Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Northbound Coneheads!

There’s a new Conehead in the meadows outside of Cleveland – the Round-tipped Conehead.  I first started hearing this species in Geauga County (NE Ohio) in 2010 – there were just a few, but I hadn’t heard them before.  Fortunately, I had recently learned their song when I heard it "live" for the first time at the Midwest Native Plant Conference near Dayton.  Wil Hershberger and Jim McCormac led a singing insect night hike there, and I had a chance to hear katydids that I had never heard where I live in NE Ohio.  The Round-tipped Conehead was one of those species.

On the range map for this species. Round-tipped Coneheads do not appear in northern Ohio but seem to be common in southern Ohio.  Imagine my surprise when just a matter of weeks after the conference in Dayton, I heard one at Burton Wetlands in rural Geauga County!  Then I heard a couple more singing out in the goldenrod-filled meadow. 
Geauga Park District naturalist Linda Gilbert also began listening for this species and soon found one singing on her Geauga County property.  Where else were they?  This clearly was going to be an ongoing investigation.

First, let me tell you a little about these coneheads.  They sound quite different from our very common and widespread Sword-bearing Coneheads.  I must confess that even I don’t find this to be a lovely, inspiring song.  It is intense and rather like a high-frequency drill.  I most certainly would have remembered it if I had heard it before.

Like other singing insects, the song becomes a little lower and slower when the weather is cold.  The Round-tipped song is so dense, high, and intense, however, that the temperature-related change is not as obvious as it would be with species like the Common True Katydid or Snow Tree Cricket.  Here is a Round-tipped Conehead singing at 63 degrees instead of the 80 degree temperature of the first recording.

Round-tipped Coneheads are definitely a species to be located by ear.  Hearing them is not so difficult – in fact, hearing protection may be a greater concern if one is in close proximity to one of these coneheads.  Seeing them, however, is another matter.  

In my experience, they hide very well and are quite intolerant of lights and any kind of human presence.  They can often be found head down when they are singing or even just feasting on grass seeds, always ready to quickly disappear by dropping head first into the vegetation.  This head-down pose is also common for our widespread Sword-bearing Coneheads.   Unlike the Sword-bearers, however, Round-tippeds are also strong flyers who quickly and decisively fly out of reach whenever annoyed by a flashlight or other indication of human presence. Sword-bearing Coneheads either drop and hide, or just look helplessly pathetic as if pleading with me not to eat them.

The majority of Round-tipped Coneheads I’ve seen are green, but I have also found some of the beautiful brown forms as well. . 

And why are they called Round-tipped Coneheads?  It’s pretty simple, really - their short cones have rounded rather than more pointed tips and they are decorated with just a thin stripe of black.  
(Photo by Linda Gilbert of one of her Round-tipped Coneheads)

Now that you know a little more about my secretive subjects, let's return to my continuing investigation of what certainly appears to be a range expansion.  

During the second year of my two-year survey at Burton Wetlands, there were Round-tipped Coneheads at locations across the meadow.  They were not numerous, but there were more of them than the previous year.  In addition, Linda Gilbert heard them at Swine Creek and the West Woods in the Geauga Park District and I heard them at Case Western Reserve University's Squire Valleevue Farm in eastern Cuyahoga County. It was exciting!

My 2012 Geauga park District small research grant survey focused on Frohring Meadows and Orchard Hills Park.  I discovered that Round-tipped Coneheads were doing quite well at Frohring Meadows in SW Geauga County.  It was a very hot spring and summer, and I imagine these coneheads appreciated the extended warm weather up here in NE Ohio.. 

After finding Round-tippeds in SW Geauga, I listened intently for them on every survey trip I made to Orchard Hills Park in NW Geauga County in case they might have made it that far north.   From the highest elevation in this park, one can actually see Lake Erie. This would be quite a distance from where the range map indicates Round-tipped Coneheads will be found.  Time was running out that season, but it was still warm.  Finally on 10-1-12, I heard two of them singing even this far north.

This August, I decided to see if I could determine how far north this species actually lives.  When I went south of Cleveland into Summit County, there were more of them than in Cuyahoga and Geauga Counties.  Even one county south of Cuyahoga, they were more plentiful.  The next stop would be up in Lake County, which borders Lake Erie and is east of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and directly north of Geauga County.  

At first, it didn’t seem that I would find Round-tipped Coneheads that far north. They had already been singing down in Summit County for a while, but I didn’t hear a single Round-tipped in Lake County.  Maybe they just hadn’t moved that far north yet.

But finally on September 9th, I heard them in the meadows around Corning Lake at the Holden Arboretum.  The next evening, Skok Meadow at Lake Metroparks’ Girdled Road Reservation suddenly had a substantial number of Round-tipped Coneheads in full song.  If they were any farther north, they would be right on the south shore of Lake Erie.
These tough, feisty coneheads are surviving in the “snow belt.”  

Next year, I’ll check Ashtabula and Trumbull counties to see just how far northeast they are located.  But alas, widespread frost is now coming to the rural areas east of Cleveland.  I hope they had a very successful season, because their songs - and my investigation -  may soon be ending for the year.


  1. Interesting. That song is really kind of painful...

  2. Laura, you should experience being in the middle of a bunch of Nebraska Coneheads someday, as Wendy and I recently were on Kelleys Island (in Lake Erie). That was simultaneously glorious and quite painful! I cannot even imagine a Robust Conehead's live performance.

  3. Lisa, in my area this species continues relatively late into the season, surviving at least the milder frosts by going to the ground when it gets cold. They also are unusual among coneheads in singing during the day. They should be going strong by mid-afternoon, and at times I have heard them as early as mid-morning. Regards, Carl

    1. Thanks, Carl. I won't give up on them so quickly, then. They seem to sing in the mid-afternoon here, but I haven't heard them in the morning. I can't help but wonder why they sing in the daytime and the other coneheads do not.