A Day of Bush Katydids

I was at our family prairie for a while last weekend, checking on grazing progress and generally catching up on what’s been happening.  There were several highlights of the trip, but one big one was that I saw LOTS of bush katydids.  Apparently, they had gone through their final molt to adulthood recently because they were flying all around the prairie (nymphs don’t have functional wings).  They were flushing away from my feet as I walked, which was nice because then I could watch where they landed.  That was about the only way I could spot them because of their impressive camouflage.  During a couple hours on site, I was able to track and re-find enough katydids to get quite a few photographs (all the photos in this post were from the same evening).

Bush katydids are exquisitely beautiful.

Katydids are similar to grasshoppers, but are in different suborders (meaning they split off fairly high on the taxonomic tree).  If you’re of a certain age, or read older natural history books, you may have first learned to call them “long-horned grasshoppers”, but that’s a fairly outdated term nowadays.  Katydids are pretty easy to distinguish from grasshoppers by their antennae length.  Grasshoppers have short antennae, while katydids have very long threadlike antennae – usually longer than their bodies.

Bush katydids (Genus Scudderia) are one of several groups of katydids, and tend to have a very green leaf-like appearance.  They are so leaf-like, in fact, most of us probably walk past many more of them than we notice, despite the fact they are pretty big insects (often over 2 inches in length).

Males of these and other katydids make courtship “songs” by rubbing their wings together.  While we hear those sounds through the ears on our head, katydids hear sounds through tympanum located on their legs.

The dark oval on the leg of this bush katydid is the tympanum, or ear.

Here are more photos of bush katydids from last weekend.  I saw a lot more of them than I photographed…these are just the ones that sat still long enough for me to get within range (some of them flew a couple times before giving up and letting me take their picture).

Crickets and katydids, including bush katydids, provide much of the evening sound in prairies.  There are many websites that feature those sounds, but here is one that is set up pretty well to help you distinguish between the various species.  If you can’t find them by sight, maybe you can at least find them by ear!

7 thoughts on “A Day of Bush Katydids

  1. Susan August 2, 2018 / 8:19 am

    These photos are amazing. I hiked prairie by Cole Camp MO yesterday and these guys were everywhere. Now I have a better understanding of their complicated and very efficient anatomy as to how they function. They are perfectly adaptive to the prairie ecosystem – those feet and “hands”! You can really see their method of grasping verticals. And the surface of their face looks like glazed ceramic if you imagined it to be bigger scale. Thank you Chris for this incredible insight into their world.

  2. savannagal August 2, 2018 / 10:15 am

    Crikey. I had no idea there were so many kinds of katydids. I wonder which one is in my neck of the woods, an hour NW of Chicago. I do see them in my native gardens, along with walking sticks, praying mantis and all sorts of other insects.

  3. coniontises! August 2, 2018 / 5:31 pm

    Regarding your tick-trefoil post:

    “Moreover, arthropods may become entrapped in sticky and/or toxic exudates, such as acyl sugars or polyphenols, produced by glandular trichomes.”

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3546740/
    (disclaimer: as an insect hobbyist, I am not very plant-knowledgeable)

    I have observed small dead insects glued to a garden plant which matches the appearance of petunia pics online. Interestingly, a small green true bug (likely Miridae) species was breeding on the plant. Interestingly, it was not only immune to the glue but was also observed sucking from corpses on many occasions.

    The green bug is at least partially herbivorous though, because I have seen it drinking from tomato stems. Many herbivore invertebrates (pillbugs, katydids, darkling beetles) will gladly feed on corpses, presumably due to the high nutrient levels.

  4. coniontises! August 2, 2018 / 5:32 pm

    Regarding your tick-trefoil post:

    “Moreover, arthropods may become entrapped in sticky and/or toxic exudates, such as acyl sugars or polyphenols, produced by glandular trichomes.”

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3546740/
    (disclaimer: as an insect hobbyist, I am not very plant-knowledgeable)

    I have observed small dead insects glued to a garden plant which matches the appearance of petunia pics online. Interestingly, a small so of green true bug (likely Miridae) was breeding on the plant. Interestingly, it was not only immune to the glue but was also observed sucking from corpses on many occasions.

    The green bug is at least partially herbivorous though, because I have seen it drinking from tomato stems. Many herbivore invertebrates (pillbugs, katydids, darkling beetles) will gladly feed on corpses, presumably due to the high nutrient levels.

  5. Chronicallyundiagnosed August 3, 2018 / 9:38 am

    Amazing!

  6. James McGee August 3, 2018 / 9:00 pm

    How many pictures did you have to take to get one with a katydid tymphanum perfectly focused?

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