Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Red Katydids

Not many singing insects have survived this late into the fall, but I still have a couple of interesting stories from this year’s field season.  As I look out my window at brilliant red maple leaves, I’m going to write about…red katydids!  

The species is the Long-tailed Meadow Katydid (Conocephalus attenuatus), and I’ve spent considerable time among the cattails these past four singing insect seasons trying to find them and learn more about them. 

A more accurate common name would be “Red Marsh Katydid,” as marshes are the place to find these elusive little beauties.  “Long-tailed” refers to the female’s very long ovipositor.

I first caught a couple glimpses of a red katydid in a beaver marsh at Burton Wetland Nature Preserve in Geauga County (Geauga Park District) in 2010.  I had no idea who I was seeing – only that it looked like a Conocephalus (genus of small meadow katydids).  I could barely even manage a picture because I was simply unable to move enough to keep up with his leaping, but I captured the necessary characteristics to positively identify him.

The next year, of course, I repeatedly waded back into that marsh until I was able to get photos of both the male and female.  There were only a few of them – not at all in the numbers common for Slender Meadow Katydids or Short-winged Meadow Katydids – but  I eventually was actually able to catch a male and female while tangled in a mass of cattails and standing in at least 18” of water. Here's one of them - I was so delighted to catch him!

The following year, I found what appeared to be a female nymph of this species in one of the wetlands at Frohring Meadows (also in the Geauga Park District).  I was quite surprised by this, as it was 2012 and the wetlands were only created in 2007.  Could there have been some Long-tailed Meadow Katydids in the cattail patches of the property’s original wet area across the paved trail?  2012 was the year of the drought, however, and the wetlands were parched and cracked that summer and into the fall.   Katydid numbers in the “wetland” were very low, and I did not find any adults of this species.   It was not a good year for learning more about this species.

My luck improved this year.   While investigating the cattails in shallow standing water at Pond Brook Conservation Area after dark in search of Black-sided Meadow Katydids, I suddenly, I found myself face to face with a male and a female Long-tailed Meadow Katydid!  

Did you notice their wings?  These two were long-winged forms of the species.

And how did they get to this cattail stand?  Pond Brook Conservation Area is part of Liberty Park (a partnership between the City of Twinsburg and Metro Parks Serving Summit County).  According to the park district’s web site, “the trail follows an old service road, where vehicles once traveled to and from oil wells, last used in 2003.” The Long-tailed and Black-sided Meadow Katydid habitat was a brine injection site not much more than 10 years ago.  (Photo by Robert Dodd, via City of Twinsburg naturalist Stanley Stine).  

Were the katydids already in nearby wetland areas and did long-winged individuals move into this area once the brine injection site was no longer in operation?  I only found those two individuals and did no locate any others in the immediate area.  

I did have one actual lead to follow for Long-tailed Meadow Katydids.  Photographer Jerry Jelinek had taken a picture of one of these katydids at Sanctuary Marsh in North Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks several years ago, and my guess was that he had been at the edge of a small foot path. My hope was that this would be a location where I could study these katydids in greater detail.  

They were there!  It was just a little group of them and they were only in one small area of the marsh, but they were generally willing to tolerate my presence.  All were short-winged, and some had green rather than red legs. 

I had learned about this color possibility from Carl Strang’s Nature Inquiries blog entry on Long-tailed Meadow Katydids, which you can read here,

The male and female had just mated.  For those of you who are curious about how I knew this, the white, ball-shaped material by her ovipositor was the spermatophore. It contained a sperm packet that would be absorbed and a nutritional packet – the spermatophylax - that she would eat while the sperm absorption took place. She would oviposit (lay her eggs) after this process was complete.

The male stood guard and was never more than a matter of inches away from her.  

And about their song?  I didn’t think I was going to be able to get a recording this year, but I finally was successful on October 4th.  Their songs are soft and not easy to hear above the ever-present Black-legged Meadow Katydids.  Sanctuary Marsh is also close enough to a freeway system that traffic is often very loud.   Because the frequencies of the song are very high - around 13,000 to 16,000 Hz -  I aimed my microphone right at the wings of a singing male and was able to edit out the loud rumble of the traffic.  Here it is - I hope you can hear his high, rattling song!


Now, of course, I want to know where else they can be found in NE Ohio and what habitats will support them. I only wish I didn’t have to wait so many months to continue my investigation!

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