Southwestern Research Station, week 1: new vistas, lots of hopper nymphs, and a flash mishap


Road to the station.

It’s been a little over a week since I arrived in the Chiricahua mountains of southeastern Arizona, and I’ve got a lot to write about! I’ll only touch on a few topics here and hopefully expand on them in the coming weeks.

First thing’s first: there are some unbelievably beautiful and majestic landscapes here. In my life I’ve experienced many weird and wonderful habitats of the eastern U.S., from dry Florida scrub to cold sphagnum bogs; I’ve seen the Belizean rainforest; I’ve even been on the floodplains of Mozambique. But nothing compared to my first sight of the towering Chiricahua mountains rising up from the desert floor. Every day I walk out of my room and look up at the mountains, marveling at the fact that I am in such a place. The station is situated in a canyon, so within a short walk one can encounter several different habitats, all equally stunning. To my delight, the trees of this mountainous landscape are not too dissimilar from my familiar trees in the northeast. There are oaks, pines, junipers, boxelder, and sycamore – just different species than I’m used to, but not so weird as to be unrecognizable.


View from the top of Rattlesnake Hill.


Male (right) and female Abedus herberti giant water bug parents. 

Although you might think that southern Arizona would be warm and sunny all year round, that is certainly not the case here. The peaks of the Chiricahuas are snow-capped, and even here in the canyon, temperatures typically goes down to 30s (F) during the night. Days are generally pleasant, with temps in the upper 60s and lower 70s. I’m told that by April things will be much different. Despite the somewhat chilly weather, there is still plenty to see on the insect front. Moths come to the lights each evening, the pool is alive with water bugs, and some flowering shrubs are beginning to attract the first native bees and butterflies of the year. The buggin’ is quite varied, and in fact I have been very excited to see a few different bugs and behaviors that are typical fare of introductory entomology textbooks (but seemingly rarely found in the north!). It’s well known, for example, that many giant water bugs (Belostomatidae) exhibit male parental care. Females glue their eggs to the male’s back, and he protects them and aerates them until they hatch. A few days ago I was poking around the station pool and found an Abedus herberti giant water bug carrying eggs! It was very cool to see this behavior that I had read about for years but never seen. Another poolside find was a gorgeous Hyles lineata (white-lined sphinx moth) nectaring among the flowers. A photo of a sphinx moth hovering in front of a flower with its long proboscis extended to reach and suck up the nectar is a typical image in biology textbooks, but it was really something else to see this large, powerful animal going about its business (luckily, it didn’t seem to mind my flash snapping away!).


Hyles lineata (white-lined sphinx) nectaring.

On the orthoptera front, things are pretty slow unfortunately. Most of the orthopteran fauna in the area matures later in summer, so I’m stuck with whoever overwinters as nymphs or adults – not too many species! I have been lucky enough to find 10 different species (11 if you count the Gryllodes from Tucson, which are not present at the station), most of which are new to me. I’m hoping that the nymphs among the lot will mature by the time I leave. It’s quiet at night – nobody singing except the occasional owl.


Orthopterans found around the Southwestern Research Station, AZ, March 7th to March 11th, 2018.

Speaking of vertebrates, my camera has been pointed at them quite a bit more than usual. There are numerous mammals, birds, and herps that are restricted to the Chiricahuas (at least in the U.S.), so I’ve tried to document them whenever I can. My macro lens is obviously not the best tool to image a bird, but I think I’ve done a reasonable job with a few species given my equipment.


Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma wollweberi), a common bird typical of mountainous areas in the southwest and in Mexico. 


Sceloporus jarrovii, a nice-looking lizard that hangs out behind the lab buildings. 

