Monday, October 25, 2021

Crickets and Katydids in the House 2021: Orchestrating with Orthopterans


 Black-legged Meadow Katydid on a cattail leaf in his singing cage in the house.

 

It’s time for my annual post about crickets and katydids singing in the house, so welcome back to the south-facing windows of our little bungalow to meet this year’s ensemble!

 

There are the regulars each year, such as the Black-horned Tree Crickets and the look-alike sound-alike Forbes’s Tree Crickets whose ranges overlap here in NE Ohio. 

                                     Black-horned Tree Cricket in his singing cage.

Forbes's Tree Cricket in his singing cage

 

We had a Four-spotted Tree Cricket - one of my favorite singers – for several weeks, but these are not young insects and some fade away in mid-October. 

Four-spotted Tree Crickets prefer asters to goldenrod. 
 
The tree crickets and some of the other insects live in mesh butterfly cages that accommodate a small vase with plants they would know from the wild plus a wood skewer holding a little lettuce, apple, and grape. They also have small containers of dry cricket food and water cubes.

No ensemble would be complete without the foundation of a couple of Broad-winged Tree Crickets. Even a single Broad-winged Tree Cricket is too loud to have upstairs in the bedroom or on the dining room table, but their resonant songs can fill the entire floor of a house.

Four-spotted Tree Crickets hide in their leaves. Blackberry is one of their favorites.


Alas, the annual Fall Field Cricket has recently passed away, but not before he made a guest appearance in my music theory classes.

I also brought in a Handsome Trig on a different day. I choose crickets that my students will commonly hear outside the classroom and near their dorm.

 

There are always Handsome Trigs, and this year we have a record number of four   from different locations. Their crackling quartet creates a peaceful shimmer throughout the house that beautifully compliments the two Black-legged Meadow Katydids. A Cuban Ground Cricket or two singing in my studio is also a delicate addition. These three species are a non-pitched small percussion ensemble.  


 

We currently have two guest artists from southern Ohio near the Ohio River. Both are katydids that are not typically present in this region – at least not yet.

The tiny one is a Woodland Meadow Katydid, whose range is south and also west of my region. His song is so soft to human ears that many people can’t hear him at all. I can seldom hear him, either, and wasn’t sure if he was still singing in the house until one of my photos revealed his wings elevated in song. 

 
Woodland Meadow Katydid in his habitat-specific singing cage. He really is that dark in color!

 

The crickets and katydids live in mesh butterfly cages in which I have little vases of their preferred plants and seed heads. Some are generally unconcerned as I change their tiny produce-kabobs each evening and check on their plant clippings, water cubes, and dry cricket food. Not the Woodland Meadow Katydid, though! He’s an impressive jumper, projecting himself far outside the cage if given the slightest opportunity. I found him on the dining room wall one evening, but his finest moment may have been when he leaped directly onto my nose.

I thought I’d try recording him in my little makeshift studio, as this is not a species found in the Cleveland region and I don’t know when I’ll see or attempt to hear one again. I set the recorder and left the room for 40 minutes and returned to find he’d been singing the entire time!

I hope I’ve made this excerpt loud enough that you’ll be able to hear him. You can see on the sonogram that his frequency range is up to – and beyond – the 20 Hz limit of (young) human hearing.  In fact, the sonogram indicates his song reaches a little above 30 Hz!


    Each of the vertical lines in the first sonogram is actually comprised of a series of wing   strokes. The solid, horizontal line is tree cricket songs in the next room.

 

Now to the other extreme – a sizable katydid whose song is so forceful, percussive, and loud that it startles Nikos the cat and even startles me at times.

Meet the Lesser Angle-wing!

 

Learning about the Lesser Angle-wing is particularly important to me because this is yet another singing insect who is moving north into my region from central and southern Ohio. I heard, then recorded them in several locations in the Peninsula area (Summit County) near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2019 after naturalist Chuck Slusarczyk reported finding one in Cleveland near the Cuyahoga River not far from Lake Erie the previous year. This year, I had additional reports of Lesser Angle-wings calling in along the CVNP Towpath trail in Summit County.

