Handsome Katydids and Pretty Spiders

September 23, 2013 | Greg Dodge

It’s well known that late summer to early fall is the time of year when there are more insects about than perhaps at any other time of year. If you’ve been walking around outdoors lately you may have noticed many more grasshoppers than earlier in the season. Many of the grasshoppers and katydids that were hatched out this past spring and early summer have now grown into adults and are happily munching away at the grasses and tree leaves around us.

If you haven’t seen these masses of orthoptera you surely have heard them stridulating away in the grasses and trees, both day and night, a high pitched “tisc, tisc, tisc…” in the grass on the side of the trail or “Katy did, Katy didn’t, Katy did, Katy didn’t,” in your backyard trees at night. Without a doubt, you’ve heard them.

If you look down into the smartweed that grows in ever increasing density along our boardwalk in Explore the Wild you may see among that bitter tasting weed a very attractive member of the Orthoptera order of insects, the Handsome Katydid, handsome being a noun in this case.

A Handsome Katydid climbs a stalk of smartweed in the Wetlands.

Handsome Katydids are meadow katydids. Unlike the Common True Katydid which spends most of its time in the trees, and is what you hear at night screaming “Katy did, Katy didn’t,” meadow katydids restrict themselves to the herbaceous segment of the plant world, grasses and other soft-stemmed plants closer to the ground.

This female feeds on the buds and flowers of the smartweed. Note the red, “curved sword-like” projection at the tip of the abdomen, an ovipositor.

This Sphex species of wasp hunts katydids. The wasp paralizes the katydid and delivers it to a chamber in its underground burrow where the wasp’s larvae will feed on the attractive orthopteran.

Handsome Katydids are indeed handsome creatures with their red, green and blue coloration. This coloration helps to conceal the katydid as it feeds on the leaves, buds and flowers of the vegetation in late summer and fall. Grasshoppers and katydids are food for everything from frogs, to birds, to raccoons and possums. There’s even a wasp species that preys on katydids in order to stock its nest chambers to feed its young.

By the way, if you were wondering, “what’s the difference between a katydid and grasshopper,” here’s one quick way to differentiate the two; grasshoppers have short antennae, katydids have great, long antennae.

A closer look at a flower munching Handsome Katydid. Note the light blue eyes.

Late summer and fall are also the times of year when spiders become more evident. And, while we’re down in the smartweed visiting with the katydids…

A Black and Yellow Argiope spider. Some folks call them Writing Spiders because of the zig-zag patterns the spiders weaver into the webs.

For several weeks now, there has been an orb weaver web over the recycling bin in front of the restrooms in Explore the Wild. It looks to be a Neoscona spider, one of the spotted orb weavers, although I’m not sure which one.

This orb weaver wraps up a grasshopper for later consumption.

While walking through Catch the Wind I came upon a curious sight. A spider had attached itself to a leaf and was hanging from a tree by a silk thread. The spider was spinning wildly in the breeze as I walked up to have a look. It was an Arrowhead Spider (Verrucosa arenata). Although I’m not sure whether or not the spider was enjoying its wild gyrations, I secured it to a branch to give it a rest, and to photograph the little gem.

 

This Arrowhead Spider was taking a wild ride in Catch the Wind. A triangular spider with a bit of icing on top.

This is a great time of year, birds are migrating, leaves are turning, and insects are numerous, get out there and enjoy it!

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