Saturday, August 19, 2023

A Slightly Musical Surprise


Where should I explore this summer and early fall?

I’m not doing a survey of a specific location, but instead will be revisiting some of the places I’ve studied in the past to see and hear what’s similar and different.

I decided to start with Frohring Meadows in the Geauga County Park District. I love its wide-open meadows, its wetland, and all that sky above me.

I decided to walk the trail that encircles the wetland. Singing insects continued to be later than expected, but the Sword-bearing Coneheads were well established, and both the Gladiator Meadow Katydids and Broad-winged Bush Katydids were still singing.

As I walked the part of the trail closest to the water, I heard something puzzling. It was a very rhythmic song that was rather like a zzzit – zzzit – zzzit that seemed to be closer to the bulrushes. 

It wasn’t the Striped Ground Crickets, and the songs were too short and precise to be right for a Least Shieldback (a species that does appear at Frohring and at least two other Geauga parks).

It reminded me of a Slightly Musical Conehead, which is not a species that would be in the NE Ohio snowbelt. I’d heard – and photographed – one many years ago at Burton Wetlands (also in the Geauga Park District) but had no idea why it might have been there.

I did have other experiences with this species elsewhere – at Kinnikinnick Fen in the Ross County Park District (southern Ohio) and the quite unexpected and large population I discovered in the Magee Marsh area very close to the Lake Erie shore in NW Ohio. You can read about that interesting discovery here:


                 Slightly Musical Conehead, Magee Marsh, NW Ohio on Lake Erie. 

        Notice his long, black cone and the cone of the Slightly Musical Conehead below..


Slightly Musical Conehead, brown form. Kinnikinnik Fen, Ross County Park District, OH

 From Singing Insects of North America. This is a southern Ohio species. The two black dots at the top of the state are the Slightly Musical Conehead population I discovered at Magee Marsh and the Slightly Musical Conehead I found at Burton Wetlands. I wonder where else they might be?

But Frohring Meadows? This is a created wetland in a park I know quite well…

      Edge of Frohring Meadows wetland. I could hear coneheads in there...somewhere...

I couldn’t tell exactly where the singer was located. It almost seemed there was more than one. But Slightly Musical Coneheads “chorus” – they sing in unison as if they were an ensemble -  making it difficult for mere humans to tell where exactly the sound may originate.

I made a recording of the closest invisible singer and sent it to Wil Hershberger. I knew what it sounded like, but being so out of range, I wanted expert verification. 


Will said it was definitely a Slightly Musical Conehead. Neoconocephalus exiliscanorus

Time to go photograph one for further documentation! Of course, that was easy to proclaim and much more challenging to accomplish.

I knew I needed assistance and I also knew the best person to ask: Geauga Park District naturalist Linda Gilbert.

 These coneheads are quite impressive. They have the longest “cone” of any of our coneheads and it’s entirely black. 


They’re also larger than our Sword-bearing Coneheads. Surely, we’d be able to locate one, especially since my shotgun microphone could show us exactly where one would be singing.

And, of course, it wasn’t that easy. 


   Yes. I'm in there. Do you see the tiny spot of light from my headlamp? Photo: Linda Gilbert

It seemed they were not as high up in the bulrushes and other vegetation as I would have thought, so they were likely blending well in denser growth. But then…Linda looked down and there was a conehead…right there!


Our conehead was not interested in posing out in the open for us, but we both managed to obtain documentation photos without losing our footing in the marsh. We were so pleased!



(All Slightly Musical Conehead photos are the Frohring Meadows individual except the two examples from Kinnikinnick and Magee Marsh.)

I’ve been back since then, of course, but I haven’t actually seen another individual. I can tell by walking and listening that there are more Slightly Musical Coneheads than I thought. I wonder how they got there and how long they’ve been establishing themselves in that wetland?

If I weren’t listening, we wouldn’t even know those coneheads are there!




 For more information on Slightly Musical Coneheads, you can visit Wil Hershberger's online Songs of Insects at

See also Singing Insects of North America at

Naturalist Carl Strang has found then in the Chicago region as well.

I see that I'll need to add a page to my online field guide, as these splendid katydids continue to move north into NE Ohio.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Unsettled Summer



It was a strange – and increasingly unsettling – transition from spring into summer this year, and August’s approach toward early autumn already feels rushed.

May was unlike any I can remember. There was no rain for three weeks, and as a native Clevelander I can testify this simply does not happen here. As the lush, new growth of May gradually became increasingly stressed, what were the implications for the insects? And the birds? I dragged out the hoses and sprinkler for our miniature woodland understory backyard as I might do in August.


                                    Our backyard is a tiny woodland understory


June couldn’t pretend that May never happened. Some of the trees impacted by those very dry weeks in May lost leaves and were more susceptible to storm damage. How did this affect the insects?

By late June and into July, the wildfire smoke from Canada arrived. There were no blue skies – only monochromatic gray without the distinction of cloud shapes. Although our little bungalow is not air conditioned, we kept all our windows closed.

