Morgan Monroe-Yellowwood Ecoblitz

by Carl Strang

The Indiana Forest Alliance is sponsoring a multi-year species survey of the back country portion of the conjoined Morgan Monroe and Yellowwood State Forests in Monroe and Brown Counties of southern Indiana. They are holding bioblitz weekends at various seasons so as to get a more complete picture than a single bioblitz would produce. Jeff and Mary Stant are providing the principal organizational and logistical support. I paid my first visit on September 12 to begin inventorying the singing insect species.

While waiting my turn to go into the survey area, I checked out the base camp in an old field with scattered young trees adjacent to the riparian edge of a wooded stream. The species mix was much like I would expect to find in a dry area in northern Indiana or Illinois.

Woodland meadow katydids were very common in woodland edges, much more abundant than I have found them farther north.

Woodland meadow katydids were very common in woodland edges, much more abundant than I have found them farther north.

The old field held scattered common meadow katydids.

The old field held scattered common meadow katydids.

Handsome trigs also were common in the riparian edge.

Handsome trigs also were common in the riparian edge.

Allard’s ground crickets were one of several species at the camp.

Allard’s ground crickets were one of several species at the camp.

The forested survey area was, as expected, less diverse, though the cool afternoon temperature probably inhibited some species. The slopes held scattered confused ground crickets, and bottomland herbaceous thickets were full of Say’s trigs, along with good numbers of Carolina ground crickets and more scattered jumping bush crickets and narrow-winged tree crickets.

At one point we flushed out a medium-sized cricket which permitted a quick photo but evaded capture. It was one of the camel crickets, probably in genus Ceuthophilus.

At one point we flushed out a medium-sized cricket which permitted a quick photo but evaded capture. It was one of the camel crickets, probably in genus Ceuthophilus.

We went up to a ridge top in the evening. It was very cold, and few species were managing to sing. There were scattered tinkling ground crickets, Carolina ground crickets, jumping bush crickets, and a few feebly ticking long-spurred meadow katydids. A background hum came from the forest canopy, and occasional individuals could be distinguished to support an identification of Davis’s tree crickets, by far the most abundant singers on that cold night.

I look forward to returning for more ecoblitz weekends next year.

 

Adventures with Lisa and Wendy

by Carl Strang

Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge are two admirable women from the Cleveland area. For years I have been corresponding with Lisa about our parallel explorations of singing insects in our respective regions. They honored me with a visit over the Labor Day weekend. We spent two full days site-hopping in northwest Indiana.

Wendy and Lisa stalk a long-spurred meadow katydid at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Wendy and Lisa stalk a long-spurred meadow katydid at Indiana Dunes State Park.

This was a three-way learning exchange. I provided local knowledge of species with which Lisa and Wendy needed more experience. Dr. Rainsong, who teaches university courses in music theory, models slow and deliberate observation that gives her more of an in-depth understanding of each species than I have been able to acquire so far. She also demonstrates the value of making a lot of sound recordings. Her Listening in Nature blog shares her observations, and I realize how I need to do more of this kind of work myself.

Wendy is a fine artist and art restoration specialist whose love and knowledge of nature frequently draws her into the field with her partner. She keeps her eyes open and notices many beautiful scenes, plants and animals that remind me not to be so narrowly focused. She also took the time to sit and create a couple watercolor sketches that were simply amazing. Wendy has the best ears of us three for the higher-pitched insect songs.

One of our sites was Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area.

A population of woodland meadow katydids provided good exposure to that dry-soil species.

A population of woodland meadow katydids provided good exposure to that dry-soil species.

This tinkling ground cricket had a darker brown head than most, but he was very cooperative, giving us many photo ops as he slowly moved across the parking lot.

This tinkling ground cricket had a darker brown head than most, but he was very cooperative, giving us many photo ops as he slowly moved across the parking lot.

Another highlight was a levee at Kingsbury Fish & Wildlife Area.

The dusky-faced meadow katydid was a priority species. We were able to observe two males.

The dusky-faced meadow katydid was a priority species. We were able to observe two males.

This Texas bush katydid, my first for LaPorte County, displayed the engaging personality of his kind.

This Texas bush katydid, my first for LaPorte County, displayed the engaging personality of his kind.

I benefited not only from observing Lisa’s and Wendy’s methods, but also picked up a total of 8 county records along the way for my study. We look forward to more exchange visits over the next few years.

 

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

by Carl Strang

One day last week I drove down to southern Cook County for singing insect survey work. I quickly found confused ground crickets for a county record in the Palos area, then proceeded to the Gensburg-Markham Prairie, which proved so fruitful that it occupied the rest of the afternoon. The dominant sound in that high-quality nature preserve was the buzzing of common meadow katydids.

The name is deceptive. This is one of the few places I have found to date where Orchelimum vulgare indeed is abundant.

