Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

August 12, 2007

Freckle Face Katy

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:24 am

You’ve probably noticed that these late summer nights are getting noisy.  No, I don’t mean the party crowd down the street or the increased train traffic- I am referring to the assemblage of vociferous insects that are rocking the night.  Nature’s songsters, mostly in the form of crickets, katydids, grasshoppers, and cicadas are at their musical peak in August & September.  They are all coming of age right now and trumpeting their new found voices.

  I’d like to introduce you to one of these musicians. He just happened to drop in the other day, literally falling on top of my head.  It was a young Greater Anglewing Katydid.  He represents one of many species of Katydids in our area. This group of insects is more often heard than seen, so it is a treat to see one up close. Take a look at this individual and you’ll see why they can be hard to see. Katydids spend their brief lives up in the treetops where they feed on the leafy vegetation. Living up to the adage that you “are what you eat,” they are the epitome of greenness.  They blend in perfectly to their chosen background and enjoy the advantage of camophlage. 

  The individual who descended onto my head was an immature. He had a bit of growing to do and eventually those little wing buds will expand into a perfect imitation of a leaf (see a picture of the adult insect here).

  The Katydids are in the Grasshopper & Cricket clan. They owe their name to an oft repeated phrase uttered by one of their number. It is claimed that many years ago a young woman fell deeply in love with a man.  Let’s say he was a prince, or something, just to spice up the story.  She was a peasant and her name was Katy Orthopterwitcz.  Well things didn’t work out – the parents hired lawyers and ended the forbidden affair. Later the prince married someone else equal to his social level.  Personally, I think the prince was a dolt and probably didn’t give a hoot about Katy, but I can’t condone Miss Katy’s response to the whole thing. You see, the prince and his new bride were found murdered a few nights later.  An open window revealed the killer’s escape route, but all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put the case together again. In other words they couldn’t solve it. Just outside the open window, a lone witness attempted to cross the species barrier and reveal the killer’s identity.  From outside the window he testified “Katy did.  Katy did it. Katy did.” No one paid any attention to the tiny green insect and he’s still trying to gain the attention of Cold Case detectives to this day.

  All Katydids don’t testify. To be fair about it, only the so-called “True Katydids” can lay claim to the above story. Our immature ‘Did is a member of a splinter group called the “False Katydids.” They are not fake, but simply different.  To the eye they look just like other Katydids, but are unveiled by the ear. Our Anglewing Katy will not be able to speak until his “voice” grows in. The calls are generated by rubbing together a rasp and file mechanism on the upper portion of the wings.  Even at maturity, he will only be able to manage a series of loud “tsks” as if shaking his finger at this whole “Katy” thing.  Take a hear here to listen to a few examples of the Anglewing’s call.

  There may be an explanation as to why the king’s men ignored the original insect testimony many years ago. Maybe they couldn’t hear it.  While our hearing abilities range in the 30 to 16,000 Hertz range, insects typically call within the 4,000 to 20,000 Hertz range. This means that insects, such as Katydids, perform in the upper range our hearing abilities to begin with.  Thanks to the effects of age, and a condition known as “presbycusis,” humans tend to loose hearing perception of sounds emitted at over the 10,000 Hertz level by the time they are 50 years old.  Perhaps the King’s men were all A.A.R.P. members that had lost their ability to hear Presbyterians cussing or insects singing.

  Greater Anglewings call within the 9,000 Hertz range. (In case you think I am making this up, please look into a new book called “The Songs of Insects” by Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger – it will open up your eyes and ears to the world of insect music).

  Before I released the young Anglewing, I grabbed it for a close-up shot (see here). Those long hind legs make for convenient handles as long as you are careful.  Oddly enough, Katydids are clumsy jumpers, but they are a leggy group. Just for fun, take a look at this image of a hatchling Anglewing to see what this critter looked like a few weeks ago (cute, eh?).

  Note the abundance of freckles covering the Greater Anglewing’s face.  It reminds me of my daughter Kate, who has always hated her freckles. I maintain to this day that they are points of beauty, but when she was little I could always tell if “Katy Did It” or not (left a mess or threw out her broccoli, not murder) if her freckles disappeared. She turns red when embarrassed and the freckles would fade against the background of her flush cheeks.

  Insect don’t blush, but this individual flashed me an indignant glare which is identical to my daughter’s occasional disapproving glances (like right now, for instance, as she discovers I am writing about her.)

  One thing about the Anglewing is totally different from my daughter. Take another look at the picture and you’ll notice a semicircular patch on each front leg – just below the bend of the leg. These structures are called Tympanum and they are eardrums. Katydids hear each other via their front knees. I suppose old Katydids practically have to touch knees in order to hear each other by the time they are the equivalent of being 50 years old.

  October frosts will silence our little ‘Did.  His kind will over winter within clusters of eggs inserted into twigs. He will wither just like the leaves around him, but I look forward to one of his kids falling on my head next year.

1 Comment »

  1. Cold Case looks like CSI just like anyother detective tv series-.-

    Comment by Madelyn Cox — July 12, 2010 @ 11:36 am

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