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Katydid, grasshopper, and cricket songs

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller  

Night sounds abound in late summer through early fall. We can open windows now that excessive heat has waned, nights are less humid, and longer. Not long ago it was light until 10 p.m. and now the sky is darkening by 8:30. On September 22, the sun will reach the fall equinox creating 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark everywhere on the planet. Songs will fill the air before bedtime and let you know life abounds. 

Life’s activity is in high mode. Birds are migrating, deer are entering the rut, monarchs are migrating, and some mammals are busy getting ready for a long winter’s retreat. Some hibernate and are hurrying to add fat for a long sleep while others are gathering and storing food to sustain them through desolate winter months. 

Varied strategies are needed to survive the cold, but most insects enter diapause. Diapause is when life activities are on hold until temperatures become conducive for movement. A few like darner dragonflies migrate to warmer climates. Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico to spend the winter in cold mountains hibernating. 

Most insects overwinter as eggs, larva, or pupae but a few grasshoppers survive winter as partially developed nymphs. We can recognize grasshopper nymphs from adults by the lack of fully developed wings. They can jump but cannot fly. Most grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids in the order Orthoptera survive the winter as eggs. In your home, an adult cricket might survive the winter in the warmth you provide. 

There are about 30 cricket species in Michigan. They produce some of the most beautiful music for the order. Songs are not produced by all cricket species. If you are trying to sleep, you might not appreciate cricket courtship songs. The song is produced by the insect moving a sharp edge of one wing against a file like ridge on a thickened leathery upper wing covering. They are mostly night active as are most katydids. Katydids produce sound in a similar manner to crickets but are not as musical. They do not find resources to survive indoors. 

Crickets eat insect eggs, fly pupae, aphids, soft bodied insects, soft fruit, and plant foliage. Some of those can be found in your home. Katydids look somewhat like grasshoppers but remain mostly hidden in vegetation and restrain activity until dark. The most telling difference between grasshoppers and katydids is the antennae length. Grasshoppers have short antennae and katydids have antennae that are longer than their body. They are often referred to as “long-horn grasshoppers.”  

Most of us are familiar with the appearance of “field crickets” but many crickets have unique appearances. Even for those that recognize the black field cricket, there are two species that cannot be told apart by appearance. The spring field cricket becomes active about May 20 and ends its season by July 6. The fall field cricket is active most years from July 15 to November 11. My college professor, Dr. Roger Bland, published the book Orthoptera of Michigan through MSU Extension. It is wonderfully illustrated and is the only book representing a state. Regional books are available, but his work can acquaint you with Michigan species.  

Go out in the evening to listen to some of Michigan’s 33 katydid species. They will be among the vegetation where they resemble living or dead leaves. Most in our region are green. Like crickets and grasshoppers, they have jumping hind legs. At this time of year, they can fly but rarely do unless disturbed. They eat leaves, flowers, and pollen but it is their sound that captures our attention. Like the crickets they produce sound by stridulation when they rub one wing against another. 

Sound attracts mates so katydids must hear. Both sexes have auditory organs found at the base of front leg tibia. Michigan’s 61 species of grasshoppers have hearing tympana located at the base of their abdomen. Crickets “ears” are located like those of katydids on the front legs. Begin exploring to find the state’s 124 Orthoptera.

Many have heard we can determine the temperature by counting Snowy Tree Cricket chirps for 15 seconds and then adding 40. The Orthoptera have fascinating nature niches and behaviors that will teach the observant. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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