I’ve heard male crickets singing at night since I was a young boy, but I’ve never seen one singing. A few weeks ago Linda and I started hearing one in the backyard, and one evening I was interested enough to head out with a flashlight. I didn’t expect I’d actually be able to find the cricket; I’d always believed (without ever testing it) that crickets are natural ventriloquists, very hard to locate by ear, and that the insect would stop singing as I approached.
But no, it turns out this cricket was quite happy to let me locate and sneak up on him, and continued singing even as I got close enough (too close, it turns out) to snap this photo:
I say “too close” because the image is a little out of focus, something I didn’t notice until I got inside and uploaded the image to my computer. But by then I couldn’t go back and try for a better-focused shot, because while taking the above image I accidentally jostled a branch, causing him to stop singing and lower his wings (which are in their raised, singing position in that shot above). Here’s an even-fuzzier shot I got after he lowered his wings:
I got in trouble with Linda for making the cricket stop singing, and she forbade me to bother it any more; she’s still mad about it two weeks later. So that’s the best I can do, image-wise.
It turns out, though, that there’s lots of information about tree crickets (which is what this guy was) online; so I’ve since learned that this was probably either a snowy tree cricket (Oecanthus fultoni), which is found all through the lower 48 states, or a Riley’s tree cricket (O. rileyi), found only in the western states.
To tell the difference, I could have examined the little black markings in the first two segments at the base of the insect’s antennae. Or I could have carefully measured the temperature, and the rate at which the insect was chirping; Riley’s chirps are somewhat slower for a given temperature, while snowy chirps are somewhat faster. Snowy chirps also are faster in western populations than eastern ones, possibly because that helps the insects distinguish themselves from Riley’s.
I love the Internet.
Lots more about tree crickets is available at http://www.oecanthinae.com/, which apparently is the product of an amateur tree cricket lover who got bit by the bug (so to speak) fairly hard.
Finally, here’s 7 seconds of video of a male snowy tree cricket singing, courtesy of YouTube user TreeCricketFan, who may be the same hard-bitten obsessive mentioned above, or a different one; I’m not sure: