Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Phenology: Katydids

(Morguefile photo donated by Cohdra.)

Maybe it's due to the unusually cool, pleasant weather we had around the first weekend in July...during the first full week of July, I started hearing katydids chirp.

Their common name in English comes from the fact that these insects usually rasp their legs and wing covers together three or four times, making noises that sound to some people like "Katy did" and "Katy didn't."

Where there are a lot of katydids, it's often possible to identify individuals who chirp more or less actively. If the norm for katydids is to say "Katy did" or "Katy didn't," then some katydids say "Katy..." Some say things like "Katy did indeed," or possibly "Katy never did," and one year the individual closest to my window rasped triumphantly (and repeatedly), "Katy never would have done!"

Where there are even more katydids, the individual voices get lost in a general buzz. I don't often hear that but I've heard it this year...and in most years, katydids wouldn't even start chirping for another week or two.

These insects mature and make themselves heard in late summer. In the North, the saying is that they chirp six weeks before the first frost. In Virginia, twelve weeks before the first frost is more typical, but they're still predicting an early frost this year.

Some people have wondered about this apparent debate about Katy, whoever she was and whatever she did. Do males take one side and females take the other? No; apparently only the males chirp, and they chirp in different sound patterns to help females pick them out in the crowd.