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Singing in the Garden: Insect Songs of Autumn

For years now, my heart has grown more and more tender towards crickets.  From the flower beds, the fall field cricket’s sweet little end of summer chirps are so beautiful, and then… fall begins.  So many insects are singing now in the garden, creating such rich layers of trills and chirps. And over the last month, it has been truly so rewarding to learn who exactly is singing a few of these beautiful little insect songs. The world comes alive in a new way, and just like that, there’s another thing to enjoy this time of year, another thing to love. And the songs are fun to learn.  

The fall field cricket (Gryllus pennsylvanicus). Looks like he’s having a good day.

Some songs in nature we can easily individuate: specific birds sing specific songs, specific frogs, toads, whales, specific children, and so on.  When we think about insects singing, sometimes we might be able to say it’s a cricket or a cicada, but beyond that, insect songs become a bit of a blur.  Who is that singing out there?

An unidentified conehead (a type of katydid), camouflaged in the purple coneflowers. If you can tell what species this is, please let me know!

The Singing Insects!

Almost all the songs we hear in summer and fall come from only two orders of insects: the orthoptera (crickets, grasshoppers, and katydids) and homoptera (cicadas).

However, within those groups there are many different singers, with each species having their own unique song.  There might be a few too many songs for the home gardener to learn them all, but with a little close listening, it is really pretty easy to learn the handful of loudest singers around your home.

Over the last month, listening to crickets and trying to sneak up on them, has been so enjoyable, such a nice break in my day, I really recommend that you try it. Nothing beats back a rough week like finding a black-legged meadow katydid, after some intense listening (and getting a ladder).  Victory comes in many sizes.  I see you, Katydid!

A black legged meadow katydid singing from the top of an American plum tree (Prunus americana). Katydids and crickets sing by stridulation, rubbing upper and lower wings together to vibrate the wings and produce so many different kinds of sounds, from rasping sounds to pleasant chirps and trills.

A Surprising Trig

Little can raise one’s spirits like finding an unexpected and surprising cricket in the yard. This is a true story. Last week, there was a very loud insect in my yard. For this post, I was, of course, trying to identify the loudest crickets around my house. It really sounded to me like the slow tinkling trig (trigs are a type of cricket)(Anaxipha tinnulenta), but the range of that trig was not supposed to extend beyond southern Missouri. I told my husband of my suspicions, perhaps in an excited way. He thought I was crazy. I explained to him about something called Enthusiasm for Crickets.

I ended up sending a couple videos of the song to Dr. Thomas J. Walker and Dr. David H. Funk who had written the paper, Systematics and acoustics of North American Anaxipha (Gryllidae: Trigonidiinae) (from which I gathered they were the experts on this topic). Lucky for curious gardeners, most insect scientists are very approachable, and that was the case here! Dr. Funk quickly confirmed that the song was an exact match for the slow tinkling trig, and Dr. Walker, based on that confirmation, notified me that they would add a point on the Singing Insects of North America‘s range map for this species. (how exciting!)

The song in question! Coming from somewhere near this heart-leaved aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium).

Apparently, with climate change and warming, this species (among many others) has been expanding its range north. Because it is the northwestern-most observation of the slow tinkling trig, it would be helpful if I could also collect a specimen. I have tried sneaking up on this guy before to get a picture, and was super unsuccessful. But I now have an insect net and have begun doing some “sweeps.” So we shall see!

You might have thought that would be the end of it. Me, too. But then, it continued. This week I heard another really loud cricket in my yard. To me, it really sounded like the jumping bush cricket (Orocharis saltator). But again, this cricket’s range had not yet extended into Iowa. So again, I sent off the songs and pictures to the authorities, Dr. Funk and Dr. Walker, and indeed, it was the jumping bush cricket, in Iowa.

The jumping bush cricket in southern Iowa!
The jumping bush cricket (Orocharis saltator) hanging out in a butterfly roost (butterflies don’t really roost in there, but the crickets like it).

