Weber column: Katydid time in Northland plants
Whether driving, biking or walking in early September, it seems like I will be passing large growths of fall wildflowers in roadsides and fields. These abundant plants are mostly composed of a native trio that carries blossoms into the fall. Purp...
Whether driving, biking or walking in early September, it seems like I will be passing large growths of fall wildflowers in roadsides and fields.
These abundant plants are mostly composed of a native trio that carries blossoms into the fall. Purple and white asters of about 10 kinds flower are here. Standing above them are tall plants with big yellow flowers: sunflowers. But when it comes to yellow colors, it is goldenrods that rule the scene.
Once again, we have about 10 kinds of these yellow flowering late-summer plants in the Northland. They vary in size from 2-6 feet and though most abundant in open sites, they also grow in bogs, rocky shores and woods. Some grow solitary, others in large groups. I find it hard to pass these clusters in bloom without stopping to look.
The plethora of buzzing sounds is an invitation to observe, and I quickly see I am not alone. The goldenrods are filled with activity of many kinds of insects and spiders. Virtually all are completely oblivious of my presence as they go about their business of gathering nectar, pollen or other foods.
Most obvious, because of their sounds and activity, are the bees. I see the honey and bumble bees, but others, like leaf-cutters, miners and sweat bees, are here, too.
Wasp and hornets move about, but not for nectar. Instead, they hunt insect meals as do dragonflies, large darners and small meadowhawks. Crab and jumping spiders appear as well. While crab spiders sit still on flowers, jumpers stalk their prey.
The ubiquitous ants are present with their guarded aphids. Leafhoppers - mostly green - hop over the plants and I see one shaped like a thorn. I find plenty of stink bugs and ladybugs among the leaves. A few kinds of moths and butterflies flutter about, stopping for nectar while their young, the caterpillars, feed on plant tissue - leaves and stems.
Fly species abound, many of which look like bees and wasps. These mimics usually get left alone. But it is the orthoptera that get my attention.
This very common group of insects is composed of many kinds. Grasshoppers and their larger cousins, the locusts, we probably see most often. While the former hop, the latter hop and fly.
Another member of this group is on the ground and though I do not usually see crickets, I hear them chirping.
While most crickets are black, their cousins, the katydids, are green. Sitting still in the goldenrods and grasses, they are not likely to be seen. When we do see them, they look a lot like grasshoppers.
Their wings are long, as are the thin hind legs, and their antennae are much longer than those of grasshoppers, maybe equal to the body. They can hop and fly, but more likely, they remain attached to plants and rely on their cryptic coloration.
Katydids have been growing in these sites all summer, but now in maturity, they have fully developed wings. Males make sounds with file-like organs near the wings to attract mates. These amorous sounds give them the name.
A southern species living high in trees scratches out a three-syllable song that some say sounds like: "kate-y-did." Our katydids stay low in plants and produce sounds more of a "lisping" or "creeking" type.
To me, sights and sounds of katydids tell us that summer is about to exit. They and the other insects in a patch of goldenrods give a great season finale.