The name is deceptive. This is one of the few places I have found to date where Orchelimum vulgare indeed is abundant.

There were other dry-habitat species present as well. I was able to add county records for woodland meadow katydid (my northernmost to date) and for straight-lanced meadow katydid.

This straight-lanced female was content to explore my finger and pose.

This straight-lanced female was content to explore my finger and pose.

The richest portion of the site’s singing insect fauna was the subfamily of stridulating slant-faced grasshoppers. I took lots of photos, thinking I had found the mother lode of species. When I examined them closely, however, the diversity turned out to be mainly within species, and I concluded that most of them in fact were marsh meadow grasshoppers.

Here is a classic adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

Here is a classic adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

But then there were a number of these. After much study I had to conclude that this, too, was an adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

But then there were a number of these. After much study I had to conclude that this, too, was an adult marsh meadow grasshopper.

Ditto for this one.

Ditto for this one.

Even more color variation was provided by nymphs. Again, I think they were marsh meadow grasshoppers.

This one in particular was strikingly colored.

This one in particular was strikingly colored.

And this individual seems aimed toward the pattern of the third adult above.

And this individual seems aimed toward the pattern of the third adult above.

These were my first of the species in Cook County, so they were a happy find. Two other grasshoppers also were my first for the county.

Wetter areas had plenty of short-winged green grasshoppers like this female.

Wetter areas had plenty of short-winged green grasshoppers like this female.

Prize of the day was this critter, the first spotted-wing grasshopper I have seen anywhere.

Prize of the day was this critter, the first spotted-wing grasshopper I have seen anywhere.

She wasn’t giving me good angles for photography, but fortunately I got a clear shot of the dorsal pronotum.

She wasn’t giving me good angles for photography, but fortunately I got a clear shot of the dorsal pronotum.

The inward-curving margins and their posterior big black triangles point to the two local species of Orphulella. There are two cuts in the dorsal surface, which point to O. pelidna rather than its close relative the pasture grasshopper O. speciosa.

This prairie is one I intend to visit in all portions of the singing insect season.

Memorial Forest Clearing

by Carl Strang

The Memorial Forest is a public site, essentially an undeveloped county park, in my home county of Marshall, in Indiana. As I have spent much of my time in that county over the years, my list of its singing insects is nearly as complete as that for DuPage. I had never looked at the Memorial Forest, however. I went there recently. The forest itself, though of good quality, had nothing new to add, but there is a cleared power line right-of-way through the forest which produced 4 county records, including a species I had not encountered before.

What made the clearing unusual was its sand soil.

What made the clearing unusual was its sand soil.

The nearly pure sand hosted oddities including velvet ants and a tiger beetle much larger than most species of my acquaintance. Almost right away I found my new friend, the woodland meadow katydid, and after a while ran across a species that may prove to be a frequent associate, at least in this region, as Lisa Rainsong has suggested.

A male straight-lanced meadow katydid.

A male straight-lanced meadow katydid.

There were large numbers of band-winged grasshoppers (the subfamily of grasshoppers which have wing-rattling flight displays, and thus qualify as singing insects). These ultimately sorted out to three species. In addition to the ubiquitous, and large, Carolina grasshopper, there were a medium sized and a small species.

The medium sized one was the mottled sand grasshopper, which I mentioned in a recent post on Jasper County.

The medium sized one was the mottled sand grasshopper, which I mentioned in a recent post on Jasper County.

Mottled sand grasshoppers were the most abundant singing insects in the clearing, their yellow hind wings flashing all around me as I walked. Then I noticed smaller bursts of bright red, and they led me to a grasshopper which up to that moment had been on my hypothetical list for the region.

You can get a sense of the red colored wings, and the small size of this insect, in comparison to my thumbnail. As usual, I released it unharmed.

You can get a sense of the red colored wings, and the small size of this insect, in comparison to my thumbnail. As usual, I released it unharmed.

The head and pronotum are beautifully patterned.

The head and pronotum are beautifully patterned.

This is the longhorn band-winged grasshopper, Psinidia fenestralis.

This is the longhorn band-winged grasshopper, Psinidia fenestralis.

The unusually wide black zone of the hind wing, the long, flattened antennae, and the banded yellow and black tibias, are additional features of this species. Old records placed it in the dune areas around the edge of Lake Michigan, so this well-inland site is unusual.

 

Woodland Meadow Katydid

by Carl Strang

Sometimes the solution to a puzzle comes through a tiny clue, accidentally discovered. Why couldn’t I find woodland meadow katydids? For years I had listened for them and looked for them in habitats where they are supposed to occur. References suggested I should be able to hear their distinctive song around woodland edges, but also indicated they are more a southern species with only scattered populations as far north as the 22-county region I am surveying for singing insects.

