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.
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.