Sunday, January 10, 2021

Safety, Refuge, and Research

 


 I’m going to close my 2020 series of Listening in Nature posts with stories, photos, and recordings from my four-month field research project for the Geauga (County) Park District. Field research is typically immersive and richly rewarding for me. In this COVID year, my two places of safety and refuge were my home and the parks I studied.

This was the first year since 2012 that I’d spent my summer and fall studying singing insects for the Geauga Park District (GPD). I’ve surveyed crickets and katydids in all the counties in the extended Cleveland region of NE Ohio and created an online field guide for the seven-county area. But it was in Geauga County’s parks that I began my initial field study and research in 2008 and did multiple research projects between 2009 and 2012. Not surprisingly, the Geauga Park District feels like home. In a sense, it’s where I went to school when I was learning how to find, record, and identify singing insects.

For 2020, I created a research proposal that would document the species in each of four parks and park properties and how each location supported singing insect communities. I chose Holbrook Hollows in the southwest corner, Chickagami Park in the southeast corner, and both Observatory Park and an additional park property to represent the northeast.  

 

 

In addition to four separate locations, I imagined weaving all that data into a larger four-movement work that would compare species prevalence and range expansion between the southwest, southeast, and northeast corners of the county. 

It was an ambitious – and irresistibly fascinating - plan. I would be looking and listening for possible answers to the following questions that intrigued me:

Which species are becoming established in Geauga County as they move northward into this region? 

Do any parts of Geauga County still sound as they would have ten years ago because the northward species had not reached there yet?

Which properties have both Black-horned Tree Crickets and the look-alike Forbes’s Tree Crickets? I’ve been studying these two species for the past several years and Geauga is one of the NE Ohio counties in the species’ overlap zone.

I created this plan before COVID arrived in Ohio and submitted my proposal just a couple of weeks after all conservatory classroom teaching was moved online. Faculty and staff had just a few days to do what we could to prepare.

During the same time, virtually all of my upcoming naturalist teaching for the entire year was canceled.

But the grant was approved, and pandemic precautions would not limit my ability to pursue my field research

I was deeply anxious and worried about COVID, but also relieved that my survey would take me to the safety of the meadows, woods, and wetlands. I was primarily out after dark, as that’s when most crickets and katydids sing during the months of July and August. Because I was often in areas closed to the public or off trail, social distancing was not an issue.  I always had a mask available should I encounter any humans. Travel was reasonable, as all of my research sites were within an hour of home.

The prelude to the singing insect season began in late May and early June. I expected Spring Field Crickets in scattered locations but did not know whether I’d find Spring Trigs anywhere in my Geauga survey sites. 

During my 2012 survey in Frohring Meadows (southwest Geauga County) I remembered hearing one or two individual early-season mystery singers. I had no idea at the time who these crickets might be, as Spring Trigs simply weren’t even a consideration for NE Ohio. But Spring Trigs have been steadily, decisively moving north, so perhaps more pioneers were now entering Geauga County. 

 

This is the  NE Ohio snowbelt - the final frontier for southern and central Ohio cricket and katydid species that are moving north. (Map from Wikipedia)

 

When I initially checked Holbrook Hollows in mid-June, Spring Trigs were cheerfully singing in the warm afternoon sun! With each passing week, their numbers and locations increased. I ultimately found them at all four properties, though they were far more abundant at Holbrook Hollows in the southwest corner of Geauga.

The Roesel’s Katydid is a non-native, though non-invasive, species I generally find in the northeast corner of my northeast Ohio region. They were introduced from Europe to the Montreal area in 1952 and subsequently moved west from their initial introduction to the Chicago area and now into Wisconsin and eastern Iowa, according to Singing Insects of North America. Where did I find them this year? As expected, in the northeast corner of Geauga County.


 

The end of June and first week of July presented the first major proclamation of singing insect season’s arrival: Gladiator Meadow Katydids at the end of June...

 

 and Broad-winged Bush Katydids a week later. 


