August Insect Phenology

by Carl Strang

I was able to accumulate first-of-the-year sightings for 11 insect species at Mayslake Forest Preserve in August that could be compared to last year’s dates. These ranged from 44 days earlier to 77 days later, with a median of 11 days earlier. The extremes in range are greater than I see in plants, and usually reflect either different generations of insects within a season (I missed spotting representatives of an earlier or later generation in one year or the other), or uncommon species.

I also added 13 new species to the preserve’s list. Some of these I have mentioned in earlier posts (straight-lanced meadow katydid, citrine forktail, and fork-tailed bush katydid). Others were the black blister beetle,

meadow fritillary,

common buckeye,

ailanthus webworm,

fiery skipper,

and green cloverworm moth.

The fiery skipper is a southern species that moves north in considerable numbers in some years. The green cloverworm moth is distinctive enough that the blurry photo is sufficient to identify it, a common species whose presence is expected. The remaining new species were eastern tailed-blue, common true katydid, jumping bush cricket, and swamp cicada. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have been alert for the presence of the swamp cicada in DuPage County, and was pleased to hear single individuals singing on three different days at Mayslake in August.

DuPage Swamp Cicadas

by Carl Strang

Not long ago I mentioned that I have begun listening for songs of the swamp cicada, Tibicen chloromera, in DuPage County. Since then I have heard some songs that seemed close, but none that were completely convincing. That changed on Wednesday morning, when I heard unmistakable songs from several individuals of this species at Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve, in southwest Naperville. The habitat and song perches were just as the literature would lead one to expect: the cicadas were singing from small bur oak trees in a mesic prairie adjacent to a stream. Specifically they were in the Springbrook “remeander” project area.

The photo, taken in 2007, shows the stream shortly after it was converted from a ruler-straight ditch to a stable channel shape with bends, or meanders. Alongside were planted the small bur oaks and a variety of prairie forbs. There is no historical evidence for a natural meandering stream at the site, so it is likely that a sheet-flowing swale, rather than a defined, meandering streambed, preceded the straight ditch. The meanders have the effect of reducing the stream’s steepness, slowing it down so erosion is minimized. Aided by the resulting diverse array of pools and riffles, the stream can support a greater diversity of life. The project rightly has earned several awards for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Two Naperville high schools send Advanced Placement Environmental Science classes to collect data from the project each year, and I was there on Wednesday in connection with that educational dimension.

The cicadas did not sing for a very long time. I wonder if their being closer to the edge of the species’ range explains the more limited habitat variety, song perch choice and singing period I seem to be finding in DuPage County, compared to chloromera I have been observing in the more southern Culver, Indiana, area I referenced in the earlier post. Such thoughts will inform my continued search for swamp cicadas in DuPage.

Tibicen Song Sorting

by Carl Strang

My first entry into singing insects study came when I ran across the University of Michigan cicada website in 2003 or 2004. The site includes recordings of cicada songs, and as I played them I realized that all my life I had been hearing the distinguishable songs of several species without knowing it. These were all members of genus Tibicen, and that summer I recognized three common species in DuPage County.

They look very much alike, and are hard to see when singing high up in trees, so it was well that their songs were distinctive. After a couple years, however, I began to notice that the songs I attributed to one of the three, Tibicen linnei or Linne’s cicada, had two variations and with references I was able to distinguish a fourth common species, Tibicen lyricen, the lyric cicada. The differences among these species and their songs I described in some detail in a post last year.

Recently I was reviewing a wide range of singing insects reference recordings when I realized I need to pay attention again to the songs I have been identifying with Linne’s cicada. The swamp cicada, Tibicen chloromera, has a vibrato very close in speed to linnei’s. It has, however, a percussive quality in each vibration that sets it apart from linnei’s smoother, more wavelike vibrato. I had paid too close attention to written descriptions of the swamp cicada, in both the popular and scientific literature, which imply that chloromera is found only in wetlands and sings only from low perches. In fact I am now finding that at least around Culver, Indiana, chloromera often sings hundreds of yards from wetlands, and at least as often from high trees as from perches in lower ones. I have heard them in forests as well as more open stands. This is in keeping with other Tibicen cicadas, which at least in their singing perches show wide ranges in habitat.

So far I have not heard chloromera in DuPage County. I have found that I need to listen carefully, because when lyricen are singing their first, warmup songs of the day they have a slower vibrato with a percussive quality like chloromera’s.

The two areas I frequent most, DuPage County, Illinois, and Marshall County, Indiana, have different Tibicen species lists though they are only about 100 miles apart. Both are homes for canicularis, linnei, lyricen and pruinosa (the dog day, Linne’s, lyric and scissor-grinder cicadas, respectively). So far, only Marshall County appears to have chloromera, the swamp cicada, but I don’t consider the case to be closed. Marshall County also has a sixth species, Tibicen auletes, the northern dusk-singing cicada, which is associated with sandy soils and so does not occur in DuPage County’s clays.

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