Monday, August 13, 2012

Bugs with bayonets

The Orthopterans are in fine fettle right now. That big "O" word refers to our "singing" insects; the chitinous six-legged sound machines that create the beautiful nighttime melodies that reach a crescendo on late summer evenings. Crickets, katydids, coneheads, trigs, anglewings - these bugs create wonderful songs by rapidly rubbing their hardened file-scrapers together.

At least the males do - the females don't sing. They've got more important tasks. The beautiful little cricket above is a handsome trig, Phyllopalpus pulchellus, and it's total insect art. Burnt red and deep ebony, it looks as if the cricket was waxed and then shellacked. They're common, too, singing right now in a bush near you. But note the posterior end of this particular animal. It looks like someone mounted a sword to it.

Whoa! Here we've got a sword and a half; a true bayonet! It looks like this round-tipped conehead, Neoconocephalus retusus, could run a man through. Fearsome appendage to be sure, but the conehead and the aforementioned handsome trig are females, and the spikelike accoutrements are ovipositors. They use them to inject eggs deep into protective plant tissue. Many a person has stumbled into a female katydid or cricket, and been awed and a bit frightened by the size of its "stinger".

This is a common true katydid, Pterophylla camellifolia, and it is about as whimsical and Dr.Suessish as an insect can get. These large leaf mimics are probably the most conspicuous nighttime insect singers out there, the males creating a loud raspy KAY-TEE! KAY-TEE-DID! The animal above was adding to the nocturnal symphony, as it is a male - note the roughened brownish area on the forewings. That region is its stridulatory area and the point where the katydid's wings rub together to create its distinctive sound.

Photo: John Pogacnik

This is an amazing photo, and the sole reason I slapped this post together. John Pogacnik sent this image along today, of a female common true katydid that he caught in the act of ovipositing. John and his son were strolling around his Lake County yard, seeking creatures of the night, when they noticed the katydid high up on a tree trunk.

Common true katydids are also armed with large bayonetlike ovipositors, like the other Orthopterans in this post. Thanks to John's photo, we can see why these unnaturally large structures come in handy. The katydid is working her ovipositor deep into the bark of this tree, and once she has drilled to an adequate depth, she'll inject her eggs. Sort of like insect fracking, but the results are good.

Ensconced deep within the plant tissue, the katydid eggs will be insulated from the ravages of winter. Come spring and warmer weather, they'll hatch and young katydid nymphs will make their way into the world and commence growing, molting, and growing ever larger. By this time next year, the fruits of this hardworking female katydid's labors will have come to fruition, and her offspring will contribute their tones to the great singing insect wall of sound.

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