Monday, July 20, 2009

Pinkishly Outrageous!

I've been looking forward to making this post, ever since I laid eyes on the remarkable, shocking beast that follows. Be prepared, and be assured that the images that follow are not faked in any way, shape, or form! If this was April 1 no one would ever believe me!

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, Wyandot County. Legendary among Ohio's birders for the wintering concentrations of raptors, and big migrations of waterfowl that pass through.

But Killdeer is prairie - the biggest and best remaining chunk of the formerly vast Sandusky Plains wet prairie that sprawled over parts of Hardin, Marion, and Wyandot counties. Nearly all has been turned by the plow and now sports lush stands of beans, corn, and wheat.

Killdeer is still full of prairie plants, and a wealth of interesting fauna.

Because of its diversity, we chose Killdeer Plains for an interesting workshop that was held over the weekend past. In partnership with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the Licking County chapter of the Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists organized and executed what was essentially a nature camp on a high educational level. Many thanks to OCVN'er Rae Johnson for her leadership and heavy lifting in making this wonderful workshop possible.

We limited it to about forty people, and had four separate tracks of study: birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and plants. Some of the state's top scientists and naturalists graciously offered up their time to lead the courses, which were split between indoor programs and field trips. We had the likes of Dr. Dave Horn (butterflies and moths), Bob Glotzhober and Jim Davidson (dragonflies), Bob Placier (birds), and your narrator doing plants.

Thanks to Roz Horn for snapping the photo above, of most of our group. It was a really great time, and with that many keen, knowldegeable eyes scouring the landscape you can be sure noteworthy critters will come to light, and plenty did.

One creature shocked us into awed revery, though. It was a first for everyone, and God only knows how many centuries of exploration our group collectively contained.

While out on one of the expeditions, Jan Kennedy spotted the very pink creature above. Yep, it is really that pink. Pinker than one of Liberace's jackets. Pinker than Pink. Pinker than a Richard Simmons tank top. Outlandish. And very rare.

Fortunately for the rest of us, Cheryl Harner put the critter in a jar and brought it back so all could see. I can't even estimate how many photos were taken of this thing. All of mine were snapped indoors in David Fitzsimmons's photography rig designed for shooting insects on a white background. But the critter's whereabouts is still known - he has become a temporary pet - and I hope to have another opportunity to shoot her outside in vegetation under natural light.

So, what is it? Well, it's a bush katydid. I'm not exactly sure of the species, but it appears to be of the genus Amblycorypha, and it may be the Rattler Round-winged Katydid, A. rotundifolia. It is a female, as can be told from the prominent upcurved ovipositor jutting from the end of the abdomen, clearly seen in the first photo. It is also a subadult, as the wings are not yet fully developed.


There seems to be precious little information on the phenomenon of pink katydids, but they are well known as when one of them is discovered, it is likely to garner a lot of attention, and attract plenty of paparazzi.

The genetic condition that causes the normal green coloration to become bright, shocking pink is known as erythrism. Bugs with this condition probably have a few molecules rearranged which utterly whacks out the normal color, creating this psychedelic beauty. Who knows what percentage of the katydid population is pink: one in a thousand? Ten thousand? A million? In any event, it's certainly not something one frequently stumbles upon.

The primary reason a pink katydid is so shocking, I believe, is that animals are NOT supposed to be bright pink! Flowers, sure, there are plenty of 'em. But animals? Not. In fact, when sharp-eyed Jan first spotted the katydid, she thought it was fake. And who could blame her?

Pink katydids spawn lots of interesting questions, and I wish I had answers. Is this just a complete genetic anomaly with no good reason for occurring? Is the erythrism stimulated by the presence of certain plant species? Are bright pink katydids more likely to be preyed upon be birds or other predators? What is the frequency with which this condition is passed on to future generations? Are we going down an evolutionary road that will lead to fields of pink katydids in the future?

Someone needs to study pink katydids! What a great Masters or PhD project. "Hey dude, what's your bag, research-wise, man?" "Oh wow, man, pink katydids, dude, like they're totally awesome, man" "Oh, radically awesome dude! Pink fluorescent katydids, how cool, dude".
Yep, that's be a cool study subject bit good luck finding them!

