Northland Nature: The singing insects of late AugustFew bird songs accompany me as I take the morning walks in late August. I regularly hear the persistent red-eyed vireo and usually a wood peewee.
By: Larry Weber, For the Budgeteer News
Few bird songs accompany me as I take the morning walks in late August. I regularly hear the persistent red-eyed vireo and usually a wood peewee.
Occasionally, a couple of warblers add abbreviated tunes to the chorus.
These tiny birds are not entirely silent as they move through the trees now, but their chirps and calls are those of family units and groups. Slowly, they gather more components as they pass by in the beginning of their southbound migration.
Though mornings have few songs from the local birds, the afternoons produce even less. The silence of late August is upon us.
However, anyone wandering along roads, trails, paths, fields or just in your yards at this time will hear sounds of another type. The insects that hatched in spring and early summer and have been growing throughout the warmer weeks of summer are now maturing. It is hard for anyone in the Northland at this time to not notice these insects.
Butterflies and dragonflies continue their summer flights, but their diversity is not what it was earlier in the season. The fields, however, are filled with others. Bees, wasps, flies, moths, beetles and others abound in these open spaces and visit nearly all of the plants here.
Some feed on plants, some take nectar from flowers and some feed on other insects. The site is filled with insect activities of late summer.
But maybe the most abundant are the grasshoppers and their kin.
Grasshoppers and their relatives, the locusts, crickets and katydids, all belong to an order of insects called orthoptera. This name means “straight-winged” and though many members of the group live up to the name, others are not so stringent.
They survived last winter in eggs that were placed in the soil during fall and hatched with the warming times of spring.
The young ones that looked like small replicas of the adults fed and grew during the summer. Using their chewing mouthparts, they dined on the leafy plants in the open areas. With the moisture of early summer, the plant life thrived, giving plenty of food sources for these growing insects.
Maturing in mid- to late summer, they continue to feed, but they also get ready for the next phase, reproduction. Members of orthoptera are fairly easy to tell when they reach maturity since it is not until this stage that the wings are fully developed.
Males can be told from females by looking at the abdomen. On their “tail” end, we can see if they have claspers in males, to hold the females during mating, or an ovipositor of the female used to deposit the eggs (ova) into the ground.
From now until the frosts of fall, mating and egg-laying goes on each day for these adult late-summer insects.
As happens with other animals such as birds, males make sounds that attract the attention of the females and also tell of territorial rights to other males. Unlike the vocal songs of birds, these singing insects use rasping structures near the wings to “scratch out a tune.”
This method, referred to as stridulating, causes sounds of lisping, buzzing, chipping and creaking that emanates from the roadside plants of late summer.
Grasshopper sounds are usually not so loud — mostly a light buzzing. Their larger cousins, the locusts, frequently will take flight and go perhaps a hundred feet while making a loud clicking sound called crepitating.
While grasshoppers and locusts are often seen (While biking at this time, I see dozens on the trail. Some females mistake the pavement for soil and try to push their ovipositors down.), the other two, crickets and katydids, are the loudest.
Tiny ground crickets give a light background noise to the scene while the field crickets chirp loudly; both are dark and are more common in evening and night (and sometimes indoors).
Katydids, with their green bodies, are similar to grasshoppers, but have much longer antennae. The name of katydid comes from a sound made by a southern species. Listeners thought it sounded like “katy-did.”
Our katydids are more likely to make lisping clicks, buzzes or creaking sounds. They call in afternoons, but often continue into the warm nights, usually not seen.
Unrelated insects, the cicadas, are loud at this time too. Males call from trees with chirping or buzzing sounds.
These unique noises blend with those of the orthoptera and add much to the sounds of silence in the afternoons and nights of late August.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.