Finally, The Frog Incident. I had heard that there were one or two individuals of the endangered Chiricahua leopard frog (Lithobates chiricahuensis) living in the pool, but never saw them during the day. On Tuesday night I went to the pool in early evening to release the aforementioned giant water bug with eggs, and saw the frog hanging out by the edge! I raced to get my camera, but unfortunately the frog wasted no time before diving to the bottom. I poked around the other side of the pool and discovered a second leopard frog. This one was much more cooperative at first, staying still while I slowly moved closer with my camera. It got to the point where I was mere inches away. Then the frog jumped at me. Now before you laugh, let me tell you that this is one large frog, and it was pitch black outside at this point except for my fading headlamp beam. I spooked and my flash flew right into the pool. It took about 2 seconds to say “oh shit” and reach in to grab my poor, soaked flash unit (luckily this was the shallow end of the pool). I immediately hurried over to the technical equipment lab, which is kept much warmer than the other buildings, and attempted to dry everything out. Nothing seemed to be functioning so I eventually brought them back to my room and laid them out there overnight. In the morning the remote trigger was working but the flash refused to fire. This was really not ideal. I had a backup flash unit that I could use, but it’s an old one and very cranky. Luckily it never came to that, for just yesterday my flash showed signs of life, and now it appears to be no worse for the wear.


The image that almost cost me my flash – Chiricahua leopard frog (Lithobates chiricahuensis)


Arizona prologue


A cholla cactus near my hotel in Benson, AZ.

Yesterday I departed the grey, cold, and rainy northeast for the sunny southwestern U.S. My destination is the Southwestern Research Station (SWRS; owned by the American Museum of Natural History), where I will be staying for the next 6 weeks under the intern/volunteer program. There will be plenty to keep me busy, but I hope to post here weekly with various cool plants, herps, bugs, birds, and whatever else I may come across. In the meantime, here are a few things I found along the journey.


Female tropical house cricket, Gryllodes sigillatus, from Tucson, AZ. Also known as the banded or decorated cricket – easy to see why! Note her very short wings.


Scenery flying over Arizona and in Tucson was pretty spectacular for someone who’s never really experienced the southwest before. All sorts of odd trees and cacti along the roads, and desert scrub/mountainous landscapes – quite different from the typical woods and fields of the northeast! I didn’t get much of a chance to look around in Tucson, but while waiting at the Greyhound bus station, I heard some Gryllodes sigillatus calling under rocks. This is a common pantropical cricket species that associates with humans and is increasingly used as a food source for pets like lizards. I flipped a few stones and came up with two females.

The hotel grounds in Benson looked cool from Google maps, but yielded rather sparse pickings for bugs. There were a few conspicuous harvester ant nests on the ground, as well as some mantid oothecae and bagworm cases attached to trees and bushes, but that was about it. I did manage to scare up two baby Psoloessa from dry grass, and I picked up a drab moth near the hotel lights. A lone Gryllus was chirping under some rocks, but he stopped calling once I approached and that was that. I was followed around by some cactus wrens (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus, graciously determined by Max Kirsch), and saw some cool cacti. I’m sure I’ll see lots more at the research station!


Some sort of a bagworm case in Benson, perhaps Oiketicus sp.


Harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus (det. J. Trager)


Psoloessa nymph, found in dry grass at the hotel. I only saw about 4 of these little guys and they were extremely hard to distinguish from the bits of dry plant matter my feet kicked up as I walked – plus they were stupendous jumpers!


Morning sunrise in Benson.

Yellow, orange, or red wings?


‘Typical’ male (left) and female Psinidia fenestralis with orange hind wings (Townsend, MA)

In my personal collection of Orthoptera, there is a row of grasshoppers with radically different wing colors. Most have bright orange wings. A few bear pale yellow wings. One has a lovely rosy red shade. Yet if you examined the determination labels on all those specimens, you’d find that they are all identified as one species: Psinidia fenestralis. What gives? The answer has to do with individual variation as well as geographic location.


