Sunday, September 18, 2011

Black-horned Tree Cricket, Oecanthus nigricornis

Just back from the Midwest Birding Symposium and what a time that was! Everyone involved pulled out all the stops and created the best MBS ever. I was so busy with leading trips, giving a talk, introducing speakers, and visiting with dozens of friends that I never even cracked a camera case. Thus, I am relying on the generosity of other photogs that were there, and am hopeful that people such as Nina and Ernie can provide me with a few of their stellar images. I'll offer an MBS recap here, later.

On my way back from Lakeside, it was impossible not to stop at the fabulous Castalia Prairie for a few hours. There, on a picture-perfect September day, I found many interesting things and made lots of photos. I was fortunate in being able to track down one of our most charismatic little singers, and would like to share this tiny beast with you.

As soon as I exited my vehicle, I heard the sonorous droning trills of one of our showiest orthopterans, the black-horned tree cricket, Oecanthus nigricornis. I resolved to track some of these crickets down, as they are exceptionally good-looking and endowed with more than their fair share of charisma.

Click the above photo to enlarge, and look closely. Crickets are no fools, and when they detect a large, lumbering biped crashing closer, they'll dart to the other side of the leaf. But those LONG antennae jutting from the leaf's cover are a dead give away, as is the tip of the animal's abdomen sticking over the top of the leaf.

A gentle tap of the leaf, and PRESTO - the stunning insect ran around to my side. Black-horned tree crickets are extraordinarily flashy, what with their glossy black heads and legs. The ebony creates a pleasing contrast with the greenish-white wings, and the overall effect charms nearly all who come into contact with these bugs.

A bit goofy looking when seen up close and personal, to be sure, but in a friendly Donald Duck sort of way.

Black-horned tree crickets are at their peak right now, and it should be a fairly simple matter to find them should you be so inclined. They sing during the day, unlike many of their brethren. Also, this species generally shuns trees and favors old fields filled with goldenrods, asters, grasses and other herbaceous vegetation. At best, they'll clamber into the low branches of shrubs within the meadow, but that's about as close to a tree as a black-horned tree cricket will get.

CLICK HERE to hear the song of a black-horned tree cricket.

I found a few of these tree crickets, and was able to coax one onto my finger. By slowly easing your finger in front of the animal - and this works with many of our crickets and katydids - they'll often step right aboard after carefully vetting you with their long antennae. Note that this individual is somewhat battle-scarred. He is missing most of his right antenna, and his left rear leg was gone. Life in the meadow is not always easy.

I think the animals are attracted to salts, hence their fascination with our skin. As soon as Senor Cricket stepped aboard, he began rasping my flesh with his surprisingly powerful mandibles. Their nibbling little pinches file away the outer layer of cells and the various minerals within. I'm glad I could provide some sustenance to this old veteran of the meadow, and he in turn offered up some excellent photo ops.


Wil said...

Very cool. Certainly my favorite tree cricket. They take the prize to handsome for sure.
Glad to see that you weren't devoured in the encounter :)

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Seems you've discovered a true rarity, Oecanthus nigriconis v. unipedis.

Vincent Lucas said...

Cool cricket. Is Castalia Prairie the same as Resthaven Prairie? I spent many a day, actually night, at Resthaven blacklighting there back in the 80's. There was even a new-to-science microlep discovered there. Just curious as I don't remember "Castalia" Prairie. Sounds like you had a good time at the MBS. I know several Floridians who were in attendance, but they were mostly reps for various optics/camera companies.

Trish said...

Thanks for including the audio clip!

Jim McCormac said...

Hi all,

Vince: Yes, Castalia Prairie is the old name for the formerly massive prairie that once covered the region south of Sandusky Bay. The only big more or less intact remnant is protected by Resthaven Wildlife Area.

The moth that Eric Metzler found there that was new to science is Spinopogon resthavenensis.

Vincent Lucas said...

Thanks Jim. Weird though, when I Google Spinopogon resthavenensis I don't even get a hit! Any photos of it on the web that you know of or is there a better search engine to use?

Jim McCormac said...

I tried googling Spinopogon, too, and got next to nothing and nothing on resthavenensis. These micro-moths must be obscure indeed!

Vincent Lucas said...

This was just sent to me. I don't know why Google doesn't have a link to it!

Vincent Lucas said...

Just found out why Google didn't return anything for "Spinopogon" [sic]. It's spelled "Spinipogon". Ironically, the Moth Photographer's Group has it as "Spinigon" [sic] under the "Taxonomic Notes" for Spinipogon resthavenensis. Here's a link for you: