Bug o’the Week – Drumming Katydid

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Drumming Katydid

Howdy, BugFans,

Sometimes you go looking for insects, and sometimes the insects find you.  The BugLady came back to her car from the Post Office one sunny afternoon in August and discovered this stunning katydid sitting above the driver’s door of her car.  Keeping one eye on traffic, she managed to get a few shots of it before moving it to a nearby hydrangea.

She had never heard of the Drumming katydids before.  They’re in the katydid family Tettigoniidae and in the subfamily Meconematinae, the Quiet-calling Katydids, which has about 200 species worldwide.  Three of the members of the subfamily make sounds that we can’t hear without the aid of an ultrasonic detector, and both of the species that occur in North America have been introduced.

Other names for the Drumming katydid (Meconema thalassinum) are the Oak Bush-Cricket (in Britain), Méconème Tambourinaire (not in Britain), Eichenschrecke (Oak locust) in Germany, Quiet-calling katydid, and Sea-Green Katydid (“thalassinum” means “sea green.”

This European katydid was first recorded in America in 1957 in western Long Island.  By 2004 it had made its way to Michigan, and now it inhabits much of the northeast quadrant of North America plus the Pacific Northwest.  It’s found in deciduous trees and in the vegetation below them; neither cars nor hydrangeas are listed as potential habitats, but the BugLady found a few other shots of Drumming katydids sitting on cars, and sources note that they are comfortable on and around man-made structures. 

Lots of members of the grasshopper/katydid bunch are known to spice up their vegetarian existence with a little protein by nibbling on dead insects or insect eggs.  Some sources say that Drumming katydids do exactly that, but others say that they are exclusively carnivorous, feeding on aphids and small larvae.  They aren’t considered plant pests in either the Old Country or the New.

What eats them?  The usual suspects, plus they are among the grasshopper/katydid species that Grass-carrying wasps (Isodontia) collect to provision their egg chambers.  Drumming katydids are also susceptible to a parasitic worm that takes over their nervous system and tells the katydid to head for any nearby body of water so that the worm can emerge there. 

Drumming katydids aren’t huge – maybe 4/5 of an inch long (plus the ovipositor, though the one she saw seemed bigger to the BugLady).  They have a hearing organ (tympanum) on each of their front legs (if you’re going to sing, you should have “ears” to hear it).  They have yellow feet https://bugguide.net/node/view/704348/bgimage, and because they’re katydids, they have extra-long antennae – pale orange, in their case.  Females have a long, curved ovipositor and males have long, slender, curved, hollow claspers (cerci) https://bugguide.net/node/view/205071/bgimage.  They are nocturnal.

Though males do have tiny teeth on their forewings (scientists aren’t sure why, unless it’s to add an ultrasonic stridulation/friction component to the katydid’s acoustic repertoire), they don’t have rough spots (stridulatory areas) at the base of their forewings, so they don’t use the usual katydid “file and scraper” modus operandi to attract a female.  Instead, they tap/drum a quick Morse code on a leaf with their hind tarsus – the tarsus is basically a five-segmented foot, and males have a hard pad on the first tarsal segment that females don’t.  Though the pattern of his song stays the same, the higher the temperature is, the more frequently he taps.  The soft sound may be heard by a human (one with better hearing than the BugLady’s) as far as 12 feet away, and it’s believed that the vibrations also travel through the substrate, but the BugLady couldn’t discover exactly how the female detects his signals.  

There’s only one generation per year – they overwinter as eggs that hatch in late spring and are mature by mid-August, and adults may be seen well into late fall.  Drumming katydids are small, and they lay their eggs in bark crevices, and it’s suspected that they made their way to America on imported plant material. 

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Long-tailed Meadow Katydid

Bug o’the Week
by Kate Redmond

Bug o’the Week Long-tailed Meadow Katydid

Howdy, BugFans.

At first glance, Meadow Katydids look like small grasshoppers, but grasshoppers (family Acrididae) have antennae of a reasonable length, and katydids (family Tettigoniidae) have such long antennae (you have to back up a bit to get the whole antenna in a picture) that you wonder how they maneuver through the vegetation – and life (those antennae, of course are highly sensory and are exactly what allow them to navigate through life). In her “Naturally Curious” blog, Mary Holland writes “Insect antennae are among the most sensitive and selective chemical-sensing organs in the animal kingdom. They detect information crucial to an insect’s survival, including odors, sounds, humidity, changes in water vapor concentration and air speed. Antennae are capable of these feats because of the sensory receptors covering them which bind to free-floating molecules.” And they’re tactile, too.

Behaviorally, grasshoppers fling themselves into the air at the slightest provocation (remember, their action is driven by both legs and wings), while Meadow Katydids are more likely to skulk away into the thicket with a series of short hops onto the backsides of leaves. 

Meadow Katydids are in the tribe Conocephalini (literally “cone heads”), which is divided into the Greater Meadow Katydids (genus Orchelimum) and Lesser/Smaller Meadow Katydids (genus Conocephalus).  Lesser Meadow Katydids were mentioned briefly in an early BOTW (https://uwm.edu/field-station/tettigoniidae-two/), and one of the Greater Meadow Katydids was featured in a BOTW a few years ago https://uwm.edu/field-station/black-legged-meadow-katydid/.  There are about 160 species of Lesser Meadow Katydids worldwide and 18 in North America, and they’re found in grasslands and wetlands, and on woodland edges.  

With bodies under ¾”, they’re not huge.  They can be tough to tell apart when they’re just sitting on a blade of grass, and some species come both in a variety of color forms and with short or long wings, but if you get a good look, the females’ ovipositors are pretty distinctive, even as nymphs, and so are the males’ claspers (cerci) https://sina.orthsoc.org/g220a.htm.  Their songs, mostly sung in late afternoon and evening, can be hard to hear.  Straight-lanced Meadow Katydid are a fairly common species in Wisconsin – here’s a male nymph and an adult female https://bugguide.net/node/view/2218360/bgimage https://bugguide.net/node/view/1579703/bgimage.

Females use those impressive ovipositors to punch holes in vegetation, into the soil, or even under tree bark to deposit their eggs.  The eggs overwinter, and the nymphs pop out the next year looking pretty much like their eventual adult form (incomplete metamorphosis).  Meadow Katydids are omnivores, supplementing a diet of the leaves, seeds, flowers, and pollen of non-woody plants with the odd, tiny insect.

The BugLady always enjoys coming across nature articles by Matt Pelikan in the Martha’s Vineyard Times as she does her research.  Here’s one about Meadow Katydids https://www.mvtimes.com/2019/09/04/wild-side-meadow-katydids/.

Enter the LONG-TAILED MEADOW KATYDID (Conocephalus attenuatus), aka the Lance-tailed Meadow Grasshopper (both referring to the female’s ovipositor); Lisa Rainsong, in her “Listening in Nature” blogspot calls it the Red Marsh Katydid.  They are habitat specialists – residents of sedge and cattail marshes with standing water in much of the northeastern quadrant of North America.  They’re not common overall but can be locally numerous.  By all accounts, the BugLady was really lucky to see this one without resorting to a flashlight and hip waders.  

LTMKs feed on cattails and sedges, especially the seeds https://bugguide.net/node/view/1725335/bgimage.

Bugguide.net says that they’re “Typically either all red or red with green limbs.”  Rainsong points out that “The color blends very well with reddish cattail heads, and that’s a likely place to find this katydid.”  Here’s a short-winged male and female https://bugguide.net/node/view/1863860/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1593979/bgimage, and a long-winged male and female https://bugguide.net/node/view/1588827/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1119893/bgimage, and there’s a nice collection of pictures here http://listeninginnature.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-red-katydids.html.  Their soft song has been described as a continuous, pulsing rattle, rather than a whirr, sung mostly after sunset http://songsofinsects.com/katydids/long-tailed-meadow-katydid.

When LTMKs copulate, the male delivers a “twofer” – a sperm packet and an attached gelatinous glob called a spermatophylax.  The female plucks off the spermatophylax, which contains nutrients that may ensure successful egg-laying, but it’s a bribe.  As she eats, the sperm are being absorbed from the spermatophore at her opposite end.  When she finishes her snack, the female detaches the spermatophore, so while she’s eating, the clock is ticking for the male’s gene pool.  Chemicals in the spermatophylax may also dim her interest in other males temporarily.  For a good, illustrated, PG explanation of the process in one of the Greater Meadow Katydids, see https://natureinquiries.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/spermatophylax/

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Mottled Sand Grasshopper

Bug o’the Week

Mottled Sand Grasshopper

Howdy, BugFans,

From July into September, the Creeping Juniper Nature Trail at Kohler Andrae State Park is ruled by grasshoppers, and the BugLady had lots of fun chasing them around this summer (she stayed on the boardwalk, of course) (well, until the Swamp Darner flew past).  She especially liked the aptly-named Mottled sand grasshopper (Spharagemon collare).  MSGs are not restricted to Lake Michigan dunes, they have a range that stretches from Arizona and New Mexico diagonally back through the northern Great Plains and the Great Lakes, and well into Canada.  Plus, inexplicably, North Carolina, Delaware and Maryland.  Within that wedge of North America, they’re found in sunny, sparsely-vegetated areas with dry, sandy, and/or disturbed soils.  They’re especially common along the edges of wheat fields, says Wikipedia.

MSGs can vary quite a bit in appearance, and that’s probably tied to the habitat they live in.  They have banded, yellow wings https://bugguide.net/node/view/1424686/bgimage, and their hind tibias are red https://bugguide.net/node/view/585687/bgimage.  They can be a speckled gray, tan, brown https://bugguide.net/node/view/1254388/bgimage, or even reddish https://bugguide.net/node/view/22245/bgimage, depending on the soil they sit on, and some morphs are “collared” https://bugguide.net/node/view/585680/bgimage.  Habitats that are less sandy and more vegetated have “plainer” grasshoppers https://bugguide.net/node/view/2106847/bgimage (they’re not like tree frogs or goldenrod crab spiders that actively change colors, it’s just that the grasshoppers that match their background survive to pass along their genes will produce more grasshoppers that look like themselves, and regional color morphs are born).    

When a territorial male sees another grasshopper, he approaches and stridulates a few times (rubs one part of his body against another part – in this case, the hind leg against the forewing).  If it’s another male or a different species of grasshopper, he will attempt to oust it from the area.  A female who’s not in the mood will shake a hind leg and stomp on the ground (similar to the signals a male sends to an intruding male). If the female is willing, they mate https://bugguide.net/node/view/336164/bgimage, and then she uses her abdomen to excavate about a half-inch into the soil.  She oviposits (each egg pod contains about 25 eggs) and then camouflages the hole by brushing sand and debris over it.  MSGs overwinter as eggs and hatch in late spring/early summer. 

It takes MSG nymphs about six weeks to reach the adult stage, and males mature faster than females.  They tend to stay in the same area where they hatched, and adults may be present until the first frosts. 

Their eating habits get them into a little trouble with farmers and ranchers in the western part of their range, but they usually don’t occur in high enough densities to be called pests.  For the most part, they feed on pieces of prairie grasses and a few wildflowers that they find on the ground.  MSGs may reach up with their front legs and pull down a grass to feed on, and they sometimes climb up onto a grass stalk to sever a leaf or stem, but they feed on it after they climb down again.   

They are good flyers, and a male sometimes makes a buzzing sounds as he flies (crepitation – a clicking or snapping noise made by the wings).  They also crepitate when they’ve been startled into flight, during courtship, or when they’re defending their territory.  One study in Colorado clocked sustained flights by males at three to eight feet and by females at nine to ten feet, but in a Michigan study, researchers saw males flying 100 feet and females farther than that, and at heights up to 30” above the ground.  Despite their strong flight, they are geophilus (today’s vocabulary word) meaning “ground-loving.” 

MSGs are diurnal (active during the day), and they spend the night on the ground in the open, under a thatch of grasses, or up in a plant.  They wake slowly, warming up by basking for a few hours before they become active, exposing first one side to the sun and then the other.  When the temperature on the ground gets too hot (over 100 degrees F), they rest in the shade and emerge in late afternoon as the ground cools a bit.  They bask again before sheltering for the night.

They’re in the family Acrididae, the Short-horned grasshoppers, and in the subfamily Oedipodinae, Band-winged grasshoppers.  

Side note – spiders are using the mild spell to change locations – the BugLady sees the slender strands of spider parachutes on her shrubs each morning.  For the story on that, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/spider-flight-rerun/.

(and – oops – the BugLady used a picture of an MSG in an earlier episode, mistakenly ID’d as a Seaside grasshopper)

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Bugs at the End of Summer

Bug o’the Week

Bugs at the End of Summer

Howdy, BugFans,

The general rule of thumb is that if you want to find insects, look at flowers.  Even though summer is fading, there are still flowers in bloom.  Some Liatris/blazing stars linger, along with brown-eyed Susan, wild sunflowers, asters and goldenrod (more than a century ago, Asa Gray said that the 12 pages about goldenrods in his Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, from New England to Wisconsin and South to Ohio and Pennsylvania Inclusive (aka Gray’s Manual) were the most uninteresting in the Manual).  Late summer and early fall are dominated by flies, bees and wasps, and by grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets.

Most adult insects die by the first frosts, leaving behind the next generation in the form of eggs or pupae (occasionally as nymphs or larvae), so the clock is starting to tick pretty loudly.  As BugFan Mary stated dispassionately many years ago, they’re dead and they don’t know it yet.  Meanwhile, their activities are centered on eating and on producing the next generation.

AMBUSH BUG (pictured above) – One of the BugLady’s favorite insects is the ambush bug (she’s always had a soft spot in her heart for predators).  Ambush bugs tuck themselves down into the middle of a flower and wait for pollinators.  They grasp their prey with their strong front legs, inject a meat tenderizer, and slurp out the softened innards.  They’re paired up these days (the BugLady has a picture of a stack of three), and she has several pictures where the female is multitasking – eating an insect while mating.

BUMBLE BEE – A bumble bee forages for nectar and pollen for the brood well into September, but the brood will not survive the winter.  Only the newly-fertilized queens will see the spring and establish a new colony.  Moral of the story – plant Liatris/Blazing star.

PUNCTURED TIGER BEETLES (aka Sidewalk or Backroad Tiger Beetles) are named for the rows of pits on their very-slightly-iridescent elytra (hard wing coverings).  They’re common across the continent in dry, sandy, bare spots, and as one of their names suggests, they’re sometimes seen on sidewalks.  Like their (much) larger namesakes, Tiger beetles chase their prey https://bugguide.net/node/view/1106590/bgimage.  For more info http://www.naturenorth.com/Tiger%20Beetle/The%20Tiger%20Beetles%20of%20Manitoba.pdf.  

Some Punctured tiger beetles are “plain” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1343674/bgimage, and some are “fancy” https://bugguide.net/node/view/223895, and some are green https://bugguide.net/node/view/2025474/bgimage.  

FAMILIAR BLUETS signal the end of the damselfly season.  Big, robust, and startlingly-blue, they’re one of the BugLady’s favorite bluets.  

EASTERN COMMA – There are two generations/broods/”flights” of Commas (and Question Marks – the “anglewings”) each year.  The second generation overwinters as adults, tucked up into a sheltered spot (a hibernaculum).  They sometimes emerge during a January thaw, but they quickly resume their winter’s sleep.  They fly briefly in spring – one of our early butterflies – and produce the summer brood.

FALL FIELD CRICKET – Poking her ovipositor into the soil and planting the next generation.  Her eggs will hatch in spring, and her omnivorous offspring will eat leaves, fruits, grain, and other invertebrates. 

The BugLady loves their simple songs http://songsofinsects.com/crickets/spring-and-fall-field-crickets and is happy when a cricket finds its way indoors in fall.  Males form a resonating chamber by setting their wings at a certain angle; then they rub their wings together to produce sound (one wing has a scraper edge and the other has teeth).  There are mathematical formulae for calculating the ambient air temperature based on cricket chirps that give you the temperature in the microclimate on the ground where the cricket is chirping (add the number of chirps by a single field cricket in 15 seconds to 40). 

CANADA DARNER – Common Green Darners are robust dragonflies that fill the late summer skies with dramatic feeding and migratory swarms.  There are other darners, though, primarily the non-migratory mosaic darners (like the Canada, Green-striped, Lance-tipped, and Shadow Darners) whose abdomens have blue and black, “tile-like” patterns.  Identify them by the shape of the colored stripe on the thorax and by the shape of the male’s claspers (lest you think it’s too easy, females come in a number of color morphs – this is a green-form female Canada Darner).  

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES were alarmingly scarce this summer – the short-lived Gen 3 and Gen 4, whose job it is to build the population in the run-up up to the migratory Gen 5, simply weren’t there.  But, on one of the BugLady’s recent stints on the hawk tower, she saw 289 Monarchs heading south during a six-hour watch.  Moral – Plant goldenrod (and native milkweeds).

GOLDENROD CRAB SPIDER – Like ambush bugs, crab spiders live on a diet of pollinators.  They don’t build trap nets and wait for their prey to come to them, they pursue it.  Sometimes they lurk on the underside of the flower, but their camouflage makes hiding unnecessary.  This female looks like she’s sitting at the dinner table.

RED-LEGGED GRASSHOPPERS are very common in sunny grasslands at this time of year from coast to coast.  They eat lots of different kinds of plants (including some agricultural crops, which does not endear them to farmers), but they prefer plants in the Legume/pea family and the Composite/aster family.  As the air temperature increases – and when predators are around – they eat more carbs.  Grasshoppers are food for spiders, many birds, and other wildlife.  Moral of the story – plant wild sunflowers.

PAINTER LADY – You don’t get to be the most widespread butterfly in the world (found everywhere except Antarctica and South America) by being a picky eater.  It migrates north in spring – sometimes in large numbers and sometimes in small.

THIN-LEGGED WOLF SPIDER – This Thin-legged wolf spider formed an egg sac (with about 50 eggs inside), attached it to her spinnerets and is going about her business.  When the eggs hatch, her young will climb up on her abdomen and ride around piggyback for a few weeks before dismounting and going about their lives. 

GREAT BLACK WASP and GREAT GOLDEN DIGGER WASP – Two impressive (1 ¼” long) wasps grace the flower tops at the end of summer.  Both are good pollinators, both are solitary species that eat pollen and nectar, and both dig tunnels and provision chambers with paralyzed insects for their eventual offspring.  Great Black Wasps https://uwm.edu/field-station/great-black-wasp/ select crickets and grasshoppers for their young’s’ pantry, and so do Great Golden digger wasps https://uwm.edu/field-station/great-golden-digger-wasp-family-sphecidae/.  Neither is aggressive.  

The moral of the story?  Plant lemon horsemint.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

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