But how could I learn more about these tree-dwelling katydids?

Then during a singing insect night walk at Shawnee State Park near the Ohio River, a male Lesser Angle-wing landed on the camera of one of the participants. He subsequently came back to Cleveland with Wendy and me.

This sizable katydid is a stunning leaf mimic who can easily hide in a butterfly cage filled with leaves. His absolute favorite fare comes from our two Musclewood trees in the backyard (Carpinus caroliniana) and he chomps his way through those leaves like a hungry caterpillar. 

 

Recording the Lesser Angle-wing was a different challenge altogether. His short groups of songs are randomly spaced with long pauses between them, and I knew I’d need to do multiple sound checks to be sure that my recording wasn’t badly distorted by his powerful exclamations.

I wasn’t sure how long he’d continue singing but hearing my recordings of him in the next room apparently inspired him to answer the perceived challenger.

Here’s the recording and sonogram. There were long pauses between each group of songs, and I condensed the time between them for this example. The solid horizontal bars are crickets in the next room and the Black-legged Meadow Katydid songs are the faint, high shadow in the background.

 

My final story is about two singers who could not accept this concert venue: a Narrow-winged Tree Cricket and a Davis’s Tree Cricket who had been singing close to each other in the same small, isolated bur oak near a park pavilion. 

 

  It doesn't look like much by day, but it's quite the concert stage after dark!

 

I’d had an interesting experience with these two species in a similar habitat at another park a few years ago and thought it would be useful to study them together here at home.

Here’s a photo and recording from that little tree. These two crickets are featured, but there were several others of both species also singing from nearby branches.  The higher of the two pitches is the Narrow-winged Tree Cricket, and his song also has a fairly regular phrase length. The lower of the two pitches with the longer, more variable phrases is the Davis's Tree Cricket.

 

Narrow-winged Tree Cricket singing in the little oak

 

 It was late in the season and their remaining time was short. I caught one of each species from adjacent leaves I could reach without difficulty. They were robust singers and I planned to provide a separate leafy habitat for each of them.

But they didn’t sing at all and restlessly paced the mesh lids of their cages day and night. I tried various kinds of leaves, including different oak leaves. I would have preferred leaves from their own tree, but these seemed to grow right out of twigs and had no slender stems I could put in a little vase with water.

After a little less than a week, I took them back to their tree. I opened each carrier under an oak leaf and each of them leaped onto the leaf surface and scurried underneath.

 Narrow-winged Tree Cricket singing in the little oak at Frohring Meadows, Geauga County.

 

I orchestrate with Orthopterans who seem comfortable with warm, well-ventilated cages, room service daily, and late October sun when it’s available. This is my reward:

 

 

As is the case every year, the ensemble will gradually dwindle through late fall into early winter. But for now, our house sounds like the festive, late summer meadows I will miss so much until the next generation begins to sing in July.

 

 Black-legged Meadow Katydid singing from his personal cattail seed head in his singing cage in the house.

 
Thank you to Cameron Svoboda, for locating the Woodland Meadow Katydid that subsequently came home with me. He can hear them impressively well!
 
Colleen Malloy and Nicki Lock reported hearing Lesser Angle-wings in areas of Summit County not too far from those I'd found in Peninsula.They know the katydid's songs and could therefore provide this very helpful information.
 

3 comments:

  1. GREAT posting, Lisa! I especially appreciate your simultaneously singing Narrow-winged and Davis' recording.

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  2. What a gift of a post! Take it from a currently lapsed long time blogger – I appreciate how much time and work went into this. The whole thing is a work of art. I occasionally get lesser angle wings on the plants I bring indoors in the fall and they make me jump out of my skin when they sound off. I’m in Washington County near Marietta. It’s just lovely to think of you bringing the metal music in the house. I’m not sure I’d be able to handle the sadness of seeing them wind down and decline, though.I’m so glad you’ve made these recordings and beautiful photographs for all of us to enjoy. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Julie! Yes, it's sad whenever one of them reaches the end of his time, and I thank him for his songs when I place him in one of the perennial beds.

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