Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Charismatic Katydids

I've been smitten with the Orthoptera for the better part of a decade. I liked these insects - crickets, katydids, coneheads and their kin - even before that, but didn't make a real effort to learn about them. Then, one day about eight or nine years ago, a woman asked me what was making a metallic clicking sound in a shade tree outside her house. From her description, I recognized the sound as I had heard it too, but I was embarrassed to say that I did not know the causer of the clicks.

It didn't take much research to learn that the mystery clicker was a Greater Anglewing, which is a jumbo katydid and a consummate leaf mimic. I was hooked! From that point, I wanted to know the names of all of the six-legged singers that compose our late summer and autumn symphonies. If you are into birds, as I am, learning the insect songs is great practice for tuning the ear for bird song.

Now, I find myself giving lectures on Orthopteran insects, and taking people afield to learn more about them. Last Saturday night, I led such a gig over at Dawes Arboretum, and our field trip was beyond fantastic. It was as if the insects were jumping from the trees and shrubs into our hands. We got great looks at a number of species, and I would say that the Slightly Musical Conehead was the people's favorite.

The very next day, I was on another expedition, and we found the beauty pictured below. She totally manifests the abundant charisma that defines katydids...

A female Curve-tailed Bush Katydid, Scudderia curvicauda, inspects the tasty skin of her human handler. This animal magically sprang from the grasses and presented herself to the group. Knowing a bit about the habits of these beasts, I set about luring it onto my hand. The larger katydids are often incredibly confiding. All one needs to do is slowly move a hand into the proximity of their antennae. The katydid will tap your skin with its feelers, detect tasty salty skin, and clamber aboard.

Once in the hand, the katydid will begin rasping off the outer epidermal layer of your skin, which kind of tickles. Their jaws are powerful, and every now and then they'll give a decent pinch, but nothing too much. But having one of these animals so near allows for the chance to admire their striking appearance. Note the tricolored eyes and whimsical looks of this beautiful animal.

I knew it was a bush katydid in the genus Scudderia when I saw it, but did not know the species. Females are harder to identify than males; indeed some references say that you must see them in close proximity to their male mate to make a positive identification.

Unless you're friends with Wil Hershberger. Wil literally wrote the book on singing insects, and I sent him these photos for his thoughts. He recognized the animal for what it was, and hence I got a  positive identification.

Speaking of Wil Hershberger, this is his book, which he coauthored with Lang Elliott. It is THE book to have for anyone interested in singing insects. If you aren't interested in this group and pick up this book, chances are you soon will be interested in the Orthoptera. I highly recommend The Songs of Insects, and you can get it RIGHT HERE.

We have another wonderful Orthopteran asset right here in Ohio, in the form of Lisa Rainsong. No one in this state knows the singing insects better than Lisa does, and she has started a wonderful blog devoted to our music-making bugs and Nature's other songsters. Check it out RIGHT HERE.



Anonymous said...

The other day whilst I was whacking down the grass in the yard I must have seen 8 of those little katydids. Usually I don't see very many.

Paul Gledhill said...

Great article Jim. Do you know if mosquito spraying impacts katydids? We've got a great deal in Worthington, but I noticed a spraying truck last week. There seemed to be much less singing the next night, but my survey was not at all scientific.

Jim McCormac said...

Don't know, Paul. But it wouldn't surprise me if orthopterans were part of the collateral damage of ill advised and foolish indiscriminate mosquito spraying.

Mary Huey said...

Best part of late summer is listening to the katydids as I fall asleep!!

Anonymous said...

Good timing on this article. I saw a different katydid at Bedford Reservation recently. It was on the railing at Bridal Veil Falls, which made taking a pic rather easy.


If you scroll down to the Comments on this image you can see another katydid I saw a couple of years ago in the same area.

Ken Andrews
Maple Heights, Ohio


If you would be kind enough to look at some other images in my Photostream...Can you ID the yellow and the brown mushrooms in my Photostream?

I have consulted a few books and websites. Fungi ID is not easy. But, I do like finding mushrooms in the parks.