Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Caroling Cricket on Christmas Morning

This is the last of this year’s “Tales from the Terrariums” series, and as always, there’s a story.  It begins in Erie County near the Lake Erie shore on November 16, 2015.

After a short cold spell, the temperatures had moderated. As far as I could tell, the lake shore hadn’t yet experienced a freeze. Even so, almost all the crickets were gone now. No Spotted Ground Crickets, no Allard’s Ground Crickets, no Fall Field Crickets…even the meadows no longer resonated with Black-horned or Forbes Tree Crickets (whichever they turn out to be) …only the sound of traffic, trucks, and the occasional train. It had just been in the mid-60s a little earlier – wasn’t anyone still singing?

But wait –there was a single voice somewhere along the meadow edge. I was fairly certain about who could be singing, but I wanted to be sure. I had to find him.

Just as I thought - 

A Broad-winged Tree Cricket! 

They’re usually painfully challenging to find, as they sing from the underside of a blackberry leaf deep within a thorny, blood-drawing tangle. But I found this one with much less difficulty than usual. Why?

It wasn’t just luck. The leaves were falling off the shrubs and the blackberry leaves were turning red and drying up. He was definitely out of time. But if he were to come home with me to one of my terrariums, I would do my best to keep him supplied with green blackberry leaves from somewhere along the NE Ohio lake shore. I could even put blackberry leaves in the insect carrier for the trip back to Cleveland.

Sunset was approaching and the temperature was already dropping. I could hear another Broad-winged somewhere nearby in the brown meadow. Listen to how much colder this one was:

I haven’t edited out the surrounding sounds so you can hear them in the context in which I discovered them.  Did you notice that the second Broad-winged sounded lower in pitch than the first? It’s another example of how cricket (and katydid) songs are lower in pitch and also slower as the insect becomes colder. 

Broad-winged Tree Crickets are the last tree cricket species to begin singing in northern Ohio. Lake Erie is the northern edge of their range, and I think they're becoming increasingly common up here. They can be heard along Lake Erie all the way to eastern Ashtabula County near the Pennsylvania line. When Snowy, Two-spotted, and Narrow-winged Tree Crickets fade away, Broad-wingeds manage to survive and sing in chilly, autumnal temperatures longer than any other tree cricket in this area.

They also sing later in the day as well as later in the season. Although I will hear Four-spotted, Black-horned, and Broad-winged Tree Crickets simultaneously in the early fall, eventually they no longer overlap. The Black-horned Tree Crickets will only sing until about mid-afternoon by mid-fall, with the Broad-wingeds taking over in the late afternoon as shadows lengthen.

Hearing Broad-winged Tree Crickets is not a problem. Locating them, however, is quite frustrating not only because they're most likely under the blackberry leaves, but also because their songs travel considerable distances while being annoyingly difficult to pinpoint. Determining where the song actually originates is a challenge even for a professional musician. I often think I’ve just about found one because I’m hearing the cricket so well, and then find that I actually wasn’t close at all!

The Broad-winged Tree Cricket adjusted to his new habitat very quickly. As soon as I released him into his private terrarium, he promptly settled in. Here he is just a few hours after I brought him home...

 ...sampling the grape half I put on a grass stem so he'd find it up in his leaves...

...and then singing within just a few hours of his arrival!

This cricket generally was no more receptive to my recording him than was the Snowy Tree Cricket in my earlier post. He'd usually fold up his wings and go silent as soon as I approached with my microphone. Fortunately for me, he was more tolerant one night in late November when he actually permitted me to have the microphone right above the terrarium screen. This is how he sounds from less than two feet away…

…which is exactly why we don’t bring his terrarium upstairs as we do with the Snowy Tree Cricket’s at night. We’d never be able to sleep! I didn't realize until hearing him indoors that this species' rich songs are extremely powerful. 

He spends the night on the dining room table, which is perfectly fine with him. He doesn't seem to mind when it gets cooler after I turn the heat down at night. I then move him to the kitchen table in the morning so he can get more light (and maybe even some sun) through the south windows. 

In the evening, I move him to the living room coffee table so that he’s not around too much human activity and light. It’s not until I move him to the dining room table, turn out the lights, and go upstairs that he finally begins to sing. He typically continues almost uninterrupted until dawn.

From upstairs by the bedroom door, this is what I hear:

It’s lovely – absolutely peaceful.

When we were preparing to leave Cleveland to visit Wendy’s family in California the week before Christmas, I had to make plans for a cricket sitter for the Broad-winged and Snowy Tree Crickets. I never thought they’d still be alive, but they both were doing well! I cut a supply of blackberry and red raspberry canes that still had green leaves, prepared their terrariums as best I could, and showed our next-door neighbor how to keep the canes hydrated and switch them out for fresh ones when needed. 

She was wonderful about caring for them, but I knew I couldn’t expect them to be alive when we got home late on Christmas Eve simply because they’re both so old.

After we unpacked the car, I cautiously checked their terrariums. Amazingly, both were on the undersides of their blackberry leaves!

After we unpacked and attended to those tasks that had to be accomplished before finally going to sleep, it was already 1:30 AM on Christmas morning.

That’s when the Broad-winged began to sing. 

I stayed downstairs for a while longer just to listen to that beautiful song I hadn’t really expected to hear again. And as usual, he sang until dawn – a cricket caroling in his December greenery. 

It’s 12/29 now, and he’s still singing. New Year’s Day is just 3 days away…


  1. Great story, Lisa. It's like a mini book!

  2. This is amazing. They are certainly well cared for. I certainly hope that they are still singing into the New Year.