in Indiana. My focus as a bioblitz participant is on singing insects, of course, but those are few early in June, even as far south as Indianapolis. Not to worry, though. There were teams focusing on many groups of organisms, but others had no specialists to address them, so I enjoyed filling in where I could. Odonata were one such group.

Twelve-spotted skimmer

Twelve-spotted skimmer

Powdered dancer

Powdered dancer

After much pondering, I concluded this was a female cobra clubtail. Indiana has a similar species, the handsome clubtail, but certain details ruled it out.

After much pondering, I concluded this was a female cobra clubtail. Indiana has a similar species, the handsome clubtail, but certain details ruled it out.

For instance, the C-shaped line at the top of the side of the thorax is connected, and apparently too thick for a handsome clubtail.

For instance, the C-shaped line at the top of the side of the thorax is connected, and apparently too thick for a handsome clubtail.

I also saw three bumblebee species.

Bombus fervidus was an easy ID.

Bombus fervidus was an easy ID.

There was a butterfly team, but I took advantage of photo ops that presented themselves.

Variegated fritillary

Variegated fritillary

Nevertheless, my main interest was singing insects. I found 4 species, and botany team leader Scott Namestnik added a 5th.

Green-striped grasshoppers were common, as were spring field crickets.

Green-striped grasshoppers were common, as were spring field crickets.

I saw a single sulfur-winged grasshopper. Scott ran across a pocket of Roesel’s katydid nymphs. Connor Prairie is about even with the Crawfordsville area where I found Roesel’s a couple years ago. So far, none have turned up farther south in Indiana.

The final species is worth a blog post all its own (to be continued).

Update

by Carl Strang

Circumstances have prevented me from gathering much new blog material for the past week and a half, but I hope to have more to share soon. The bird migration continues, but there’s only one photo in the hopper.

White-crowned sparrow, Mayslake Forest Preserve

White-crowned sparrow, Mayslake Forest Preserve

As for singing insects, the first few spring field crickets began singing in Marshall County, Indiana, last week, but I have yet to hear any farther north (DuPage County, Illinois).

The one significant new development came yesterday, as I was running the trails at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. A grasshopper flew up from the trail in the large meadow of the preserve’s southeast corner. It had hind wings that were bright yellow with broad black edges. This was the first opportunity to take advantage of my recent literature research on possible new singing grasshoppers. It turns out there is only one band-winged grasshopper with that color pattern that matures so early in the season, the sulfur-winged grasshopper (Arphia sulfurea), and so I can already shift one species from the hypothetical list to the verified list for the region.

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