Friday, September 19, 2008

Black-horned Tree Cricket

I have become smitten with "singing" insects. Much of this interest was stimulated by the fabulous book The Singing Life of Insects, by Lang Elliot and Wil Hershberger. This is one of the finest volumes on natural history, bar none. I highly recommend it and if you get a chance to pick one up, please do.

Learning about singing insects is interesting and useful on several fronts. One, the collective symphonies produced by various insects, especially at night, are among nature's most pleasing sounds. Two, it is always nice to know what organism makes what sound when one is outdoors. Three, most of these insects are visually beautiful, and knowing their sounds allows one to better track them down for a look. Four, and something that all birders should take note of, is that they provide outstanding practice for our ears. The insect chorus comes on and starts to hit its colective stride after the birds have largely ceased singing. Moving one's ear over to learning insects will prove to be great practice for honing one's audio birding skills.
I found myself out in the woods recently, and was attracted to the musical if not somewhat monotone song of this insect, a Black-horned Tree Cricket, Oecanthus nigricornis. Most tree crickets sing at night; this one apparently will sing during the day, too. Even though their trill is rather loud and forceful, at least once your ears are dialed in, they are devilishly hard to locate. Like many singing insects, their senses are well developed and when a large clumsy humanoid moves in too close, they cease singing. With a bit of perseverance and a lot of luck, I eventually located it.Black-horned Tree Cricket may be the showiest of its ilk, with gorgeous wing venation in tones of greenish-white, set off by bold black legs, antennae, and head. The almond-shaped eyes are especially interesting and lend the critter an alienlike appearance.

Once I discovered him - it is a male; he was singing - it was very cooperative. The adults are predatorial, feeding primarily on aphids and even caterpillars. Speaking of the latter, don't ever be one. Caterpillars are largely defenseless tubular bags of goo that are preyed on by all manner of animals. Your chances, as a caterpillar, of making it to the winged moth/butterfly stage, are not good.

Next time you are out and about, especially at night, pay heed to the rich insect symphony.


Tom said...

I photographed a cool looking insect almost two years ago, and never knew what it was until I rented "the singing life" from the library this past spring and there it was. The photos in that book are incredible.

Here's my shot, which think is a female:

Black-Horned Tree Cricket

Yours looks like a male perhaps, sans the long ovipositor.

Jim McCormac said...

Beautiful photo, Tom - certainly a caterpillar-munching alienlike Black-horned Tree Cricket!