Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Trig Tracker

I must admit, I’ve become quite intrigued by Handsome Trigs.  Now that you know more about those beautiful little crickets from my previous post, I’d like to tell you about their current – and expanding - range in NE Ohio and where I’ve found them.  

The first thing I’ll point out is that they are not on the range map for the NE tip of Ohio.  It would be easy to simply say, “but I know they’re here.”  However, it would not be like me to be satisfied with that.   Were they simply unreported, or are they actually expanding their range?  I think the answer is probably…both.

Here’s the map that is currently on Singing Insects of NorthAmerica.  This is absolutely the place to look for information about all our eastern crickets and katydids and the range maps for where they’ve been reported or are likely to be found.

 Remember the snow belt of NE Ohio from my Jumping Bush Cricket range expansion post?  

That’s where the Handsome Trig range map does not show this species as being likely, so that’s where I had to search for them.  

There’s also one record along the lake shore for them, so I decided to fill in as much as I could in the limited amount of time I would have before a freeze and snowfall. 

When I think of the snow belt, I think of Lake, Geauga, and Ashtabula Counties.  I spent a lot of time doing cricket and katydid surveys for the Geauga Park District during the summers/autumns of 2008 – 12.  I didn’t typically find Handsome Trigs in Geauga, though I searched carefully for them.   

Going toward Akron into Summit County, Handsome Trigs become abundant.  In the Cleveland area and surrounding parts of Cuyahoga County, these trigs were not quite as numerous as is Akron but were still common.  

So where are the boundaries?

It‘s been a diligent – and engaging – process of discovery.  I tracked the Handsome Trigs as they moved a little at a time into parts of Geauga County where I had not heard or seen them before.  I saw their numbers increase in the places they’d only recently begun to inhabit.  If they were in one group of shrubs at a single location within a park, within a couple of years I would find them scattered in different locations in that same park.  Within another year or two, they’d be fairly common.  Geauga Park District naturalist Linda Gilbert also added - and continues to add - to the range map when she locates Handsome Trigs. 

When I first started looking for singing insects in Geauga County in 2008, I only found a small number of Handsome Trigs in a couple of parks.  Just 5-6 years later, I am finding them in most of the county!

Geauga’s not the only snow belt county.  Where were the Handsome Trigs in Lake County, which is on Geauga’s northern border?  Two and three years ago, I found them in the western part of the county close to the lake (where freeze dates are a little later than inland), but I didn’t find them inland or in the eastern part of the county’s lake shore.   

This year, I’ve found them all along the lake shore as far as the western edge of Ashtabula County.   Some may have been there already, but others were definitely new on the scene.  This recording was made at Lake Erie Bluffs in Lake County earlier in October. You can hear the lake waves that are below the bluffs on which the trigs were located.

I’m also finding them more frequently in the inland parts of Lake County, so they really are taking on the snow belt.  I have yet to find them along the eastern Ashtabula lake shore, though, and I only had a small number at Geneva State Park on the western edge. 

One question – and one county – led to another.  Portage County is south of Geauga and east of Summit.  Would Handsome Trigs be as widespread as in Summit, or would they be in smaller, scattered groups as in Geauga?  They were certainly present in the Cleveland area, so they could probably be found throughout Cuyahoga County.  I knew they were in a couple of Lorain County Metroparks, but were they common? 

This was definitely going to require a NE Ohio range map.  I started putting points on my Handsome Trig map, and soon I found myself driving to locations in Portage, Cuyahoga, Lorain, and even Erie counties (Erie is west of Lorain).  

Handsome Trigs were along the lake shore from the western end of Ashtabula County to the Sandusky area.  

I didn't find them at East Harbor State Park or Great Egret Preserve just west of Sandusky, but I’ll check again next year.  There were large numbers of them in Lorain County; I found many everywhere I visited.  They were plentiful in southern Cuyahoga County as well.

But it was already the end of a cool, rainy summer.  Summer 2014’s lackluster performance clearly was not going to mean that it would stick around longer to make up for lost time.  In mid-October, each cold front threatened to be the one to end this year’s field research.   

When I had any time available on weekends or after teaching my last class on weekdays, I’d plan a route to reach as many places as possible if weather permitted.  I had field clothes and dinner packed in the car.  When I got home, I’d grade papers and quizzes, get ready for my next day of teaching, and fall asleep dreaming of crickets and highways.  

It’s the last week of October now, and snow showers are possible at the end of the week.  Denial is pointless.  It’s over.  But…look what I’ve learned about their range!  If you’d like to see the location of each site, just use the link beneath the map.

In addition, I found that I was pairing my Handsome Trig and Jumping Bush Cricket observations.  Both species are moving north, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear Handsome Trigs in the blackberries, multiflora rose, grape vines, and shrubs while Jumping Bush Crickets sang above them in the trees.  The trigs would sing during the day and less so in the evening, and the Jumping Bush Crickets began singing in the late afternoon as well as the evening.  When I was lucky, I would be able to record both species in the same location at the same time.  I added more points on the Jumping Bush Cricket map as I pursued the Handsome Trigs.

