Monday, May 5, 2014

A cricket new to Ohio

The weekend before last saw the Ohio Ornithological Society descend upon Shawnee State Forest for their 10th annual conference. A portion of the 150 attendees poses on the steps of the Shawnee Lodge, above, which was base camp for the group. Following another gig here in Columbus on the morning of Saturday, April 26, I shot south and joined the group.

A big part of OOS conferences and symposia are field trips. We believe in doing our part in getting people out to see birds, and other facets of natural history. The group above is exploring a high, dry ridgetop occupied by Worm-eating Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers and numerous other avian fare.

A steep slope carpeted with the rare (in Ohio) dwarf iris, Iris verna. After the polar vortex snow/ice/cold fest that was last winter, it was exceedingly pleasurable to see flowering plants again.

I was flattered to be asked to deliver the Saturday night keynote, and following that volunteered to take interested people into the gloom of the nighttime forest. So, an intrepid van full of us headed afield to seek Chuck-will's-widow and Eastern Whip-poor-will.

Photo: Wiki Commons

We had only made it to the back of the lodge's vast parking lot when we stopped and jumped out of the van to listen for the local whip-poor-will. He often sings in the nearby woods, but not tonight, at least when we were there. But I soon heard a spring field cricket, Gryllus veletis. This was the first one that I had heard this spring, and we paused to listen. Spring field cricket males produce the quintessential cricket chirp. This large black insect and its close relative the fall field cricket, G. pennsylvanicus are the ones that enter garages and homes and hide behind objects, driving homeowners wacko with their loud chirps.

Before long, I heard a much more subtle cricket vocalization from a nearby grassy swale. I pointed it out to the group, and we quietly stalked closer to the six-legged singer. This song was quite different from the spring field cricket: a low sputtering trill broken with frequent pauses. I recognized it from previous encounters in southern West Virginia - the southeastern field cricket, Gryllus rubens!

By a stroke of great luck, Paul Hurtado was on our trip, and had specialized recording equipment with him. Paul made a very nice recording of the cricket, and you can hear that RIGHT HERE. I shared the recording with orthopteran expert Wil Hershberger who agreed that it must be the southeastern field cricket. I probably should have taken the time to try and find the cricket - which can be difficult and time-consuming - for photographs. But I was probably already testing the group's patience, and we had secured Paul's great recording, which provided documentation.

Here's the range map of southeastern field cricket, from Tom Walker's fabulous singing insect site housed at the University of Florida. Visit it HERE, and read more about the southeast field cricket HERE.

A glance at the map shows why I was excited to find this cricket. The red arrow points to the approximate location where we found the animal - well north of the documented range. The insect is now also in southern West Virginia. The first time that I met Wil Hershberger, at the New River Birding & Nature Festival, he got out of his car, cocked his head, and pronounced that a southeastern field cricket was singing in the yard of Opossum Creek Resort, the festival's hub. That was the first West Virginia record, about eight years ago, and I heard several others in new locales on my recent trip to that part of West Virginia.

Several species of singing insects are rapidly expanding northward. Lisa Rainsong has documented the expansion of jumping bush crickets and round-tipped coneheads into northeast Ohio in recent years. I'm sure the southeast field cricket is probably in other places in southernmost Ohio, and those with an interest in such things - and the ear to hear them - should be on alert for this cricket.


Mary Ann said...

Neat find - I'll have to keep an ear out around here for it. I really wanted to attend Lisa's upcoming workshop at the Edge, but it's already sold out.

Lisa Rainsong said...

This is exciting, Jim! How excellent that Paul was able to get a recording. It seems to be quite a distinctive song.