Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tough Old Guys: the show must go on!

As the singing insect season comes to a cold, rainy, end, I think it’s appropriate to express my admiration for those tough, old crickets and katydids who keep singing even as their bodies collect injuries or just plain break down.   It’s amazing to me that they will continue singing for so long, even as their plants begin to die and their wings begin to fray and tear.  The females, too, hang right in there with the males, even with missing legs and broken antennae.  (Pictured: female Black-legged Meadow Katydid.)

Here’s a collection of these late-season singers, and each one of the insects in these autumn photos was indeed still singing.

Missing legs - generally a back leg – are common.  Katydids and crickets can lose them in fights or in a close call with a predator.   They can still jump if they have one of their back legs, and they can certainly sing, as this Black-legged Meadow Katydid demonstrated.

The Striped Ground Cricket in the photo below was particularly valiant.  He only had one back leg when I brought him to finish out his days in one of my sunny cricket terrariums.  He eventually lost his other back leg, and yet he still managed to brace himself securely enough to sing.


I sometimes see crickets with tears in their wings late in the season, like this Four-spotted Tree Cricket.  The file and scraper are much closer to the insect’s body, though, so sound production remains possible.


Antennae get broken – always sad, in my opinion, because they are such important sensory organs.   The Black-horned Tree Cricket below was not only singing with a torn wing...

..both of his antennae were also chopped off almost to his head.  


Missing legs and broken antennae can occur at any time, but these seem to be more common as the season progresses.  What seems to be more specific to late-season katydids is wings that are crumbing and breaking off at the ends. The Texas Bush Katydid at the beginning of this post is a perfect example.

Two years ago I watched the wing damage progress in two old Curve-tailed Bush Katydids at Burton Wetlands in Geauga County.  Their wings first developed brown spots and later appeared to become thin and pale brown at the tips.  

Over the next few weeks, more of their wings became brown and crumbly, as if they were dried leaves.  Finally, by September 24th the katydid pictured below lost at least a third of his wings. 

He was already quite old in this photo.  I last saw him on October 4th of that year.  Although he was a little wobbly and moved as if he had significant arthritis, he still managed a few songs.  


Only the most resilient ground crickets will be singing next week after days of cold rain mixed with occasional snow and temperatures barely above freezing at night.  Let’s have a final round of applause for all those katydids and crickets who were still singing beautifully in their old age right up until the arctic cold front.


  1. Great blog about the determination of hanger-ons!

  2. What a terrific post. I certainly does seem that our singing insects weather, just as the leaves do, as the season winds down and the still of winter replaces the exuberance of summer. This is certainly a fitting tribute to these late season hanger-ons. Thank you.

  3. those black legged meadow katydids can live for about half year in captivity. I had one lived until Feb 27th this year. In the wild, they pretty much all died off by the middle of October in the Windsor, Ontario area.

  4. September 2017, Michigan. I barely noticed a little green male tree cricket, thoroughly doused by the automatic sprinklers and looking like a slight green discoloration of the wet concrete right outside the back door where I work. Maybe he had even been stepped on, where he was lying, just off the doormat. I took pity and decided to move the poor little thing and, to my surprise, he was alive! He grabbed onto a wood chip from the landscaping, and hung on -- with all three legs he had left -- while I carried him to some temporary lodging in my office. All his left legs were missing, down to little stubs, and he stumbled awkwardly when he tried to move around.

    The little guy ate baby porridge off the tip of one of my fingers, and chewed on romaine lettuce or spinach leaves that I would hold for him, and he would rest one of his antennas on my finger while he ate, for balance.

    He stayed with me, day and night, in a little plastic pet transporter bin, for 48 hours, hiding within the folds of some paper towel I put inside for him to climb on, and eating the food I brought.

    Then he was no longer hiding. He was standing brazenly on the outside of the paper towel in the corner nearest where I was working in my office, as if he wanted me to notice. I offered him food, which he no longer wanted. And when he accidentally touched my finger with an antenna he immediately pulled it away. I guessed that he was ready to go free.

    I gave him four more hours, during which time he stayed in the same prominent spot inside his little plastic house, and then we went outside under the viburnum trees and I let him walk out into the landscaping on his own. He walked, now looking quite sure of himself on three legs and three stubs, straight toward a baby grapevine in the midst of the viburnums, climbed up into the greenery, and I never saw him again. I hope he enjoyed the rest of his little life.