The first time that I was the first official person to find a northernmost cricket, it was super exciting. The second time… it was exciting, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of got this feeling like: Wait a second, what is going on here? Surely I’m not the only one in Iowa listening to crickets. Where-the-crickets are the avid amateur grigologists (cricket scientists)? Or maybe even the department of natural resources people who might be keeping track of these things? Well, I don’t know. Perhaps there are not as many people carefully listening to crickets as we might have thought.

But you could become one! And who knows, if you live north of me, I think you could probably easily nab the northernmost cricket observation title for both of those little crickets.

Learning A Few Insect Songs

“We encourage you to take part in the development of a new aesthetic… where the cacophony of confusing insect sounds magically transforms into a delicate concert of creatures dear to the heart.”

Wil Hershberger and Lang Elliot, Songs of Insects

Songs of Insects, A Guide to the Voices of Crickets, Katydids, and Cicadas is an amazing online resource for identifying the singing insects of central and eastern North America by song or by sight, and also learning more about each species.

To begin, I would recommend finding one song you can clearly hear in your yard, and trying to sneak up on the singer. Get a picture if you can, or if not, a video that records the song, or maybe you are just so close that the song reverberates itself into your brain. Then go to the Songs of Insects thumbnail guide to species to check out which one it might be.

  • If the song is kind of raspy and dry, look to the katydids.
  • If it has a chirp or tone, look to the crickets.
  • Try to pay special attention to rhythms of songs, as that can really help in identification.

Once you really begin to listen for individual songs, after a bit, this chirping trilling language does become clearer. The songs come into focus and you will probably be able to hear that there is a much greater diversity of orthoptera in your life than you realized. 

Right now, the following species are some of the most singing guys around my home in southern Iowa. The names link to the Songs of Insects ID pages.

Fall Field Cricket
(Gryllus pennsylvanicus)

I finally found this guy singing! Woohoo! It took awhile! Singing field crickets go quiet when you get near. I think the trick to finding these guys is to just lay down where you think they’re singing, look for cracks in the ground and wait. In this manner, I finally saw two singing!

Black-legged meadow katydid
(Orchelimum nigripes)

These guys are really pretty easy to sneak up on.

Round-tipped conehead
(Neoconocephalus retusus)

Coneheads are similar to katydids, but their heads are shaped like cones! This species is also pretty easy to find.

Slow tinkling trig
(Anaxipha tinnulenta)

A beautiful high-pitched song, but so hard to find! They like to sing from woodland edges. This is a bit of a chorus in the beginning. These guys are really hard to find!

Jumping bush cricket
(Orocharis saltator)

A chorus here singing from the silver maple. Like toads, two singing near one another will take on different tones.

Carolina ground cricket
(Eunemobius carolinus)

This cricket sings in the basement and out in the yard.
I have never found this cricket!

Photo by Ryan Hodnett, CC

A very big thank you to Dr. Funk and Dr. Walker for all their help and communication on insect identification and other cricket topics -I very much appreciate it!

And another big thank you to the Songs of Insects. What an amazing website!

Are there many insect songs around your home? What species is the loudest right now? I would love to know!

Resources:

Songs of Insects, A Guide to the Voices of Crickets, Katydids & Cicadas, by Wil Hershberger and Lang Elliot

Singing Insects in North America (SINA), edited by Dr. Thomas Walker

The Orthopterist’s Society

Systematics and acoustics of North American Anaxipha (Gryllidae: Trigonidiinae), by Thomas J. Walker and David H. Funk. Journal of Orthoptera Research 23(1): 1-38. 2014

Crickets of the genus Gryllus in the United States (Orthoptera: Gryllidae: Gryllinae). WEISSMAN, D., & GRAY, D. (2019). Zootaxa, 4705(1), 1–277

Listening in Nature, When you Listen to Katydids, Listen to the Rhythm, by Lisa Rainsong

Katydids, by University of Wisconsin Master Gardener Program

3 replies on “Singing in the Garden: Insect Songs of Autumn”

Thank you so much for this post! I too have an enthusiasm for crickets! I love these late autumn insect calls. You are not only a great writer, but an excellent educator as well! BS

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