On Wednesday I traveled to Jasper County, Indiana, and stopped at the western end of the Jasper-Pulaski state wildlife area. I put on the SongFinder, wanting to find short-winged meadow katydids to add to the Jasper County list, but almost immediately heard something odd. It sounded like a striped ground cricket, but perhaps lower in pitch.

The song was coming from the tall herbaceous vegetation around two white oak trees.

The song was coming from the tall herbaceous vegetation around two white oak trees.

I took off the headphones of the pitch-lowering device, and could no longer hear the song. As I continued to listen, I noticed that once in a while one of the quick short buzzes was preceded by a brief stuttering burst of ticks. Thanks to the stereophonic design of the SongFinder, I soon found the singer.

A male woodland meadow katydid!

A male woodland meadow katydid!

It’s the only dry-habitat meadow katydid in our area that is brown rather than green. Once I knew that I needed the SongFinder, and what to listen for, I found them in Pulaski County and, the next day, in Starke. At the Round Lake state conservation area I heard males singing, and spotted a female.

Though the ovipositor is slightly curved, the small size as well as the brown color separates this female from all the Orchelimum meadow katydids. Long-tailed meadow katydids can be brown, but have very long straight ovipositors and live in wetlands.

Though the ovipositor is slightly curved, the small size as well as the brown color separates this female from all the Orchelimum meadow katydids. Long-tailed meadow katydids can be brown, but have very long straight ovipositors and live in wetlands.

I had held out hope that this would prove to be the one Conocephalus meadow katydid that I could hear unaided, but such is not the case. That was the tiny clue I needed to solve the woodland meadow katydid puzzle.

Two Missing Woodland Species

by Carl Strang

Two of the singing insect species that I have not found in northeast Illinois or northwest Indiana, but which have been collected here, are the spotted ground cricket and woodland meadow katydid. Both are described as woodland or woodland edge insects.

Looking back at Hebard’s 1934 monograph, which reviewed the Orthoptera of Illinois, I see that his only spotted ground cricket location in northeast Illinois was Deep Lake, in the northern Lake/McHenry County area. Other Illinois records for this species, all 1935 or older, are in Cook and Will counties. Indiana records include an old one from LaPorte County, as well as one from McCafferty and Stein (1976) for Kosciusko. These records are marked on the map for the spotted ground cricket from the Singing Insects of North America (SINA) website:

Turning to the woodland meadow katydid, Hebard wrote that he found it throughout Illinois in woods undergrowth and openings, and open woodlands, but the only location he gave in northeast Illinois was Willow Springs. Another source in the SINA database had them at Joliet in Will County in 1935. Here is the SINA map.

Indiana records from McCafferty and Stein include Starke County, but otherwise are limited to central and southern counties (they say it “is somewhat uncommon in the northern part. It inhabits roadside vegetation, fence row and marginal wooded areas”).

Both of these species apparently are very locally distributed, at best, in the region. While I will keep them in the back of my mind as I explore our area, and retain them on the hypothetical list as species that may still be present, there seems no justification in actively seeking them.

Insect Absences

by Carl Strang

This past weekend I took advantage of the warm weather to see about filling some absences in my singing insects records. First, I wanted to get some clarity on the apparent absence of fall field crickets (FFC) from Winfield Mounds and East Branch Forest Preserves. Second, I hoped to find woodland meadow katydids. Winfield Mounds is a fairly large preserve, and it contains a considerable area of habitat that appears to be suitable for FFC.

I extended my search through several habitats like this, and despite repeated visits to this preserve have failed to find FFC there. Winfield Mounds does, however, have the spring field cricket, sibling species to the FFC. The closest FFC I found to the preserve were several singing in a railroad embankment just across the road from the preserve’s southern edge.

I frequently put on the SongFinder to see if I could locate woodland meadow katydids in or near the woods edges. There were none. Mostly I was hearing short-winged meadow katydids. As I was checking the reconstructed mounds for which the preserve was named, I found this singer.

Its song was that of a short-winged, and the grassy bit of habitat was appropriate despite being in the center of the woods.

However, this insect had very long wings. Its song, coloration, and cerci (below) showed it to be a rare short-winged meadow katydid with long wings.

I went on to the area surrounding East Branch Forest Preserve. The closest FFC I found was in a residential neighborhood, several blocks away from the preserve boundary. There is a lacuna in the species’ local distribution, but it is not huge. East Branch, like Winfield Mounds, has spring field crickets.

Waterfall Glen would seem the most likely place to find woodland meadow katydids in DuPage County. Earlier I had searched without success in the western part of that large preserve. This weekend I made two stops in the eastern part. Again, I was hearing plenty of short-winged meadow katydids. Here is one of them, with a more conventional wing length.

I have come to the conclusion that this is the most abundant meadow katydid by far in DuPage, and among singing insects is rivaled only by the three common ground cricket species. I failed again to find woodland meadow katydids, and I wonder if they are supplanted locally by short-wingeds.

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