The mothman himself, Dr. Dave Horn, spearheaded a nocturnal foray on Saturday night focusing on moths and other nighttime insects. During the expedition, I heard the katydid above calling from the adjacent field. This is what a katydid SHOULD look like - nice and lime green.

But this katydid is quite interesting in its own right, for it is the "counting katydid", more accurately called the Broad-winged Bush Katydid, Scudderia pistillata. Here's how they go: zeet...zeet zeet... zeet zeet zeet... zeet zeet zeet zeet... and so on. Go HERE to hear it yourself. Some of our party ventured into the field to find the beast, and it wasn't long before the katydid was spotted high atop a plant stalk, broadcasting his mathematical melody to all of the admiring ladydids out there.

Ah, the wild world of katydids. Who'd a thunk they were so odd?

Thanks a billion to Jan Kennedy for finding the pinkster and enriching all of our lives.

I'm 99% certain we'll do another of these weekend workshops next July, also featuring a star-studded cast of teachers. You can be assured field trips will also be a lrge part of the operation, and we'll be doing it at some wonderfully biodiverse place such as Killdeer Plains. We'll also be keeping it to few enough people that field trips don't exceed 10 or 12 folks, to maximize the learning and teaching opportunities.

Should you be interested in advance notification for next year's workshop, feel free to send me an e-mail at ambrosia@columbus.rr.com and I'll make sure you're entered in the system.

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14 comments:

LauraHinNJ said...

Pink katydids?

I haven't heard a one here, yet.

(not hot enough, I guess.)

Neat!

;-)

Tricia said...

Whoa!!! That's radical! Looking forward to seeing some photos of ladydid once her wings are fully developed. I hope you can post some.

Jeff Gyr said...

Cool stuff, Jim!

Reminds me of photos I've seen of blue lobsters. Amazing what the lack of a pigment or two can do!

birdchick said...

So jealous!

I have heard about these and have always wanted to see one in real life. There's a picture of a pink morph fort-tailed bush katydid in Lang Elliot & Wil Hershberger's Songs of Insects.

dAwN said...

Holy Molie..that is one awesome Katydid!
Wish I was there to see its beauty!
But this is second best..
excellent photos and information..as always Jim!
Your being tweeted on twitter for this one today..thanks to Jeff Gordon and others!

Jana said...

Thanks for documenting and immortalizing Pinky.I'm glad Cheryl had the foresight to collect it. It was fun to be able to contribute something on a field trip/treasure hunt. Your enthusiasm is contagious!

Susan Gets Native said...

Ack! Bring it this weekend! I wanna see it!

Dave Lewis said...

DUDE!

trumbullbirder said...

Awesome! I shot this 'pink variant' Northern Green-striped Grasshopper in Geauga County a couple years ago http://bugguide.net/node/view/118303

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks for all of the comments, pinksters! It's amazing how much enthusiasm this bug has sparked! Thanks again to Jan Kennedy for finding it, and Cheryl for katydid-sitting.

The pink katydid is currently in captivity and living large. Cheryl reports it is happy. We hope to show it off at this weekend's Midwest Native Plant Conference, then it is coming to work with me on Monday where it'll be shot by a bunch of paparazzi.

I'll keep you posted of any new and exciting adventures that happen to the pinkster.

Jim

Ecesis Factor said...

so cool! I've seen lots of the green ones, but never anything like that. Amazing.

Mike and Lizette said...

Dawn, had pointed this out and had to check it out, that is amazing to see. Thanks for sharing.

Nicole said...

Amazing Beauty!
I've only seen them in green so far.
I guess I will keep my eyes open. Who know, maybe they still exist in Hungary too ;)

(Thanks to Dawn for the heads up on this find :) )

Q said...

Thank you!
I have been searching the Prairies in Missouri and Kansas for the Pink Katydid. It is exciting to know you have found one. I have read they are endangered!
So very cool.
Wow!
Thanks to Dawn for the link to you.
Sherry