The most impressive numbers were at a GPD permit-only property in the northeast corner of the county. I have never heard or seen so many of these two species anywhere. (You can read more about these Gladiators and Broad-winged Bush Katydids in my July post, Worried...or Impatient?)

By the third week of July, it was obvious this would be an outstanding season for one of my favorite katydid species: the Oblong-winged Katydid. Though more common some years than others, they were ridiculously abundant in all corners of Geauga County in 2020

 

Late July and early August brought the annual explosion of tree cricket song in the meadows and woodland edges. Ground crickets and Fall Field Crickets were the continuo section providing the sonic foundation, and July’s katydids continued singing even as new sections of the insect ensemble joined them onstage. 

 

Striped Ground Cricket, Observatory Park. 
This little beauty is actually only about 1/2" in size.
 

I was immersed in sound and in moonlight, distant lightning, and even the aftermath of showers dripping from the leaves into the musical texture of my recordings.

 

 
Two-spotted Tree Cricket (male)  In the recording below, you'll hear first a Narrow-winged Tree Cricket, then a Two-spotted Tree Cricket. You may be able to hear rainwater dripping off the leaves of their river birch. Photo and recording from Chickagami Park. 
 

 

Holbrook Hollows boardwalk, 8/2/20 (above). Curve-tailed Bush Katydids and Oblong-winged Katydids were singing, and this Curve-tailed pair was in the process of mating.

 

There was an obvious difference in insect song between the parks. Except for a few scattered Spring Trigs, I didn’t hear northbound crickets and katydids in the northeast corner of the county. When I would arrive at Observatory Park and the other nearby GPD property, the ensemble sounded so familiar. 

It was the sound of 2010 rather than 2020. 

Two Narrow-winged Tree Crickets mating while a third sings hopefully right above them. NE Geauga County. The recording below is his picture.
 


There were no Handsome Trigs, no Jumping Bush Crickets, no Round-tipped Coneheads…were they going to mature late up there, or had they yet to arrive at all?

August is always the most joyful month of my year. All the remaining crickets and katydids mature within that month until the full insect ensemble performs its orchestral tutti. Later August also brings glorious beauty to the meadows: goldenrods, asters, Joe-pye weed, ironweed, and various tall, yellow composites whose names I have yet to keep straight. 

 Observatory Park's "Planetary Meadow"
 
But August’s progression also brought the beginning of teaching all my daily music theory classes remotely from home. Late nights in the field were followed by early mornings teaching from a small room in our little bungalow. March and April felt like getting through a short-term crisis, but now I was teaching an entire semester of material online without the space and resources of my classroom. 

 


I still had several weeks remaining for the survey.

I tried to keep remote teaching, increasing COVID anxiety, and my fieldwork as separate as I could. At times, I succeeded in focusing on how fortunate I was to teach safely from home and also do research safely distanced in the field. But I couldn’t keep up with the work and still edit or even label my photos and field recordings. 

Academic calendars do not wait, nor does Nature.

In the southern part of the county, Jumping Bush Crickets and Handsome Trigs were abundant throughout Holbrook Hollows. What a contrast to the first little cluster of Handsome Trigs that began to colonize nearby Frohring Meadows just over ten years earlier! 

Female Handsome Trig, Frohring Meadows, SW Geauga County, 2012

 I’d only found Jumping Bush Crickets in one location on the border of Frohring in 2012, but now they were a significant part of the August and September ensembles both at Frohring and at Holbrook Hollows.

 
I found this Jumping Bush Cricket singing under some peeling sycamore bark in the Holbrook Hollows parking lot. I brought him home and set him up in a leaf and twig-filled mesh cage the suited him quite well. See "Crickets - and Katydids - in the House 2020"

Round-tipped Coneheads had already rapidly established their presence at Frohring even in 2012 and their penetrating buzzing was mixed into the sound texture of Holbrook Hollows as well. 

