Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Indestructible sound boxes

If there is ever a nuclear Armageddon, any survivors will probably not be without sound, however feeble and discreet. The following little bundles of chitin can take a licking and keep on ticking. Every group of organisms has its winners: species that not only survive under conditions that eliminate most of their kin, but thrive.

It's now into the second week of November in Ohio, and that means the onset of frigid temperatures. We've had a number of nights that have dipped into the twenties, F., and some days that haven't been a lot warmer. But, a last gasp respite! Today was into the 60's, and the next few days will be unseasonally balmy as well.

And out they come, to provide a serenade. Not as many of the little chirpers as there were prior to to the frosts, but there's still plenty... And the trio that follows can live nearly anywhere, and are quite happy in human-created biological wastelands such as typical turf lawns that are the death of most insects.

Allard's Ground Cricket, Allonemobius allardi. They're in your yard. Next time you step outside, cant an ear towards the lawn or a flowerbed. Your reward may be a weak jangly little trill; the sort of discreet sound that most would blow right by, but you don't have to. Their song may be subtle, but it's worth a listen, at least a quick one.

As with the other two species featured here, Allard's Ground Cricket is a midget. One might be forgiven for thinking they are "baby" crickets. An Allard's could perch comfortably on a dime.

An equally common and even tougher species is the Carolina Ground Cricket, Eunemobius carolina. I heard plenty of them today, and will probably continue to hear the occasional individual into December. They look much like the Allard's, but have a different song. It is also a trill, but with a much faster cadence. Whereas one can easily discern the individual notes in an Allard's song, that of the Carolina is much more rapid and the notes blur into a fast stream.

Beware cold days, though! The little fellows will sing into the 50's, and the cold renders them less agile and speedy of wing. Chilly crickets can sound quite different than toasty-warm ones.

My personal favorite of the indestructible lawn crickets, the Striped Ground Cricket, Allonemobius fasciatus. These are even more pint-sized than the preceding two, and play a quite different tune. It's sort of a quick zit, zit, zit - not a trill, but rather individual notes albeit often given in rapid succession and with a slight scratchy quality. Very easy to learn, once you've got it. Stripes were singing all over the place today. Have a listen to one, RIGHT HERE.

I don't know why more birders don't get into the Orthoptera - singing insects. They are great practice for the ear, and offer their melodies at times of year when not many birds do, at least up here in the north. The songs are often subtle, and initially hard to hear. If one can become adept at picking out and learning cricket songs, they'll probably find it much easier to notice and differentiate even the subtlest of bird calls.

Enjoy this trio while you can. Tough as they are, given enough extended freezes and they'll too be banished until the warmth of next summer rolls around.

For an absolutely wonderful guide to the six-legged songsters, visit Wil Hershberger's and Lang Elliott's Songs of Insects website, RIGHT HERE.


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