Aberrant Psinidia with rosy red hind wings, with the male again on left (Millersville, MD)

Psinidia is a small band-winged grasshopper, less than half the length of the common Carolina (or black-winged) grasshopper Dissosteira carolina. It is widespread in the eastern U.S, but is also fairly habitat-restricted, preferring to live in small open patches of sand within grassy areas. It has a distinctive ‘bug-eyed’ appearance along with very long, somewhat thickened, antennae. The body pattern is extremely variable, but usually perfectly matching the appearance of the sand on which it lives. Adults are usually present from July to October, and in Florida they are out year-round. When disturbed, they do not fly far, making short, fast flights that often circle back to the same area of sand. I have discovered several populations of this grasshopper up and down the east coast. In almost every population, the hind wing coloration has been different. In part this is due to individual variation – ‘normal’ populations of the species have bright orange hind wings, but occasional populations have rosy red wings. In Florida, where there is sandy habitat almost everywhere, it seems as though orange-winged individuals prevail, judging from BugGuide records. My single specimen from Florida had orange wings, but a population I found in a small isolated sand pit in Maryland consisted solely of rosy red-winged specimens.


Typical habitat of Psinidia fenestralis – open sandy patches in grassy areas (Lee, NH)


A male Psinidia in habitat (Lee, NH)

In the New England states, an interesting phenomenon occurs. Populations with yellow wings become more prevalent as one travels up the coast, with yellow-winged individuals eventually becoming dominant in Maine. I am not sure as to why this is, but the northeastern populations tend to be very localized and quite far away from other populations. As such, there probably isn’t a lot (perhaps not at all?) of interbreeding. Compounded by this is the fact, mentioned earlier, that Psinidia doesn’t like to leave its sandy habitat, and would be highly unlikely to travel long distances across unsuitable habitat like forests, swamps, or urbanized places. This means that these isolated populations are free to develop without influence from other populations, and simply because of random genetic drift, an odd wing color variant might become the dominant one. This still doesn’t explain why yellow wings totally dominate in Maine, though. Perhaps somehow it is advantageous in more northern locales? Or is there some other selective agent at work? More study is needed for sure. In any case, I have located 6 Psinidia populations in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachustts (2 per state!), and there is a clear line of transition. Both Maine populations, the more northerly New Hampshire population, and one of the Massachusetts populations all have yellow wings, and are all in very small, restricted places. The other Massachusetts population was quite large and in an extensive sandy area, and all individuals bore orange wings. The southern New Hampshire population is particularly compelling – most of the Psinidia here had yellow wings, but a few boasted pale orange wings! Clearly there is something going on here of interest. I am hoping to locate more Psinidia populations of the northeast in the future to get a clearer picture of what is happening.


Northeastern yellow-winged variant of Psinidia fenestralis. Male (once again on left) from Old Orchard Beach, ME; female from Barnstead, NH; wing from South Berwick, ME.

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Map showing my own collection localities for Psinidia in ME, NH, and MA, with the hind wing color at each location marked. 

Solving the mystery of a baby grasshopper

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The mystery grasshopper nymph (Rome, NY)

In early June this year, I visited the Rome Sand Plains in Oneida county, NY. This interesting area is one of only two inland pine barrens in the state, and is characterized by sand dunes interspersed with pine barrens and peat bogs. The Sand Plains are known to be a haven for many rare birds, plants, and butterflies, so I figured there’d be plenty to see. The place really was quite unusual compared to the usual central New York habitats; it was much more reminiscent of habitats typical of coastal Maine and Massachusetts. Being so early in the season, however, most orthopterans were tiny babies. Small katydid and cricket nymphs were abundant, but I recognized them all as common species. The spring field cricket Gryllus veletis was cheerily chirping all around, the only insect singer out and about. Grasshoppers were less abundant. I found one adult Chortophaga viridifasciata and several Melanoplus nymphs, but among them there was one little grasshopper nymph that stuck out. It certainly wasn’t Melanoplus; it reminded me somewhat of the seaside grasshopper Trimerotropis maritima, but that species is restricted to shorelines of the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes. I picked it up for photos, hoping to be able to identify it later.


