Reflections in Nature: Katydid song ends summer

Katydid song ends summer

BILL BOWER/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Many can identify the calling of the katydids, but few are able to identify the insect, shown above.

August is the month when we begin hearing the choruses of both the katydids and the crickets. Although many people recognize the katydid’s calling, not many know what the insect looks like.

Katydids, which are members of the long-horned grasshopper family, are a leaf-green color, with occasional brown markings. The insect’s coloring allows blending in with the surrounding leaves and grasses, giving another reason why they are hard to identify.

The katydid’s call is not a true call since it is made by the insect rubbing its wings together. This built-in fiddle can only make one (two or three-note) monotonous tune that sounds like “Katy-did” or “Katy-didn’t,” depending on your interpretation.

However, I read in an insect book that the three-note “Katy-didn’t” is heard less often.

Katydids go through three stages of development: egg, nymph and adult. In the fall, the egg is laid either on a plant or in the soil and then, in the spring, the egg hatches and a nymph, which resembles an adult without wings, emerges. Without wings, the katydid cannot make a call.

The nymph grows by going through several molts, shedding its skin each time.

The katydid eats leaves throughout June and July and then, in August, it reaches the winged stage. When this occurs, we begin to hear its fiddling call.

The lifespan of the katydid is about one year from egg to the end of adulthood.

It is the male that does the fiddling, while the female remains silent. The calling — which is done at night but can, on occasion, be heard on dark, cloudy days — is part of the courtship process.

The adults of some katydid species are able to fly. In all species, the front wings have special structures that, when rubbed together, make sounds. These sounds are heard by the katydids through patches known as tampana (hearing organs) on their front legs.

There are eight species of katydids in North America. The insects have thick bodies, usually are taller than wide and have long, thin legs. The hind legs are the longest and often used for jumping.

Appearing on the head are chewing mouthparts and long, thin antennae, reaching back at least to the insect’s abdomen.

Females, which usually are larger than the males, have a long sharp structure at the end of their abdomens that looks like a stinger but actually is an ovipositor. After being bred, the female deposits the eggs, using the ovipositor, into the ground, on bark and plant stems. The eggs will overwinter and hatch in the spring, at which time the process begins again.

Grasshoppers have a row of sharp pegs on the back of their legs that produce sound when the legs are rubbed together.

The katydid’s call is more familiar to us than its appearance. The reason for this is that not many will take the time to locate the insect doing the calling.

The katydid is known as the “true katydid” because it was the first species to have its call transcribed.

Another familiar insect that makes its call by fiddling is the cricket. The fiddling is produced by scraping a file on the underside of one wing against a file on the underside of the opposing wing.

We begin hearing and seeing crickets in early autumn. Their singing starts when a male cricket establishes his territory and chases other males away.

Crickets live in a single hole in the ground and hide either under stones, boards or leaf litter.

If a cricket finds another cricket in its hole, a fight ensues. It consists of biting and many times ends in death for one of the fighters. The winner usually eats the loser.

Grasshoppers, katydids and crickets come from the same order known as Orthoptera (straight wings). The katydids and crickets actually are more closely related due to something known as stridulation. This order has over 1,000 species in North America and over 23,000 species worldwide.

All members of the order undergo an incomplete metamorphosis, which means that the tiny insects that hatch from the eggs already are similar in form to their parents and gradually will take on the appearance of the adults as they increase in size and finally develop wings.

Well, August is full of the calling of many insects and they seem to be telling us frost is coming, frost is coming or six more weeks, six more weeks. To me, the calling of the katydid and the cricket is announcing that summer is coming to an end.

Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 1224 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.