One of the lesser known treasures of the Washington region is the Audubon Naturalist Center at Woodend. Nestled inside the Beltway in Chevy Chase Maryland, this 40 acre preserve boasts a bounty of natural wonders in an urban landscape. While teaching a group of Master Naturalist interns the fine art of capturing insects, one plucky trainee apprehended a gorgeous female meadow katydid in her bug net. Upon extracting the katydid from the net the katydid demonstrated the utility of its powerful hind legs with a prodigious leap that exceeded her body length by a dozen times. Meadow katydids are abundant and noticeable in this season having developed from tiny nymphs in spring and summer into robust adult leapers in autumn.
One of the true pleasures of the fall is the serenade provided by katydids and their relatives, crickets. Both day and night in September and October trills, chirps, and clicks can be heard in forests, meadows, and home landscapes as they engage in dating games. The song of our friend the meadow katydid consists of a series of buzzes and ticks created by the male to attract his mate. The object of his attention responds first to the general din created by several males as they vie to create the perfect song. After locating other members of her species, the lady meadow cricket plays the role of Miley Cyrus on the Voice and judges the worthiness of her potential mate by the quality of his song. Clever scientists have found that the buzz component of the male’s song may be the line that seals the deal with his mate. To hear the courting song of the male meadow katydid, please click on the following link:
Like katydids we met in previous episodes, meadow katydids are omnivores. Foliage, flowers, and occasional meaty tidbits like aphids are on the menu. As we admired our captive katydid and I mentioned that it was a female, one of the students inquired how one knows the gender of katydid. For many members of the katydid, cricket, and grasshopper clan, this task is pretty simple. As with all insects, female katydids are the ones that lay eggs. To protect her eggs from the wicked winter, female katydids deposit their eggs in protected locations beneath the surface of the soil, in plant tissue, or under the bark of a tree depending on the species. This task is accomplished with the help of an elongated egg-laying tube called an ovipositor which is found on the rear end of the katydid. Males lack an ovipositor so differentiation of female and make katydids is a straightforward task.
Whether climbing up a pumpkin stem or dining on an apple, short-winged meadow katydids are classy creatures.
On a warm summer day take a moment to visit the meadow and listen for the katydid’s song. If you are lucky enough to spot one, check for the ovipositor and see if you have discovered the troubadour, a male singing his heart out, or the object of this desire, the lovely female meadow katydid.
We thank the fall class of Montgomery County Master Naturalists and the Audubon Naturalists at Woodend for providing the inspiration for this episode. The interesting article "Calling Communication in Meadow Katydids (Orthoptera, Tettigoniidae): Female Preferences for Species-Specific Wingstroke Rates" by Patrick A. Guerra and Glenn K. Morris, and "Songs of Insects: A Guide to the Voices of Crickets, Katydids & Cicadas" by Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger were used to prepare this episode.