SEPTEMBER
1996

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

9-12-96

Singing in the Grass

It's fall. In the nighttime the roadsides are alive with the sounds of music! Not the sounds of music made famous by Julie Andrews, but music of sorts. These melodies from the grass are provided by the crickets, without Buddy Holly, and katydids and coneheads, which isn't the name of a rock group.

Katydids, coneheads and crickets are all insects. When the sun goes down in August and September, these music makers join in to produce nature's evening song. Some may say that the chirps, clicks and scrapes produced by insects don't deserve to be called music. None-the-less, such sounds are a sweet symphony to nature lovers.

Many of the insect songsters are members of the order Orthoptera, which includes the well-known crickets and grasshoppers. The Orthopteran choir is made up of several species of insects. At, or even below, ground level we hear the sounds of the field cricket as it chirps away while hiding under stones or brush. The house cricket, which inspired Charles Dickens' "The Cricket on the Hearth," looks and sounds much like the field cricket. The house cricket was introduced into this country from Europe. Both the house and field crickets chirp at night, but also can be heard during the day.

A group of smaller crickets, known as ground crickets, also contribute a note or two to the insect serenade. These insects produce soft, high-pitched sounds that some describe as a trill. These songsters are difficult to catch in the act of singing for, like most insect musicians, they stop singing when someone disturbs their habitat.

The tall grass along roadsides provides the singing perch for one of the long-horned grasshoppers. Named for their long antennae, these singers produce a sound that entomologist S.W. Frost described as zeep, zeep, zeep or zip, zip, zip. One of the long-horned grasshoppers is called the conehead because of the conical shape of its head. It sings from tall grass and produces a constant zzzzzzzzzzzzzz sound. The buzzing is easy to hear, but it is not easy to find the musician. The coneheads, like most of the long-horned grasshoppers, are green or brown and resemble the plants on which they sit. 

The trees and bushes also harbor insect songsters. These are the tree crickets and the katydids. The tree crickets are small light-colored insects that are excellent singers. The song of the tree crickets is a trill that is frequently mistaken for the croaking of frogs.

The loudest of the nighttime insect crooners is the katydid. This insect is more often heard than seen, for it sings from the tree tops. Its song is a harsh chirp of two or three syllables that is said to sound like katy-did or katy-didn't! Hence the name.

All of that singing from the grass and the highest trees might not be sweet music to some people's ears. It means the end of summer and the approach of winter.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann