Edit: I actually wrote this last night, but apparently when I hit “Publish”, WordPress didn’t actually publish it, or something went wrong, or I hit the wrong button but thought I’d hit the right one… who knows. Here it is now, in any case.
I’ve been having some technical difficulties with my camera the last couple of days, and as I sort them out I’ve been relying on photos I’ve already got on my hard drive. Fortunately, there are plenty, some 30,000 image files, in fact (I think I should be back to shooting new stuff again tomorrow anyway, though). Today’s photo is actually going waaaay back. I took these pictures last October, while visiting my parents’ old house for Thanksgiving. I found this intriguing insect sitting on the railing of the front entry porch.
When most of us think of crickets, what probably come to mind are field crickets, those chunky-bodied black insects that we’ll often see in the lawn or gardens. A few reptile owners might think of the brown sort you buy from the pet store, which are called house crickets. However, there are some 115 cricket species to be found in North America, in 25 genera. These encompass a broad range of shapes and sizes. Crickets share the thick, strong hind legs and long antennae with their cousins the grasshoppers and katydids. They can be told apart from these other two groups by a pair of long, thin tail projections extending from the rear of the abdomen.
Tree crickets are a very slender group compared to most other crickets, and more resemble grasshoppers than crickets. They belong to the genus Oecanthus, and most members are primarily identified based on the pattern of black markings at the base of their antennae. I neglected to get a good photo of the face of this one, but did find one that showed the base of the antenna, and cropped it in closely. Based on this photo, I believe this to be a Narrow-winged Tree Cricket, Oecanthus niveus, which have J-shaped lower markings. They hatch in early summer, and are grown and mate in the fall. It’s possible this one was out looking for a partner.
My Kaufman Insects guide indicates that Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about the song of tree crickets that “If moonlight could be heard, it would sound like that.” Rather than the repetitious “chirp chirp chirp” that we think of as filler in uncomfortable silences, tree crickets sing in long trills. You can hear a male of this species at this YouTube video (links to YouTubes of other species are there as well).
Females can be told apart from males by their long, thick ovipositor. This one is a female. I’m not certain what she’s doing in this photo; she bent her abdomen forward underneath her and appeared to be cleaning it. You can see her two “tail” projections folded against the ground underneath her.
Typically, tree crickets eat aphids and other soft insects, though they’ll occasionally forage on fruits and foliage. It appears that most of their leaf-munching is tied to creating song posts from which the males sing to females. They cut a small hole in the leaf, and sit in it while they call, I guess using the leaf as a parabola.
You can read a bit more about the life history of tree crickets at the website http://oecanthinae.com/ – the tree crickets have their own web domain even!