Thursday, October 10, 2013

More Buggy Blather

After that post about catching bumblebees in the act, I returned the field a few times, hoping to catch more insect couples in flagrante. Maybe I intended to do some kind of series?

But early fall isn't the best time to go out looking for bugs. The meadow is already much quieter than it was a month ago. I've been hearing katydids every now and then in the afternoons -- one of many small but unmistakable indicators that autumn is settling in.

Yes, yes. Katydids are summer insects, but during the summer they are nocturnal. AND THIS IS IMPORTANT ENOUGH FOR CAPS AND A TAGENT. Too many people, I find, mistake katydids for cicadas.

For the record: if you're in the eastern United States on a hot summer afternoon and a sound like this passes through you, what you're experiencing is a cicada. If you're out at night during the same months and these noises are bearing down on you from every direction, you're surrounded by katydids.

Katydids are elusive little buggers. You'll step outside and hear hundreds of them, night after night, but never see one. They're built and programmed for secrecy: they look like leaves, they hang out in trees, and they stop making noise and sit still when they notice you approaching.

This summer was my first time actually seeing a katydid up close when one chanced to wander out of the trees and get caught away from its camouflage. It was really quite adorable: since it didn't have the faculties to understand that the jig was already up, it just went on behaving like it would under its usual, more advantageous circumstances:

Click for full size! (Fixed!)

True story!

(And sorry. That was two tangents.)

Anyway: once autumn is underway, katydids become active during the daytime, but only in thickly wooded and shaded places. I don't know what causes this shift in behavior (light? temperature?), and I wasn't able to find much information about it. (Though I did find an article repeating a bit of folklore claiming that the first frost will occur six weeks after the first katydids are heard during the day.) At any rate, the autumn diurnal katydids are few and far between. They're the stragglers from the summer, still going at it after most of their peers have turned in, striculating with less and less vigor as the temperatures drop.

I used to hear the solitary October katydid and think of an old gentleman I used to work with at an office job: he was seventy-something years old and dying of lung cancer, but still coming into work six days a week because that's what he'd always done. I'm not sure he knew how to act otherwise. And when I heard the autumn katydids just puttering on, they seemed enervated and lonely to me, and somehow existentially tragic: they didn't know how to do anything but keep being katydids, calling out for more katydids, unaware that they were the only ones left.

My better-hearted and probably more optimistic friend Chris sees it differently: he recently compared them to those kids who are doing bumps at 4:45 AM and urging their fatigued buddies to rally, to head with them to the after-after party across town. The October katydids aren't lonesome old men: they're party people, raging and raving past the sunrise and into the morning and beyond, all the way up until the first fall frost turns the music off at last.

I think I prefer Chris's reading.


  1. Very cool.

    In my neck of the woods, we have praying mantises (mantii?) that don't show up too much in the city, but every once in a while, I'll get one in my house or in my garage. They pull the same schtick, too, pretending to be leaves and looking at you with this kind of glare that says "goawaygoawaygoawayI'MALEAFgoawaygoaway~" They're all kinds of cool. I had one in my kitchen a couple days ago, and I like having them around because they eat all the other pesky bugs.

    1. I saw a praying mantis the other day! He wasn't having my company, though. It's hard not to respect something that takes a fighting stance when confronted with something 100 times its size.

      But yeah -- you've nailed the reason I never brush spiders out of my living quarters. If you've got spiders, that means you've got less of every OTHER kind of bug.

  2. Happenstance that the electronic web, medium, future-existence is not overly run with sanity. I hope your older sister enjoys your meekly fatuous and the german load.