Thursday, August 6, 2015

Small, Slender, and Elegant

Singing insect season has had a discouragingly slow start in NE Ohio because of the very wet and cool (even chilly) spring and early summer. Even now, it feels more like autumn than summer. There’s a beautiful little meadow katydid that’s already mature and singing, though, and I thought it would be nice to look more closely at this charming species while we wait for the others to reach maturity.

Slender Meadow Katydids (Conocephalus fasciatus) are exactly that. They are not very easy to spot unless you’re looking closely, and they certainly aren’t easy to hear unless you’re still in elementary school. They are active during they day, but you’ll have a better chance of getting a good look at them after dark.

First, let’s look at why they're hard to find.  

All the katydids in the genus Conocephalus are small, and Slender Meadow Katydids' bodies really do seem slender. Their long wings add to the look. 

They blend beautifully with their grassy habitat. With their green bodies and tan wings, they become just another part of the grass, sedge, or rush.

And their song? In a grassy meadow in August, I will hear a soft wash of sound that is barely perceptible. It’s like the shimmering of heat, or perhaps the soft, filtered light of sun through haze. But I haven't yet managed to record an individual singer because I've been unable to pinpoint this soft, high song with my shotgun microphone. 

I knew my partner Wendy could, though. She can hear the highest, softest meadow katydids at a considerable distance. I gave her my gear and asked her to please find and record one for me.

She did, too! Here’s her recording.

I’ll add other recordings if I’m able to get up close to one who’s singing or if I bring one of these singers home for a couple of days.

Slender Meadow Katydids are often found with Short-winged Meadow Katydids, so I’ll add a couple of comparison photos.

First, look for the long, grass-like wings. The Short-winged Meadow Katydids wings will be...short. I occasionally find the long-winged form of the Short-winged Meadow Katydid, but the difference will be obvious with the other comparisons below. The Slender also has a slender body when compared with the chunkier body of the Short-winged.

The Slender has bright green cerci (those projections at the end of the abdomen that help us identify meadow katydid species). The Short-winged has a golden-brown abdomen and cerci. 

The female Slender Meadow Katydid’s ovipositor can actually be obscured by her long, elegant wings, as in the photo below and first photo in this post. The Short-winged Meadow Katydid’s ovipositor is immediately apparent because she has…short wings. 

I've noticed that Conocephalus meadow katydids absolutely love timothy seed heads, and Slender Meadow Katydids are very enthusiastic about timothy. They like other grasses and some of the sedges as well. 

They don’t want to climb up there and make themselves obvious to all the birds that would like to eat them, however, so watch for them to climb up to their seed heads for dinner after dark.

Perhaps it's because I’ve been waiting with such frustration for crickets and katydid to mature that I’m especially appreciative of the Slender Meadow Katydids this year. The Sword-bearing Coneheads have been right there in the grasses with them, as if they're the Slenders’ bodyguards. More species will be singing every day, but these two species have been a late July and early August delight.


  1. Excellent post Lisa. Sorry to hear that the weather in your area has been so incompatible with katydid maturation. Hopefully, we will all be getting more seasonable weather soon.

  2. Great Post and pics Lisa,
    NE Ohio.. has been WET and Up and down.. with the temps... But our ( ASGC Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland ) Sanctuary's are hopping and living with all sorts of Creatures.. Jim T Hikes are Continuing and Alison's Back Yard Series is starting up soon ! !.. Again thanks for a great post
    Mark J Demyan
    Past President
    Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland