A few weeks ago I journeyed to Starkville, Mississippi, from Ithaca, New York with Jason Dombroskie of the CUIC. The purpose of our visit was, for Jason, to gather tortricid data from the Mississippi Entomological Museum at Mississippi State University; for me, it was a chance to chat about potential research projects with JoVonn Hill, an orthopterist based in Mississippi. Of course, being entomologists, we made time to collect along the way. While Jason set light traps and carefully pinned the moths harvested from said traps, I listened for unfamiliar songs and tracked down their creators. The trip yielded many orthopteran species I had only encountered once or twice before, as well as several species that I had never seen at all. One such species was Conocephalus nemoralis, the woodland meadow katydid. This was a species I was hoping to find, and find it I did; in fact I encountered them in almost every area we stopped to collect.
My first encounter with this pretty animal came in southern Indiana, in the Clover Lick Barrens of Hoosier National Forest. We arrived at dusk and hurried to set out light traps. Among the hundreds of singing insects, one call stood out. It sounded very much like the call of my shieldbacks that I had reared up earlier in the year (incidentally, the female and one male are still hanging in there), and I immediately thought that must be what was calling. Once I got around to tracking the song, I quickly found the singer and knew immediately what it was. There was no mistaking this little dark, wood-brown katydid and its short quiet buzzes. Over the course of the next hour I managed to capture two males and a female. The woodland meadow katydid is notable because it is intermediate in character between the closely related katydid genera Conocephalus and Orchelimum. The robust habitus and ovipositor shape are more typical of Orchelimum, but other characters place it as a Conocephalus.
I was excited to have found nemoralis and suspected that I wouldn’t run across them again. Given the paucity of photos at BugGuide and other sources, I imagined that it wasn’t an especially common animal. However, this was certainly not the case, as I later picked up singing males at gas stations in Tennessee, university-owned properties in Mississippi, and even a rest stop in southern Pennsylvania on our way back to Ithaca. These varied localities had one thing in common – they were all edge habitats at the periphery of forests, which seems to be the preferred habitat of these little katydids. Most did not survive the trip back but one made it and is housed in my room, calling every day alongside native New York katydids.