 

Handsome Trigs, Jumping Bush Cricket, and Round-tipped Conehead at Holbrook Hollows

Southwest Geauga County’s parks sounded like Portage and Summit Counties to their south 


 

While in lesser numbers at Chickagami in southeast Geauga, these species were not part of the soundscape in the northeast at all. Their songs were more common even along the lake shore in Lake County than inland. Lake Erie's waters keep those areas warmer in the late fall, so singing insect may have more time to complete their life cycle.

The northeast Geauga snowbelt still sounded like…the snowbelt.

Only later in the fall did I hear a few pockets of Handsome Trigs and a couple of  Jumping Bush Crickets and Round-tipped Coneheads. Driving from Holbrook Hollows to Observatory Park sounded as if I’d gone back ten years in time.

 

 Observatory Park's Planetary Meadow in late September.

Time was short now, as nights were getting too cold for insect song. I still needed to record the crickets whose species I could only determine by analysis of their songs: the Forbes’s Tree Crickets and if present, the look-alike Black-horned Tree Crickets. I’d recorded about 30 of them at Observatory Park the previous year and now hoped for a reasonable sampling from Holbrook Hollows. Wetland restoration work was already beginning at the park property near Observatory, but maybe I could still manage to make some recordings there as well. 

 

He was singing at Holbrook Hollows, but was he a Forbes's Tree Cricket,, or a Black-horned Tree Cricket? It's not possible to tell without a song analysis by temperature and wing strokes per second.

 

Field recordings from Holbrook necessitated bushwhacking through very dense, tall goldenrod mixed with blackberry, scattered saplings, and shrubs such as red osier dogwood on a slope dropping down toward a wetland. My additional Holbrook site was in a power line corridor that also featured blackberry and tall goldenrod.

I managed to safely negotiate both locations and even brought home two crickets I thought sounded a little different from each other. In addition, I also brought home two more crickets from the northeast Geauga property– a quick catch before rain threatened to drench my recording equipment.

Once I could record and analyze their songs from home, I confirmed that I had a Forbes’s and a Black-horned Tree Cricket from each of those two sites. Both species are definitely present in northeast and southwest Geauga County. 

Black-horned Tree Cricket in the recording below. He is followed by a Forbes's Tree Cricket, and you may also hear a Black-legged Meadow Katydid in the background

A cold spell in September greatly diminished singing insect numbers a little earlier than I would have expected, and by early October I had to acknowledge that the survey was essentially over.

As I do every year, I spent the next month close to Lake Erie’s relatively warm waters that delay a singing insect-killing freeze near the lakeshore. It was the annual postlude that concluded with just the singing insects I had been able to catch and bring home to finish their final performances next to the south windows of the dining room by day and near the heat vents at night. I listened to them every afternoon and evening as I graded assignments and prepared exams. 

Finally in late November and December I could edit the photos and field recordings that documented not only the singing insects but everything I’d seen, heard, and absorbed in those four months. As in previous years, I came to love the places I studied in such detail and so deeply appreciated what they revealed, shared, and taught me. This year, they also kept me safe, emotionally nourished, and grounded as only nature can.

 

 
 
 If you’d like to read my final illustrated report, it will be available in the future on my website (https:listeninginnature.com)

In addition, I'll be doing a presentation on my 2020 research for the Geauga Park District that will be free and open to the public (probably via Zoom), and I’ll announce the date once it’s been scheduled. It should also appear on the GPD website under "Programs and Events."

If COVID-19 permits, I also expect to co-lead a singing insect hike at one of the survey sites in August. 

You can reach me by email at lisa.rainsong@listeninginnature.com

Friday, December 18, 2020

Crickets - and Katydids - in the House 2020

 


It’s time once again for my annual “Crickets in the House” post. This year’s entry will include information on cages, food, and behavior. There will be katydids as well as crickets and I’ll also introduce a new feline assistant, as our beloved Dmitri has passed on. My new assistant-in-training is Nikos, who appears to have been dumped in the early days of the pandemic and ran up to my car begging for help.   


 


I’ll start with accommodations. 