The habitat at Rome Sand Plains, NY: scattered bunch-grasses on sandy soil, surrounded by pine/oak woodland.

Back home, I hit the books. It was definitely an oedipodine (band-winged grasshopper) nymph, but which one? 10 genera were in range, and I could easily eliminate 7 of those based on the fact that they looked nothing like images of nymphs found online or elsewhere. I was left to ponder PsinidiaDissosteira, and Spharagemon. Psinidia was ruled out since it has two deep cuts in the pronotum and my nymph had only one. I had seen many nymphs of Dissosteira before, and although structurally my nymph did look similar, the coloring was unlike any Dissosteira I had ever seen, so I dismissed it. I then came to Spharagemon, a genus with which I have very little experience. Looking further, I discovered that there were 4 species of the genus in range, and two of them were restricted to habitats (open rock ledges and forest leaf litter) that did not match the open, sandy habitat of the Rome site. This left me with S. marmorata and S. collare, both found on open sandy soil and never before seen by me. Collare was mentioned as being rather similar to Dissosteira in shape, but smaller and more squat (and with very different hind wing coloration). I figured that this had to be it, but even if I was wrong it was going to be something I’d never seen before. Unfortunately the nymph died a few days after I found it, so I knew I was going to have to go back to solve the mystery.

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Adult male and female Spharagemon collare from Rome Sand Plains.

I was in Ithaca at the time, and I was not the only one of my friends that wanted to head up that way, but only one of us had a car (and it wasn’t me!). Working out a time that we were all free for the entire day seemed to take forever, but the day finally came on July 30th. We stopped at several other sites for birding before arriving at Rome. The sun was out, and things were singing. As soon as I stepped out of the car, a few adults of Dissosteira carolina, with their characteristic black wings, flew away from me. Could it be that my mystery hopper was actually just a Dissosteira dressed up for a party? I wandered out further into the sand pit. If my Spharagemon hunch was right, my hoppers should be flying away from me with yellow wings, not black. A quick stroll back and forth across the sand pit stirred up nothing. Time for a different tactic. I unpacked my net and started sweeping the low grasses at the edge of the sand. Suddenly something weird flew away from me. It wasn’t Dissosteira, but it definitely didn’t have yellow wings either. I chased the hopper and caught it. It WAS Spharagemon collare, but she was teneral (recently molted) and thus hadn’t developed the yellow wing colors yet! At last my mystery was solved. I walked more carefully around the sand pit and eventually located a few other individuals. I was extremely lucky that most were teneral since they were less mobile and thus were great cooperative photographic subjects. After having achieved great success here, we drove to two other spots within the Rome Sand Plains that also had open sand dunes, and indeed S. collare was found at those sites as well. It’s probable that the Rome population of this species is quite isolated from other populations, since there are many miles of forest and farmland between Rome and the next closest sandy areas. Such is likely the case with many of the animals and plants found in these kind of habitats.


Male Spharagemon collare in habitat.

A tidal wave of mole crickets


A tawny mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus vicinus) at Archbold Biological Station, FL.

The large dark shape on the ground in front of me seemed to sense my approach. It made a strange little hop and started rapidly running in the opposite direction. I knew immediately what it was and immediately caught hold of the fleeing creature. Wow, a mole cricket! And oh look, there was another, and another…


Mole crickets are some of those insects that you hear about in intro entomology classes, but rarely see for yourself. They represent their own family (Gryllotalpidae) of strange orthopterans, found pretty much worldwide. True to form, their front legs are highly modified for digging and bear a strong resemblance to the forelegs of actual moles. They tend to have a very similar body plan wherever in the world you encounter them. 7 species of mole crickets inhabit the continental U.S, but the only ones commonly seen are the 3 introduced species of the genus Neoscapteriscus found in the southeastern states. All were introduced from South America in the early 1900s and have since become serious pests of open grassy areas. One speciesthe southern mole cricket (N. borellii) is primarily carnivorous, but still causes damage by digging through roots. The lesser shortwinged mole cricket, N. abbreviatus, is a herbivore that loves grass roots and can cause major damage, but it has extremely reduced wings (hence the common name) and thus is only a problem in a few restricted sites. The worst offender of them all is the tawny mole cricket, N. vicinus, which is both herbivorous and fully winged, capable of doing a lot of damage and spreading rapidly to colonize new turf.


