Sunday, September 14, 2014

Different Stages, New Ensembles

I know my NE Ohio music quite well by now, but I also don’t have many opportunities to go far enough for insect music to sound significantly different.  How far is far enough?  Adams County, which borders the Ohio River south of Columbus.  I had the opportunity to spend 3+1/2 days at the Cincinnati Museum Center and Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy’s Edge of Appalachia Preserve as one of the two instructors for an Advanced Naturalist Workshop on singing insects.   

I was greatly pleased (and admittedly a little nervous) to be invited to teach with a person whom I consider to be one of my primary teachers: Wil Hershberger, co-author of The Songs of Insects.  This was the book that provided the “answer key” for those of us who always wanted to learn what we were hearing at night.  There hadn’t been a way to match up the songs with the singers until this outstanding resource became available, then suddenly – we could finally put the information together!

I knew from The Songs of Insects and the range maps that there would be new crickets and katydids to learn, but it immediately became obvious that the soundscape was quite different from what is standard concert programming up here in the north.  I had to put my ear training and observation skills to work just to learn my way around!  

So which singers were here that I haven’t found – or seldom find – in NE Ohio?

I’ll start with a gorgeous little charmer I’d never seen or heard before:  the Woodland Meadow Katydid (Conocephalus nemoralis).  I’ve been looking for these for years, as they’re on the range map for my area, but with no luck. 

And what’s the first thing you notice?  The color!  He can be brown or a combination of green and brown, but darker than any of the meadow katydids I’d met to date. 

Did you notice from my photo that he’s sitting right out in the sun?  I saw the plant stem move, then watched him climb right up in front of me.  He was in a meadow area, but across from a wood edge.  

And his song? Soft, very high, and rather short trills that are repeated at very brief intervals. 

Clearly for me, the next step is to determine how far north and east they actually live.  They’re hardy insects, and their probable distribution includes most of Pennsylvania.  There are no county records for NE Ohio, though, and I'm not certain that they're actually here.    Another mystery that will probably have to wait until next year…
The Long-spurred Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum silvaticum) at Shawnee State Forest was another new katydid for me!   The Songs of Insects describes this species as “arboreal in habits and is fond of juniper and cedars.”  You probably won’t find junipers and cedars in the Cleveland/Akron area and east unless it’s a landscape tree in someone’s property, so this may not be a katydid that I’ll find in my region.  


The Long-spurred Meadow Katydid I met was on a very tall goldenrod that was bent over and swaying in the breeze.  This plant was his personal stage.  Even after leaving him for a while, I came back to find him right there on his goldenrod, still singing.  When katydids find a perch they really like, they can often be found on the same plant again and again. How fortunate for me that his was so accessible – it was next to the gravel pull-off where I was parked!  Did you notice his gorgeous eyes?  

His song is a series of "ticks" that slides directly into a long, purring trill.  The Common Meadow Katydid's song has a clearer distinction between the "ticks" and the trill, and it's louder and (to my ears) more metallic.  Below his song is a recording of a Common Meadow Katydid I made on the same day so that you can compare the two.  (This katydid also has beautiful, red eyes!)

Speaking of Common Meadow Katydids, they were, in fact, far more common here than in NE Ohio.  I wonder, though, if Adams County has the Common Meadow Katydid's early-season cousin, the Gladiator Meadow Katydid. Gladiators are plentiful here in July, but Adams County would be the southern edge of their range.  

I also saw more Straight-lanced Meadow Katydids than I’ve ever found “up north.” I've only found this species in a few areas in my region and only in small groups.  Short-winged and Slender Meadow Katydids are by far the most common Conocephalus katydids in NE Ohio.

I had hoped to find a Common Virtuoso Katydid, and I did indeed see several of these beauties.  The songs are very high and complex, and I’m not convinced that my recordings really captured that complexity. The link above should direct you to The Songs of Insects web site to hear an excellent recording, and maybe I’ll be able to record one next time I go down there.  This one appears to be telling the grasshopper to get out of his way.

There was one song we heard just about everywhere: the Japanese Burrowing Cricket.  It’s an introduced species that is now common in the southern half of the state.  I haven’t heard them in the Cleveland/Akron area yet, but Jim McCormac has assured me that they are coming and we’ll have them here soon.  They are what I call “landscaping migrants” – crickets and katydids that are moved to new areas in mulch and landscape plantings. 

Lesser Pine Katydids sang their very high songs up in the evergreens, though I never actually saw one.  

Robinson’s Cicadas audio-bombed everyone else’s songs (and recordings of those songs).  Compared with the usual Swamp Cicadas, Linne's Cicadas, and occasional Lyric Cicada in Cleveland and NE Ohio, I wouldn't have even recognized this song as a cicada species!

I heard Columbian Trigs and Walker’s Cicadas Tinkling Ground Crickets, which I’ve only heard on Kelleys Island in Lake Erie, were singing in open woods . There were also Lesser Anglewings, which I’ve heard at the Midwest Native Plant Conferences in Dayton (we have only Greater Anglewings in NE Ohio - at least for now). I’ve linked each of these to The Songs of Insects web site so you can see and hear them.   

I was quite surprised by the number of Broad-winged Tree Crickets I saw and heard, including this mating pair.  We have them in NE Ohio, but they are not as common as our Black-horned Tree Crickets and Four-spotted Tree Crickets.

Curiously, I can’t confirm that I ever heard a Black-horned Tree Cricket.  This is one of the most common tree crickets in NE Ohio and their overpowering, raucous chorus fills every goldenrod meadow up here.   Is the Ohio River a southern range boundary for them?

But the most notable absence for me was… Sword-bearing Coneheads!  I did not hear a single one.  How could this be?  They are in every meadow, field, rural roadside, and pond edge in NE Ohio – and even sometimes in vacant lots and along freeway exit ramps.   There were Round-tipped, Robust, and False Robust Coneheads, and the Slender Conehead has been found as well.  But no Sword-bearing Coneheads.  

More than the new species, it was missing songs that made me feel very far from home. There are a couple of future stories here, but I’ll stop for now and leave you with this photo of a Common Virtuoso Katydid stepping out onstage into the lights.  


  1. Fascinating post, Lisa. I wonder if you lowered the pitch of your woodland meadow katydid recording, because I can hear it fine, but in the field cannot hear the song even when I am only a couple feet away. Also, I was once overly influenced by references to long-spurred mk associations with conifers. I usually find them at woods edges with nothing coniferous in sight. Sometimes I can hear them unaided, but usually need the SongFinder. They are extremely abundant in the second tier of northern Indiana counties, and scattered ones occur north of your latitude in Illinois, so don't give up on them. Thanks for a great post.

  2. I didn't lower the song at all, but I made it a little louder because I know it's hard to hear. I was also very close to the katydid when I recorded him and removed some extraneous noise as well. Thanks for the encouragement about range - I'll keep searching!