I began experimenting with mesh caterpillar/butterfly cages last year and decided these were definitely my best option for tree crickets and possibly katydids so far. I could hear the songs more clearly, ventilation was better than in glass or plastic terrariums with screen lids, and the insects could climb in every direction. Although I was concerned that the katydids might chew through them, that was never a problem.

 

I wrote about the Rattler Round-winged Katydid and Oblong-winged Katydid that lived here in “Amblycorypha Choristers and they both did very well in mesh butterfly cages with ample plant material and food. They sang for hours at night in their peaceful room apart from all the crickets that would later join the concert. By day, this was the room from which I taught all my music theory classes remotely, due to the pandemic. At night, I’d often sit in its one comfortable chair, quietly grading assignments while listening to the soothing songs of the katydids

The ground crickets lived in plastic cages with clumps of grass, some leaves and twigs, and food at ground level. I learned last year that ground crickets strongly prefer to have a small rock to sit above the grass and leaf litter. I’d noticed this in the wild, especially for those in the Allonemobius genus such as the Allard’s and Striped Ground Crickets. 

        Striped Ground Cricket singing from a small rock in his plastic terrarium 


For the tree crickets and the katydids, each mesh cage needs to have appropriate vegetation - a requirement that becomes more challenging to fulfill in later November and December. I placed a small vase or glass bottle with plant cuttings in each cage, trying when possible to choose the plant species in which I typically find these insects in the wild. 

 

For example, Oblong-winged and Rattler Round-winged Katydids will likely prefer a leafy understory environment. Blackberry leaves work well for them with a few other plant cuttings added for variety.

Broad-winged Tree Crickets want broad leaves from which to sing. Blackberry works well for singing perches. They also hide motionless on the underside of such leaves as well. Since they are common in shrubs at the edge of meadows, I include plants that replicate where I find them.

 Broad-winged Tree Crickets are pale green earlier in the season, but tree crickets become increasingly yellowish when they're old. He's singing in blackberry.


Forbes’s Tree Crickets and Black-horned Tree Crickets (their look-alike cousins), are meadow dwellers and goldenrod is always popular with them. Both species are pleased to have a little blackberry as well. However, Four-spotted Tree Crickets – also meadow residents –have a definitely preference for asters, Queen Anne’s lace. and grasses with stems that make stable singing perches. 

 

Black-horned Tree Cricket on a blackberry leaf. Look closely - it appears that he may have goldenrod pollen on his legs and antennae from walking through the goldenrod in his cage.


Jumping Bush Crickets live in trees and bushes, where they're usually easy to hear, difficult to see, and challenging to catch. I did manage to find one singing under a flaking piece of sycamore bark and brought him home. Would he be interested in goldenrod or asters? 

Of course not! I assembled a collection of sticks for him to climb on and added cuttings from blackberry and our ubiquitous invasive buckthorn. He did indeed eat the buckthorn leaves, and his preferred list also included cherry and viburnum. I don’t think he ate any blackberry, but I kept a little in his cage as a place to hide when he wanted some privacy. His cheerful-sounding chirps were quite loud for a small house, but we greatly enjoyed him.

Jumping Bush Cricket in a mesh cage with blackberry and shrub cuttings and sticks on which to climb.
 

 

Each of our two Black-legged Meadow Katydids had his own personal cattail seed head still on a portion of its stem. These katydids require somewhat tall, rather thick, round stems from which to sing, so I also provided a couple portions of cattail stems for singing perches. For an added wetland touch, each also had his own bulrush seed head as well. 

 


 In addition to singing from his cattail, he ate the seeds as well.


I mist everyone’s plant cuttings daily and monitor the water level. I've never had a cricket fall into the plant water and drown but using narrow-necked vases or iced tea bottles minimizes the risk, keeps that water from evaporating as quickly, and holds the plant stems upright.

Plant cuttings seldom last more than two or three days once the weather is cold and the heat is on. Finding green leaves in the late wall and early winter does become a challenge!

Check the vegetation daily...and change as needed.