Tawny mole cricket, Neoscapteriscus vicinus. Note that the tibial dactyls (bottom pair of large ‘claws’) almost touch at their bases.

Back to the encounter. I quickly snatched all three mole crickets and dashed to my room. I was staying at the Archbold Biological Station near Venus, FL, a ridiculously diverse place containing some of the last remaining Florida Scrub habitat on the planet. There is a recently built guest lodge on the premises that hosts very nice accommodations as well as (most importantly) bright lights that attract plenty of insects. Into a plastic container went the mole crickets, and out the door I flew to see what else had arrived at the lights. Every few steps I took, I stopped to pick up another mole cricket, and another, and another. When I finally rounded the corner to the stairwell where most insects accumulated, I was greeted by mole crickets galore. They came barreling in from the darkness, hitting the ground with a thud. They jumped and flew about a few times before scuttling right and left across the pavement. If they reached a patch of soil they dug down and then came right back up to fly once more. I had seen mole crickets a few times in the past, but never like this. It was unbelievable to me that these large, heavy-bodied animals could even lift themselves off the ground, let alone fly about in droves. In the end I caught a grand total of about 30 mole crickets, all N. vicinus except for a lone N. borellii that seemed to be completely clueless among its larger, more active congeners.


Southern mole cricket, Neoscapteriscus borellii. The tibial dactyls are widely separated at their bases in this species.

I kept the mole crickets in a large tank with soil from around the station for several weeks. They were easy to keep and weren’t picky eaters. I would drop pieces of carrot, grape, apple, and other fruits and veggies on the soil surface, and the mole crickets would quickly drag the food into their burrows. They probably wouldn’t have been too difficult to breed, but breeding more of an invasive species felt like the wrong thing to do, so I didn’t try.


Just a few of the many Neoscapteriscus mole crickets that swarmed the lights at Archbold that spring evening. 

A katydid’s tale


The dark male Orchelimum nigripes, sitting on his usual perch.

A couple of months ago I wrote about finding and keeping Orchelimum nigripes, the black-legged meadow katydid. I finished that post with the note that three of my five nigripes (which I had collected on September 4th, 2016) were about to make it into February 2017, an unprecedented record. I intended to update that post when they finally died, but so many interesting things happened between the post and their deaths that I felt it deserved a full post rather than an add-on.

One of the three nigripes unfortunately did not make it into February, dropping off the map on January 21. The other two were alive well into February. Before this point I had not been able to tell them apart, but some rather interesting changes occurred at this late date that made it possible for me to characterize the two. One of them retained the usual summer coloration, as depicted in my photos from the earlier post. His wings were worn at the edges and he had a harder time climbing up smooth plastic surfaces, but otherwise he looked the same as he did when I first found him. The second katydid’s color changed dramatically. His entire body darkened, almost to the point of being completely black. If I had seen him in the wild then I would not have recognized him as a black-legged meadow katydid, so profound was the color transformation. I am not quite sure of the reason for his change. Many late-season grasshopper species (especially Melanoplus spp) turn darker as the season progresses, presumably to stay warm in increasingly cooler weather. The dark coloration may help them absorb more sunlight and thus prolong their lives as far into the fall as possible. I have noticed similar changes in katydids and tree crickets as well, but never so drastic. Why would this color change happen only in February, well past the time when these katydids would have reasonably needed it in the wild? And why didn’t it happen to the other male?