The arrival of the smoke plumes occurred at exactly the time I typically begin to watch and listen for the earliest singing insects. This year, it became the first time I have ever walked the beautiful meadows at night while wearing a KN95 mask. Sometimes I’d briefly slip the mask down below my nose to hide my face in a large Queen Anne’s lace flower or breathe in all the green around me, but the smoke declared I could not pretend this was safe.

How would these environmental factors impact the insects?

It was time for the first Gladiator Meadow Katydids to begin singing from thick-stemmed grasses, but their ascent to their stages was delayed by at least a week.  


            Gladiator Meadow Katydid male and female, 7-10-20 Geauga County


The appearance onstage of the Gladiators’ musical partners – the Broad-winged Bush Katydids - was also late. Would this pattern continue for each new arrival? 

Broad-winged Bush Katydid female (above) and male (below). Frohring Meadows, Geauga Park District in NE Ohio. July 10-11, 2023

I always worry when singing insects are late. I realize they’ll likely present their adult selves eventually, but what if conditions affect their populations to the extent their stage doors remain locked?

The omnipresent Carolina Ground Cricket choruses in the front and back yards were also behind schedule, and the silence was exceptionally worrisome. Were they flooded out and washed away in one of the torrential downpours? These little crickets are the continuo of the backyard ensemble, and their absence was far more noticeable than their expected presence. 


 Carolina Ground Crickets are very small, and they're much easier to hear than to find. 
Here's a fortunate photo I got of one.

I was quite relieved when the Carolina Ground Crickets tentatively began to sing, then gradually became a reassuring chorus. They remained the only Orthopteran voices I heard well into the first week of August. 


In a typical late spring/early summer, I confess I laugh to myself when people on Facebook and elsewhere annually declare an incipient disaster when they do not hear crickets. They sound the alarm: Where are the crickets??!! It’s May. Or it’s early June. There shouldn’t BE any mature crickets yet! Unless they are Spring Field Crickets or Spring Trigs, (notice they have the word “spring” in their names) there are no crickets that are anywhere close to maturing.

But I know my singing insects, and I’m quite aware of their approximate start dates.  I’ve been recording this information for years.

For example, I expect Sword-bearing Coneheads to join the Gladiators and Broad-winged Bush Katydids any time from July 21, but all I found were a few conehead nymphs.


 Sword-bearing Conehead nymphs, Frohring Meadows, Geauga Park District July 2023

 As the end of July approached, the overdue debut of the first Sword-bearing Conehead chorus finally arrived. I rejoiced! The Sword-bearing Coneheads were singing in the meadows and parading up and down their plant stems as one triumphant singer after another proclaimed his perfection. 


Sword-bearing Coneheads, North Chagrin Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks 8-1-23

But that alone was not enough to dispel my ongoing unease. The big nights of newly maturing singing insects should have begun a week earlier but still hadn’t occurred.

Was it the storms with torrential rains? Did the high winds that sent us down into the basement for shelter rip the katydid and tree cricket nymphs from their leafy tree and shrub branches?

There were no Pine Tree Crickets singing in the Norway spruce or the white pine, even though they’re typically the first tree cricket species I hear. 




The Common True Katydids should have been calling emphatically from the oak trees with Snowy Tree Crickets singing below them in the large flowering raspberry leaves and the backyard understory trees and shrubs. 


   We don't see the adult Common True Katydids because they're up in the trees, but we periodically see the nymphs. This female on our front porch ceiling still had tiny wing buds



 Above is a recording and photo of a singing adult at the Environmental Learning Center in the Lake County Metroparks. Two of my program participants were determined to locate him, and they eventually did! 


                                             Snowy Tree Cricket in our backyard. 

I would have expected the Two-spotted Tree Crickets to be screaming their strident songs from the vines in the back of the yard and across the street, outperforming the neighbors’ noisy window air conditioner as they do every year. 

This Two-spotted tree Cricket was singing in the backyard. Notice the hole he has made in this leaf and that his head is protruding out through that hole. I wonder if that's why his songs are so loud...
 Narrow-winged Tree Crickets’ gently rhythmic songs would have begun to sing me to sleep from the flowering dogwoods near the house. 


Like most singing insects, tree crickets are easier to hear than to visually find! Narrow-winged Tree Crickets are no exception, but I occasionally can watch them in the backyard. I've been known to get up on a step ladder to get a better view. 


This is how our backyard should sound once all the singers mature!



I only heard the Carolina Ground Crickets and the wind.


Even tonight – August 7th – there are just two or three Snowies, a Two-spotted, and one Narrow-winged Tree Cricket. For the first time in 28 years, there are still no loud, raspy, insistent Common True Katydid proclamations high up in the oaks.

I hope my beloved singing insects are all just late, because one of these years, my worries may not be an over-reaction.  

             Common True Katydid in our Cleveland Heights backyard, 2017