 

Changing plant cuttings is a dangerous moment, as all these insects can jump out of their cages faster and farther than you would ever imagine possible. My experience has been that they're somewhat less adventurous as they become accustomed to the nightly routine, but one never knows when a cricket or katydid will become startled or simply adventurous. 

 

Be sure you know where the insect is before moving anything inside the cage and if he tends to jump, see if you can get him into a jar for a few minutes until you’re done.

I’ve written about trigs – the tiny, sword-tailed crickets – in numerous other posts and included photos of them in their tiny singing cages. They can escape from absolutely anything else, so don’t even bother with those little plastic insect carriers. Give them food and a leaf to hide under. I typically have Handsome Trigs here later in the fall, but this year I also had a Say’s Trig as well. They can be cared for similarly. 

 

 

Handsome Trig. This little container has a diameter of about 4.5". There are also small caterpillar/butterfly mesh containers that would probably work well for trigs.

I must give credit where it is due. After weeks, the Say’s Trig jumped far out of his little singing cage and disappeared. He was tiny: ¼”  in size and coppery-brown. 

    Remember, Say's Trigs are only 1/4" in size and he was on a wood floor... 

I couldn’t find him and was about to give up hope when Nikos indicated the exact location of elusive, diminutive cricket. He didn't even try to catch or eat him, and soon the Say's Trig was safely in his little cage.

This brings us to food.

Crickets enjoy apple slices and some like a grape slice as well. The katydids, however, were especially enthusiastic about apples. I would occasionally have to move the Black-legged Meadow Katydid off his in order to replace it with a fresh slice. The Oblong-winged tore into his with intense focus. 

 

While the katydids and tree crickets sometimes sample grapes, it seems to be the ground crickets and especially Handsome Trigs who enjoy them the most.

Everyone would get a little lettuce as well, and they all had dry cricket food and water cubes at all times. One might not think that tree crickets would come down to the floor of the cages to eat these items, but in fact, many do.

Fresh produce is served as a produce-kabob: lettuce topped with apple and perhaps a grape slice. Because of the possibility of pesticide residue, these insects are only served organic produce. 

Crickets and katydids will sit on top of the apple. Sometimes I actually have to move them in order to change their produce!

 

Essential for both habitat and food are leaves, preferably from plants like those in which they’d been living earlier in the season. They will often eat the plant leaves I provide them for hiding and singing.


Crickets, katydids, and cats all seem to appreciate a little warm, late-season sun, so I lined everyone up along the dining room's south windows. Nikos placed himself right there with them. This is when he first realized that there were living entities in those cages!

 


It’s getting quieter now. The three Broad-winged Tree Crickets are still here, along with one Forbes’s Tree Cricket. They would have matured in early August for the Forbes's and mid-August for the Broad-winged. They've been singing in the wild and now here in the house for four months. Very few of my indoors singing insects make it to the end of December, but just maybe one will still sing up in the bedroom on New Year’s Eve.

Interestingly, we've noticed one unexpected song deterrent: the indoor and front porch little LED holiday lights we've hung in multiple places for the first in many years. Although these lights don't seem to us to be nearly as bright as indoor lamps or the usual porch light, the Broad-wingeds in particular will not sing when those lights are on. When I turn off the switch or unplug the chord, the crickets instantly begin singing!

I recorded the single remaining Forbes's Tree Cricket in a duet with the Broad-winged Tree Cricket who's been here the longest on the night of  of December 16th/17th. Their cages were outside the bedroom in the dark. It was snowing outside and the ground was white. You may therefore hear the furnace blower in the background and also a little crackling from their aging file/scraper instruments at the base of their aging wings. Even so, some of you may also notice the interval between their pitches is generally about a perfect 4th, which is also visible on the sonogram below.

 


Every year, I am thankful to have learned more about each species that spends time here and also about each one as an individual because - to my initial surprise - there are even behavioral differences among members of the same species. 

And as each one leaves the stage in the annual Orthopteran Farewell Symphony, I always thank him for his songs.