Saturday, December 5, 2015

Snowing Outside, Snowy Inside




Many people know the song of the Snowy Tree Cricket. Even those of us who live in the city will often hear them in our yards if there are shurbs and vines for them. This past year, I even heard some singing in a parking lot shrub right next to the sidewalk of a main urban street. At least in my area, I hear them more often residential areas than out in the country.

Here's a recording from my early post on these crickets: "The Temperature Cricket" to remind you of the song. This particular individual was one of our annual back yard Snowies, and he would have been singing in the blackberries. 



Although we always have at least a few singing males in our yard each summer and early fall, I didn’t really know them till now. Here’s the story of a very interesting individual that came into my life – and our home – quite unexpectedly.


I bring crickets and an occasional katydid home in the later fall, as they are already old and will soon have their lives terminated by frost and snow.  The leaves are falling off their trees, shrubs, vines, and meadow vegetation. It’s a sad, but inevitable, situation. 

After a period of below-freezing temperatures in the second half of October, I went to East Harbor State Park on the Marblehead Peninsula in the Sandusky Bay region of Ohio’s central Lake Erie shore. Crickets and katydids will survive longer along the lake shore than elsewhere because the water temperature modifies the air temperature.  Freezes come a little later there, so that's where I go in the late fall.

 

I only heard a couple of tree crickets anywhere. No one but the ground crickets and some of the hardier Fall Field Crickets were still singing.

I stopped in a porta-john during my investigations, and there on the inside of the door was…a Snowy Tree Cricket! He wasn’t looking too good either – as far as I could tell, he was barely able to move. I had no idea if he’d even survive the trip home, but I put him in a little insect carrier with some blackberry leaves sprinkled with water. 

I already had a large terrarium set up for tree crickets and a possible meadow katydid or two. It had a collection of asters and grasses, goldenrod and timothy seed heads, and any little weeds I’d dug up from around the driveway. In he went. 

He survived and revived! The photo at the beginning of this post was taken through the terrarium glass shortly after his arrival, and you can see that he was quickly enjoying timothy seeds as well.
 




I remembered reading in John Himmelman’s book, Cricket Radio, that tree crickets would appreciate plants that are placed in florist stem holders with a little water to keep the plants green and the crickets safe from drowning. We had some in the kitchen drawer that holds all the miscellaneous items that no one knows how to organize. Snowy Tree Crickets like tangles of vines and blackberries, so I cut some small canes, put them in the stem holders, and created an indoor blackberry tangle for him.



He sang every night. His song was a little raspy, but it was a Snowy Tree Cricket singing in our kitchen!


His wings were rather battered. I could see the large tear in one of them, but it was beyond the file and scraper area that he used to create his song. He’d lost some of the length of his antennae in some kind of mishap. He was missing a back leg, but old crickets and katydids often are by later fall. He seemed to get around just fine.






His songs always sounded a little rough, but I don’t know how he sounded when he was a young singer back in July. Here’s a recording of him on 10-29-15. He is strutting around his blackberry leaves while singing!



It’s December 5th and he’s still alive. Most of our other crickets have gradually faded away now, but he still sings a little bit every night. What’s especially interesting is how his songs have changed with increasing age


I first started noticing that his songs sounded a bit more raspy, but they still had their heartbeat-like steady rhythm. Eventually, though, he couldn’t quite maintain his earlier rhythmic regularity.

He started missing beats, and then his tempo began to waver. He’d pause, then start again, and then pause. His loud, strong songs became softer, too, and gradually, there was less pitch to it.


Finally, the pitch was gone. It was just a soft tapping or scraping sound. The periods of song were short by now, and there were often several minutes between each one. (The other singer in the recording below is a Broad-winged Tree Cricket in the background. He's actually downstairs in the dining room, as he is too loud for the bedroom!)



I was able to document the songs of his old age because I carry the large terrarium upstairs to our bedroom every night and put it on the dresser. The space heater keeps that room warmer than the kitchen at night, and, well, our crickets are old and I did promise them they’d never be cold...




He only sings once it's dark and there's no human disturbances. He used to sing earlier in the evening and be more tolerant of human movement and a little light. He's always hated my microphone, though. Even now, he will very seldom sing if I have it anywhere near him.

The only way I could get a recording of his small, creaky old songs was to keep my recording equipment next to the bed and quietly turn it on without ever getting too close with the microphone or turning on any kind of light. Once he stopped singing, it would be at least several minutes before the next little fragment of song (at which point I would probably be back in bed).

Here’s another recording of his short, erratic songs from just after Thanksgiving. I've increased the amplification even more this time because although I was as close as he would allow, the song is quite soft.  I'd like you to be able to hear the details that I as able to hear through my headphones.





He hides in his blackberry leaves by day. We’ve had frost and snow, so it’s getting awfully hard to find any green blackberry leaves I can still provide for him! I do my best, though, and every once in a while I’ll actually find him in his little tangle. He doesn’t look too bad for being so ancient, does he? Here  he is on the underside of one of his blackberry leaves on 11-30-15.


I’ll have other stories about his interactions with the other tree crickets who have shared his terrarium, but he’s outlasted them all and deserves his own blog post


As of December 5th, he's still singing those short, erratic, scraping songs up in the bedroom every night and hiding in a curled leaf by day. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to learn so much from him! (Photo on 12-2-15)



5 comments:

  1. Wow, you are right....sounds nothing like a tree cricket in his old age! I'd have guessed it was some kind of frog. Fascinating. You can try giving him lettuce if you run out of leaves from outdoors. My favorite part of your story: I was able to document the songs of his old age because I carry the large terrarium upstairs to our bedroom every night and put it on the dresser. The space heater keeps that room warmer than the kitchen at night, and, well, our crickets are old and I did promise them they’d never be cold...

    That is just so darn sweet!

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  2. Well thought, well written, well done! For a while I wrote similar posts, unfortunately in Italian only... Chapeau bas! www.cesarebrizio.it

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  3. Great story, Lisa. Like Nancy, I am touched by your making and keeping promises to the insects you save. Both of you have learned so much by rearing and housing singing insects. Maybe next year, after my round of home improvements is complete, I will be able to try some such experiments of my own. Thanks! Regards, Carl

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  4. So wonderful. Perhaps his leg scales are arthritic. You are so kind and loving. We need more people like you in the world.

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    1. He makes his song by rubbing the scraper on one wing against a file on the other. I've thought for years that the file and scraper may get worn and damaged over time, as I seem to hear harsh, irregular, raspy songs from late-season tree crickets and ground crickets. I've just learned from Natasha Mhatre that in addition to file and scraper wear, increasing muscle weakness with age could also affect his ability to move his wings fast enough for good sound production.

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