Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Looking Handsome in Autumnal Colors

You’ve seen quite a few green crickets and katydids on Listening in Nature.  Here’s one who is just as colorful as October’s autumn foliage – the Handsome Trig.  And handsome they are – both males and females have red heads, black wings and bodies, and pale yellow-green legs.  The males have a bit of additional elegance; the right wing is black and the left wing is clear with a black border.    


And they are tiny! Each of these little beauties is only about ¼” in size.  Their songs, like those of other trigs, are louder than one would expect for such small insects. 

Their songs also are about an octave higher than those of the larger tree crickets.  Here’s a comparison: first, a Four-spotted Tree Cricket, then a Handsome Trig.

But why are they “trigs?”  They’re in the subfamily Trigonidiinae, the Sword-tailed Crickets.  The Handsome Trig’s genus and species are Phyllopalpus pulchellus – “beautiful leaf-feeler.”  Their black palps (sensory appendages attached to their mouths) seem to move constantly as they “feel” their environment.  Their palps, their antennae, and even their legs appear to be continuously in motion as they run and climb all over leaves, stems, twigs, and branches.  They’re also called “Red-headed Bush Crickets,’ as they have red heads and live primarily in shrubs and vines.

Let’s look more specifically at where they live and where they sing.  

The first places I look for them are in blackberries, grapevines, and multiflora rose.   They can certainly be found in native shrubs, but these little crickets have also adapted well to an assortment of non-natives.  I often find them in non-native shrubs such as buckthorn, privet, bush honeysuckle, and even yews.  

Occasionally, I’ll hear Handsome Trigs on plants with thick stems such as Joe-pye weed or goldenrod.  Later in their season, I’ll even hear them singing under fallen leaves. I can only guess that they (and their leaves) were blown off their shrubs in a storm or their leaves simply dropped to the ground

Handsome Trigs don't require much personal space; they’re generally clustered rather close together.  Males sing from spaces between overlapping or folded leaves and may also sing from stems or twigs (often underneath leaves).  They don’t sing right out in the open very often, so finding a singer is not easy! 

Females oviposit (lay eggs) in small branches and sometimes even in trunks of small buckthorns or similar shrubs.  Here are two photos of a female Handsome Trig ovipositing.  

I have even watched a male singing nearby while a female oviposited, possibly guarding her from other males. 

They aren’t the only trigs in NE Ohio, and there are places where Handsome Trigs are not present or have only recently arrived. The trig I expect to find almost everywhere in NE Ohio is the Say’s Trig.  This copper/bronze cricket is in a different genus (Anaxipha exigua) and is a bit smaller than the Handsome Trig. 

They're very common around damp and wet areas, and I often find them in smaller willows, buttonbushes, sedges, and wetland edge plants. They live in other shrubs as well, and sometimes share habitat with Handsome Trigs.

In many places, Say’s Trigs were often the only trigs I encountered.  Since they’re hard to find, I generally have to rely more on what I can hear than what I can see.  When I think Handsome Trigs could be present, I listen for their irregular, staccato songs in contrast to the smooth, silvery songs of the Says Trigs.   My verbal description is only an approximation, though, so I’ve put together a recording of a Say’s Trig followed by a Handsome Trig. 

Where are Handsome Trigs found?  Where are they absent?  They're not currently on the range map for the NE or NW corners of Ohio, but they're actually becoming increasingly common.  As with other northbound crickets and katydids, I'm tracking their progress year by year. 
Handsome Trigs are absolutely abundant in Summit County, Lorain County, much of Cuyahoga County, and the western part of Portage County.  They are fairly common in small groups right along the Lake Erie shoreline, but far less so as one moves inland into the “snow belt” of Geauga County and parts of Lake and Ashtabula Counties that are higher in elevation.  In the second chapter of my two-part trig story, I’ll write more about their steady movement NE as they take on the snow belt.

We're just about three weeks into October now, and migrating thrushes, sparrows, and Yellow-rumped Warblers are pouring into NE Ohio.  The singing insect concert is steadily diminishing, but Handsome Trigs typically persist well into the fall.  You may even hear them on chilly days in the low 50s if the wind isn’t strong and their shrubs are in the sun.   

This is a good time to look for them, as they move just a little slower when it’s colder.  A cool day with warm sun after chilly, rainy weather is the best time to find them quietly sitting on leaves, warming up and drying off.  As soon as there’s a little sun and temperatures in the 50s, you might still have a chance to find them!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and very Informative Lisa.

    As Fall slips into Winter... there still is life in the Woodlots, Fields and Meadows.

    Thank YOU for the pics along with the Sounds of NATURE.

    Mark J Demyan