I found that both seem to manage well with Glossy Buckthorn, which is a rampant non-native invasive shrub/small tree in NE Ohio (rather like bush honeysuckle in the southern part of the state, I would think).  Perhaps these crickets’ abilities to make use of invasives such as buckthorn and privet as well as non-native ornamental trees and shrubs help them take full advantage of the warming climate.  If the temperatures are warm long enough for them to move north, they find more shrubs they can use than insects with more specific requirements.

I have a good start with baseline data.  I’ll add to it next year, and I’ll be watching and listening to determine if they have moved beyond my 2014 locations.  Are they are getting established in the counties that border Pennsylvania?  I’ll just have to go find out!


Before I say good-bye to the Handsome Trigs for this year, I’d like to emphasize that my interest is not only in determining their ranges and how they are dealing with a warming climate and spreading non-native invasives.  

I’m learning many more details about their behavior, including where they live and sing, where they oviposit, and where they move when the temperatures get colder in the fall.  They’re intriguing insects who are more different from tree crickets and ground crickets than I realized.  

I recently had a great opportunity to observe one male's behavior.

When Wendy and I are out in the field together, she often stops to paint small watercolor sketches.  While she was painting near a recently-restored stream in a preserve, a Handsome Trig appeared on the ground nearby and climbed onto her.  Why wasn’t he in a buckthorn or a blackberry? 

She put him in a jar so I could see him up close.  

When I opened the jar to get a better look at him, he climbed out onto my hand and refused to leave.  I took pictures, then tried repeatedly to get him to move from my hand to a blackberry leaf – or any leaf, for that matter.

He wouldn’t go. 

He wasn’t in the prime of his life.  He’d lost a considerable amount of his antenna length and he seemed a little disoriented.  Life clearly had not been easy for him – not that it ever is for any of these singing insects.  He absolutely refused to leave my hand, and I couldn’t brush him off.  It was almost as if he had little suction cups on his feet.  He climbed all over my fingers as if he were climbing on twigs and leaves.   

It took a lot of effort just to get him back in the plastic jar, and we never could convince him to climb onto any kind of appropriate plant.  Things were not going to go well for this cricket where he was, so we took him home.  We didn’t have accommodations planned for him, so we put him in a plastic cricket carrier with thin slits for ventilation openings.  He couldn’t fit through those, as he did through the screen lid of one of the terrariums. 

He adapted quickly.  Sometimes he’d stay in the leaves – especially those that were curling up – but he also spent a great deal of time and energy climbing the walls and ceiling of his cricket carrier.  He impressed us with the way he could stick to the sides and top of the cricket carrier.  I felt that I better understood how Handsome Trigs seem to be so agile and sure-footed as they continuously run and climb all over their shrubs and vines.

I really didn’t think he’d still be able to sing, but he could!  Listening to his song from very close was fascinating, and it was amazing to me that a ¼” cricket could sing with such volume and intensity. His song would start rather slowly and erratically, then quickly crescendo and accelerate to full speed.  I watched his tiny, gorgeous wings as he drowned out almost all the other crickets singing in the kitchen terrariums.  Only the hefty Fall Field Cricket could hold his own against the diminutive trig!

It appears that we’ll see the first snow of the winter this weekend, though it will melt within a day.  Still, I don’t know that I’ll hear another cluster of singing Handsome Trigs again this year.  The concert is ending rather like Haydn’s Farewell Symphony as one species after another departs from the stage.  

We’ll have a little more time with the ground crickets, and I may be surprised by a few very hardy tree crickets and meadow katydids, but the curtain is descending on the singing insect performance.  I’ve planned one or two more posts from their concert season, and then it will be time to listen for whatever sounds of nature I can find in late autumn.


  1. Well done, Lisa. These remain spotty in northern Indiana, and I have yet to find them anywhere in northern Illinois. I will hope for them to spread here as you describe. That pattern certainly would match what I am seeing here in jumping bush crickets.

  2. WOW and THANK YOU ! !
    Lisa and Wendy for another Great informative, ear and eye opening Experience of the Sounds and Sights of NATURE. My curiosity has been taken to a new Level... and as I rake leaves it takes me 2 to 3x longer because I am stopping to listen and look for our Friends in NATURE. Oh what I have been missing for years.. My Grandfather and Dad shared with me the Love of NATURE since I was a young boy... But your blog, your music and pics are teaching me to look even closer and take the time to Enjoy the Beauty of NATURE all around us even raking leaves.. LOL. and the movement and growing Range is an interesting Science Study that will be interesting to share with the Citizen Science World. Oh how Nature if we listen and look can teach us so many things and is so wonderful to observe and learn from ! ! Again the pics and sounds are great and so informative !
    Mark J Demyan
    Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland