AUGUST
1995

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

8-24-95

Katydids Do It In The Trees

One of the sounds commonly heard during the nighttime hours during August and September in eastern hardwood forests is that of the katydid. So exuberant are these insect songsters that their efforts sometimes produce a crescendo of deafening proportions—a swell of sound so overwhelming that it can be described as the noise of the forest night.

These tree-dwelling insects appear to engage in shouting matches. “Proclaim it from the highest tree tops” is the operating philosophy of the “singing” katydid. The sound produced might not be much of a song, but it is the basis for the name katydid. The song is either two or three syllables and, to some early listeners anyway, it sounded as if the insect was crying “Katy Did, Katy Did, Katy Did.” Listen closely to katydids singing, and you can notice that some seem to say “Katy Didn’t.”

Because of the two songs, a group of singing katydids seem to be in a shouting match about whether Katy did or Katy didn’t. What it is that Katy did or didn’t do is not apparent from the vociferous exchange.

It is the male of the species that sings in most insects, and that is the case with the katydid. The song is used by the male to attract the female of the species. The sounds that are a bit noisy to humans are apparently sweet sounding to the female katydid, because she follows the tones to a rendezvous with the crooner.

The sex of the insect doing the singing has not always been clear to those listening to the katydid song. For instance, the poet Philip Freneau wrote these lines about the insect and its song:

“In her suit of green arrayed,

Hear her singing in the shade—

Caty-did, Caty-did, Caty-did!”

Freneau got the color correct. The green is a functional hue so the insect can blend into the tree leaves where they li8ve, but he mistakenly attributed the song to the female—hear her singing! He also used the letter c rather than k to describe the sound.

Regardless of how you spell it, the sound of katydids is common where trees abound. It is a sound not always appreciated by everyone. Some years ago, a friend of mine from a large city complained that he had trouble sleeping at our house in the late summer because of the noise—noise dominated by singing katydids in the woods nearby. Each to their own I suppose. I would much rather listen to noisy katydids than the blare of sirens and car horns that seem to dominate the nighttime sounds in metropolitan areas.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann