Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Have you Heard this Katydid?

You may have noticed that this is the noisiest time of year in the great outdoors.  During the day, cicadas, crickets and meadow katydid's dominate your ears while you stand outside, and during the night, other katydids and crickets take over.  I think it is fun to try to identify as many of these singing insects by their song since most songs are unique to the individual "singing".  The singing is really a stridulation, or rubbing of one body part against another to create the sound.  Depending on the size and shape of the scrapers rubbing together, and the speed of which they are rubbed, a different sound is produced.  Here's an example of one common sound produced by the Common Meadow Katydid, Orchelimum vulgare.  If you click this video below, you should hear a shuffling and ticking sound that sounds like a yard sprinkler.  This is the meadow katydid song. 


A few years back, we were lucky enough to have Wil Hershberger visit the preserve and teach us how to recognize the subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences in insect song.  Wil is the co-author of The Songs of Insects, a great book, now a website, that introduces people to and informs us about these common sounds we all hear, but few of us recognize.  This post is not so much about all the different songs some of these insects make ( to see and hear that, you might as well visit his website http://songsofinsects.com/ for his wonderful recordings and pictures) but rather a fun discovery made while Wil was teaching a class for us. 

During the class, some great photographer's and friend's of the preserve, David and Laura Hughes, and Jim McCormac took picture's of a katydid.  They showed the picture to Wil, and explained the song.  Wil knew that the katydid in the pictures did not match the song they were hearing.  Therefore, did not recognize the katydid in their pictures.  This was odd because Wil had traveled all over the U.S. photographing and recording singing insects and knew what should be singing in southern Ohio.  The song sounded of the common virtuoso katydid, Amblycorypha longinicta.  But the katydid in the photographs did not look like a common virtuoso katydid because it lacked brown hind tibias.  This unknown katydid in the picture had hind leg tibia's which were green.  Below is a picture of the Common virtuoso, and this unknown virtuoso with differing leg color.

Common virtuoso katydid, notice the brown hind tibia or last segment of the hind leg.
Unknown virtuoso katydid, notice the green hind tibia's.

Turns out, this katydid Jim and David had taken a pictures of sings a lot like the common virtuoso katydid, but not quite exact, and looks a lot like the common virtuoso katydid, but not quite exact.  Apparently, it is something new.  We had been hearing this song for years on parts of the preserve, and assumed it was the common virtuoso, but since we never saw the insect, we didn't know it didn't look like a common virtuoso.  You never know what will be found when you get a bunch of naturalist's together and throw in an expert to help answer questions.  Apparently, this time it is possibly a new species.  The closest identification we could find that looks and sounds like this critter is a Cajun virtuoso katydid found in the Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi area, 500 miles from here.  We don't believe that this unknown virtuoso found in southern Ohio is the Cajun virtuoso.

So what is it?  Last summer, Wil and I spent a week driving around at night searching and listening for this new katydid song to see how many of these unknown species there were, and where else do they live.  We found many locations of this new katydid, and made a map of it's range, which was very small, only finding them in the southern Ohio Brush Creek valley (see below).  We even went across the Ohio river into Kentucky, where as a katydid flies, wouldn't have been too far away from the original location of discovery.  We didn't hear any of them.  Specimens were collected, sent off for DNA and some kept for recording and measuring.  It may take some time to figure out what they are.
GREEN=YES unknown virtuosos/RED=NO unknown virtuosos/ORANGE=only common virtuosos
So my question's are, to anyone that can hear over 13 kHz (these things sing incredibly high pitched and a lot of people can not hear them), has anyone else ever heard these katydids?  Where else do they live?  Could they be common and just over looked?

Listen to the video below and first, see if you can hear the song when the video displays "SINGING NOW".   If you don't hear it.....Sorry to say you may have lost that high pitch sound in your ears.  I purposefully made a recording of these unknown katydid's singing in the wild with other night sounds around, because that is what you might hear if you go out and listen.  The katydid in questions song sounds like a high pitched shuffle followed by a "pen spring" purr.  If I had to spell it out, it would be "chickachickachickachickachicka  purrrrr", then a few seconds break in between.  Click below.


Now the Common virtuoso katydid, which is found throughout Ohio, but can be very local, is not as common as the name implies.  But its song is very similar.  The difference being, it does the shuffle, or chickachicka once, then follows with many purr's or pen spring flicks.  Listen to the video below to hear the difference. 

If any of these songs are hard to hear, you can hear much clearer and louder versions, including many other species on Wil's website listed above.  And to read more about the discovery of this new katydid species, check out Wil's page http://songsofinsects.com/katydids/unknown-amblycorypha, for much more details.

The goal here is to find more of these unknown katydids near Adams County, Ohio, or anywhere.  So if you think you have a virtuoso katydid that shuffles every time before it purr's, try to get a recording (cell phone recording's might work if you are close to it), or try to get your eyes on the critter and see if it's hind legs are entirely green.  If so, contact me at mzloba@cincymuseum.org.  Through DNA, we hope to soon know what this species is and if it is new to science.  So keep your ears open at night and listen for virtuoso katydids and you can help us solve this katydid mystery.

Posted by: Mark Zloba