Three in One Day

by Carl Strang

This is the 13th year of my singing insects study, but there remain several species that historically were known in the Chicago region but that I have not yet found. Each year I have found one or two new ones. On Saturday, August 18, I found three.

This was down in Will County, Illinois. I had spotted a possible good site for singing grasshoppers within the Des Plaines Conservation Area late last year, and I made it my first stop. The first species I found were relatively common until I reached a portion of dolomite prairie where the bedrock was at the surface. Bare rock was edged by patches of grasses in poor, thin bits of soil. Among the grasses were tiny slant-faced grasshoppers, and I took photos of several of them.

They were colorful and variable, some green like this one, some gray, some brown with tan backs.

Here is one of the brown ones.

They proved to be pasture grasshoppers (Orphulella speciosa), smaller relatives of another species I had found in the Gensburg Prairie in Cook County, the spotted-wing grasshopper (O. pelidna). Both are described as locally distributed, and that clearly has been the case in my experience.

Out on the open bedrock I began seeing slightly larger grasshoppers that appeared to belong to another singing subfamily, the band-winged grasshoppers. Catching one was a challenge, but eventually I got good looks at a male and a female.

The male’s profile shows a head that protrudes above the thorax, a double-humped pronotal ridge, and antennas that are thread-like rather than flat, barely longer than the head. They were even shorter in the female I examined.

These were Kiowa rangeland grasshoppers (Trachyrhachys kiowa), a western species whose range reaches into the Chicago region. There are two variants, one with transparent wing bases.

The male proved to be of the pale yellow wing base variant.

This new-species haul was exciting, but I wasn’t done. I was driving to nearby Wilmington for dinner when I heard a sound I had begun to believe I would never hear in the region:

There was a continuous underlying drone, with an overlay of short monotone buzzes. A Walker’s cicada (Neotibicen pronotalis)! I pulled over to the edge of the road and approached the catalpa tree where the insect was perched. As I made the above recording I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. A sheriff’s officer had pulled his car beside me (his car motor covered the cicada’s drone, and you may have noticed a little blurp from his radio in the recording). He politely waited for me to finish, then explained that there had been troubles in that area. I admitted that my behavior might seem suspicious, but he accepted my explanation.

There are only a dozen or so species of singing insects that I might still find in the region. I doubt that I will again find as many as three in a single day.

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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.

 

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.

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