Berrien Explorations

by Carl Strang

The end of August found me in Berrien County, Michigan. The first stop was the Butternut Creek Fen preserve, where I met tree cricket specialist Nancy Collins. We spent an afternoon and evening seeking tamarack tree crickets, which had been found there years ago. There are abundant tamarack trees, but we were puzzled by the crickets’ no-show. None sang, and hours of arm-tiring sweeping of foliage with long-handled nets, as well as visual scanning of branches, were fruitless. We found other species, though, and provided the site owners with a list of what we observed.

When Nancy found this fork-tailed bush katydid I was hopeful that it would prove to be a rarer cousin, the treetop bush katydid, but no dice.

Oblong-winged katydids also are at the site. My new white chamber setup worked well in the back of the car.

The next day I wandered in Berrien, St. Joseph and LaPorte Counties. The best find was a new site for me, Glassman Park in Berrien County. I bypassed some nice-looking forest, then was captured by a mundane looking grassy area adjacent to the I-94 right-of-way. It proved to have some interesting grasshoppers.

Most of these proved to be pasture grasshoppers, only the second population of this locally distributed species I have found in my study region.

A second species had a much different look.

The handsome grasshopper has an even more slant-faced profile.

With a color pattern like this, the handsome grasshopper is well named.

The day was my final in Berrien County for 2018, but there is more singing insect work to be done there in coming years. That is bound to include at least one more listening stop at Butternut Creek.

 

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Oops! Etc. at Midewin

by Carl Strang

A couple years ago I came across a population of large band-winged grasshoppers with bright red hind wings, at St. Joseph County’s (Indiana) Bendix Woods. Focusing on the intense red color, I declared them to be northwestern red-winged grasshoppers. In the first half of August this year I ran into a second population in Illinois, at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

They had the same bright red color as at Bendix Woods.

They had the same bright red color as at Bendix Woods.

These are large grasshoppers, approaching Carolina grasshoppers in bulk.

These are large grasshoppers, approaching Carolina grasshoppers in bulk.

This time, though, I noticed a discrepancy in my ID that should have struck me the first time.

There is a honkin’ big bulge on the top of the pronotum.

There is a honkin’ big bulge on the top of the pronotum.

The northwestern red-winged grasshopper, which I now realize I have yet to meet, has a flat pronotum profile that furthermore is cleft by a significant fissure. These prove to be autumn yellow-winged grasshoppers, which in fact can have a range of colors in the hindwings. The following week, returning with fellow singing insect enthusiasts Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge from Cleveland, and Wil Hershberger from West Virginia, we found many of these grasshoppers in fact have bright yellow wings. I need to get back there and get a photo of one for my singing insects guide.

While checking out the grasshoppers, we turned up two other species that were county records for my study.

The handsome grasshopper always is a delight. This one is a male.

The handsome grasshopper always is a delight. This one is a male.

Female handsome grasshoppers have green highlights in place of the male’s brown ones.

Female handsome grasshoppers have green highlights in place of the male’s brown ones.

Though still a nymph, this female is unambiguously a straight-lanced meadow katydid. The extra-long ovipositor and the diffuse-edged black band on the hind femur are giveaways.

Though still a nymph, this female is unambiguously a straight-lanced meadow katydid. The extra-long ovipositor and the diffuse-edged black band on the hind femur are giveaways.

Our main target in that visit was the dusky-faced meadow katydid, but that proves to be a much more complicated story deserving of its own blog post.

 

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.

 

A Night Excursion to Kankakee Sands

by Carl Strang

Kankakee Sands is a Nature Conservancy site in Newton County, Indiana. Except for the early-season bioblitz there a few years ago, my visits have been in the daytime. Last week I made a nighttime trip to Kankakee Sands. This netted several new species observations for the county as well as the site, the best of which was a grasshopper I had not encountered before.

The handsome grasshopper is well named. A spindly little guy, he was rather jumpy after I caught him in the grasses and released him on the gravel parking lot.

The handsome grasshopper is well named. A spindly little guy, he was rather jumpy after I caught him in the grasses and released him on the gravel parking lot.

All of that was incidental to my main goal, however, which was to continue my collaboration with Gideon Ney of the University of Missouri. Gideon’s lab, led by Johannes Schul, is working out the evolutionary history and relationships of the conehead katydids, genus Neoconocephalus. Two of them, the robust conehead and the false robust conehead, are sibling species reliably separated mainly by differences in their songs.

Robust conehead…or is it?

Robust conehead…or is it?

I stopped at several locations, recording singing males and then trying to catch them. I need practice. They were quick to stop singing as I approached. Ultimately I was able to accumulate 12 recordings, catching the males producing 6 of them.

Here they are, ready to be packed for overnight shipping along with the recordings.

Here they are, ready to be packed for overnight shipping along with the recordings.

A couple of the songs seemed different to my ear, so I am hopeful that the effort will result in a mix of the two species, and an education on what to look for in sonographs of the recordings so I don’t have to capture them in the other counties of my survey region.

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