In any case, color was not the only thing that changed. Their behavior as the winter wore on underwent a surprising shift as well. Before, they had been very skittish around me. They would sing loudly and unabashedly in their private quarters, but as soon as I jarred the container or opened the lid to replace food, they would clam up, and sometimes spring about a few times in an escape attempt (which I always thwarted). This changed in February, however. When I opened the lids to their containers, they would momentarily stop singing, but after a few seconds start right back up again! Incredibly, it got to the point where I could carefully take them out, and they would continue singing while on my hand or on a table! Never in my history of keeping singing insects have I encountered an insect that would so brazenly sing in the face of imminent ‘danger’ from a large mammal such as myself. I was also able to do something I had only done before with mantids: offer them bits of food with forceps and have them accept it while sitting on my fingertips.

I also got to know their individual personalities a bit better. The one who retained his bright coloration was clearly the ‘alpha male’, as it were (for lack of a better term). His song was loud and persistent, and he clearly scared off the other male whenever they were allowed near each other. Once I let him get a bit too close to the other male and the ‘alpha’ rushed at him with mouthparts agape. Obviously I didn’t let this interaction go any further. The dark-colored male was equally persistent with his singing, but his song was not nearly as loud. Over time, it became very scratchy. The typical “tick-tick-tick-bzzzzzzzz” song slowly morphed into a “tick-tick-tick” followed by a low-pitched rattle. This male preferred to sit in his food dish and eat food when it was replaced, whereas the ‘alpha’ was constantly walking around. In this way they truly became little pet katydids, for a while.

Unfortunately I knew this had to end soon. On February 7th I found the ‘alpha’ lying dead on the bottom of his enclosure. With his death my room became a lot quieter. When the heater was off, the soft rattling of the dark male could be heard (it’s a loud heater!). I fully expected him to die soon after his companion, but once again I underestimated the little katydids. Throughout February he continued to sing, and soon I started hoping for what seemed like the impossible: for him to make it into March. For fear of stressing him out, I didn’t attempt to handle him any more and tried to make cleaning his cage as stress-less a procedure as possible. He became very, very docile towards the end. It was almost as if he knew what to do when I picked up the food dish, as he would step off it and wait on the substrate, climbing back on to eat once food had been replaced. On the last week of February I checked him constantly. Everything seemed normal and he continued to sing.

February 28th. I noticed that he had not sung all day. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have thought much of it, but he had been singing constantly for the past several days. I went to bed hoping to god that he would be alive in the morning.

March 1. I sprung out of bed and quickly peered into his container. Aha! He was indeed alive! It was an unbelievable feat that this katydid had pulled off, surviving into March when by all accounts he should have died off in October or early November. But something was amiss. He wasn’t sitting in the food dish where he usually hung out, he was standing on top of the substrate. I opened the container and gently nudged him. He walked forward a few steps and then stopped. I could immediately tell that he was dying. I replaced his food and guided him back to the food dish. He was not interested but sat there anyway. I went to class, and when I came back he was standing on the substrate again. When I went to sleep that night, he was slumped in the corner, but still alive.

March 2, 2017. During the night he had quietly departed the land of the living. When I picked his lifeless body out of the enclosure, one hind leg kicked, a reflex muscle response. It was his last movement.

Truly, it was a privilege to care for these katydids. When I come across their species again I know that where one might see a delicate insect, there is a strong-willed, unbelievably tough little soul (I know I’m personifying but can you blame me?). And as this story will attest, the black-legged meadow katydid makes for a splendid singing companion that will outlive all your other favorite singers.


The dark male nigripes, wings raised in song and tarsus raised in cleaning, on my hand.

A tough new resident of NY


Orchelimum nigripes, the black-legged meadow katydid. A striking animal with a distinctive red and white face and dark legs. (Clymer, NY)

One afternoon in early September of this year, I found myself situated in a thick stand of red-osier dogwood slightly taller than myself. For the past 30 minutes I had been wading through first goldenrod, then brambles, then dogwood, guided by my ears. I had heard a very enticing call and I was determined to find the singer, but this was getting to be too much. With sweat pouring down my neck, bramble thorns pricking my arms, and ants scurrying across my shirt, I strained my eyes to see through the maze of branches. The mystery caller was right above me, repeating himself quickly every few seconds – a fast “tick-tick-tick-bzzzzzzzz…tick-tick-tick-buzzzzzzz” –yet I could not see him. If this was who I thought it was, he should be quite colorful and obvious, and I could not figure out why I was having so much trouble. Suddenly I saw a hair-thin antenna flick out from behind a twig, then flick back. My heart skipped a beat, and I carefully grasped the dogwood, pulling downward. Once I was within range, I waved my hand behind the twig. A gorgeous multicolored katydid darted into view. “Gotcha”, I thought. I had fallen victim to the “meadow dance” that meadow katydids often perform to hide from predators, but now that he had revealed himself, he made an easy catch

Once I wrangled the katydid into a vial, I confirmed what I had suspected he was: Orchelimum nigripes, the black-legged meadow katydid. One of the more colorful meadow katydids in the north, nigripes has a wide range in the central U.S. and is mainly found in wetland areas. They are also found in the Chesapeake Bay drainage, where they are likely introduced by humans (first collected there in the early 1900’s). Here they sometimes hybridize with a closely related species, Orchelimum pulchellum, whose range is mainly along the east coast. The locality where I had just found my katydid was Chautauqua county in far western New York. I had never seen records of nigripes from New York, so I was quite excited and determined to collect more. It took some time, and although the rest were a bit easier than the first individual, it was still a lot of work. I eventually managed to capture 5 males (didn’t see a single female). Judging by the amount of calling I was hearing, there were likely hundreds more in the area, but it was starting to get dark and I had to take my leave.

I later contacted Dr. Leo Shapiro at the University of Maryland, who has worked extensively with Orchelimum nigripes. He confirmed my ID and informed me that the species has recently been detected in northern Ohio and southern Ontario, and although they had not been recorded from New York before, my discovery is not a surprise and may represent a natural range extension along Lake Erie.


Nigripes calling in situ at the collection site.

I set up my new critters in containers. Meadow katydids I have kept in the past have fed well on carrot slices, and these katydids were no different. One died almost immediately for some reason, but the others accommodated quickly. Within a day or two of setup, they began to sing. And man did they sing. Day and night they belted out their ticking and whirring calls, sending me to sleep every evening and greeting me each morning. When I traveled to Mississippi in early October, I gave most of my pets to a friend to care for, but I left my 4 nigripes alone with some extra food since I didn’t want to burden my poor friend with that many hungry mouths to feed. I was not too attached to them at the time so it didn’t matter to me then if the nigripes lived or died. To my surprise when I returned, they were still alive; one even sang a few times while I cleaned up and organized material from the trip! Within a few hours of my replacing their food, all four started up singing again. I realized that I was dealing with a tougher species than I had reckoned.

Although I had a taste of their tenacity, come November I figured that the end was nigh. Even the toughest of singing Orthoptera usually don’t make it past late November in the northeast. One by one, the other singers in my arsenal died off, but the nigripes remained. I was shocked after final exams when the time came to head home from Cornell for winter break and they were still singing. As if to prove their point, I heard a few scattered songs break out from the back of the car during the trip home. Once home, I revised my estimate: surely they’d die off in December! But again I was wrong–one did die, but the other three kept on singing. I am watching them clamber about in their containers as I write this. No doubt their home in Chautauqua county is quite devoid of the songs of summer. I am awed at the ability of this little katydid species to survive far past their normal lifespan. Only once before have I had an orthopteran species that normally dies off in the fall survive so long into the winter–last year I cared for a male Microcentrum rhombifolium (greater anglewinged katydid) until his death on January 16th. This was astonishing in its own right, but if my nigripes survive for just one more week, they will make into February! Fingers crossed.


One of my three remaining nigripes having a bite to eat.