Thursday, February 27, 2014

Red-headed Bush Cricket

When you think of a cricket, a robust blackish or brownish insect probably comes to mind. Maybe you imagine the classic “cricket on the hearth,” cheerfully “chirp-chirp-chirping” from some concealed location indoors or outside. You might be surprised to learn that crickets in the family Gryllidae come in a variety of forms, with a corresponding diversity in song. The Red-headed Bush Cricket, Phyllopalpus pulchellus, is a delicate, diminutive, and colorful creature with a trilling song.

Male

This species is active both day and night, and at first glance may be mistaken for some other kind of insect. Adults are only 7-9 millimeters in body length, and they crawl over foliage well off the ground in contrast to the more lumbering, ground-dwelling field crickets that are more familiar.

Females have unmodified front wings, and a sickle-like ovipositor jutting from the rear of the abdomen. Males have the front wings modified for producing a shockingly loud, high-pitched calling song. His wings are asymmetrical in venation, and the left one with a clear spot in the middle.

Female

He elevates his front wings to a nearly vertical position, and often selects a “stage” where two leaves come close together. This configuration helps amplify and project his song.

Phyllopalpus pulchellus is also known as the Handsome Trig, and indeed it is sharply-dressed. Both genders are easily recognized by their bright red, black, and yellow color pattern. Their mouthparts include palps, like most other insects with chewing mouthparts, but the terminal segment is conspicuously broadened. It gives them the appearance of having “boxing gloves” that are in constant motion as the insect senses the chemical properties of the surfaces they roam across.

This is a common insect that ranges from southern New England to northern Florida and west to the eastern borders of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Look for the adults in July, August, and September in low shrubs and bushes.

I have had success finding the Red-headed Bush Cricket simply by scanning various plants, whether the creature is singing or not. It does helps to know what they sound like, though, so take a listen to the digital recording on the ”Singing Insects of North America” website. In my experience, the song is even more shrill than it comes across in the recording.

Sources: Capinera, John L., Ralph D. Scott, and Thomas J. Walker. 2004. Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Publishing Associates (Cornell University Press). 249 pp.
Elliott, Lang and Wil Hershberger. 2006. The Songs of Insects. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 228 pp.

8 comments:

  1. I love these little beauties! I've been documenting their movement as they expand their range farther to the north and east here in NE Ohio. There is a huge difference just between Akron and Cleveland. It will be very interesting to see how this relentless, bitter-cold winter affects their northward progress.

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  2. I just found one over here in MA! Adorable little guy.

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  3. Hi, nice post...I collected one in the southwest part of Florida. Perhaps their range is more southern than thought? bugroom2@gmail.com Location: Hardee County, FL.

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  4. Im in alabama and theres lots in my rual area. Nice to be able to at least hear them among the cecedas

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  5. Just had one on my front porch, really neat have never seen one before. Up north her in mid Ohio

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  6. Eric, I first noticed the sound these little insects make. One day I was sitting near a hanging basket we have on our deck and heard the loud trilling. I looked around and sure enough, there was one of these with its wings near vertical. I still did not know what they were. This evening, I was sitting on my deck having dinner and one of these bush crickets climbed up on my plate and started sampling my dinner. I had finished my portion but there were a few small scraps and sauce left. For the record, it was a spicy Indian dish, Gobi Tawa Masala. The bush cricket made its way to a bit of the sauce and started to sample it. I left the cricket alone and was amazed to see the tiny amount of food disappearing. I eat all organic foods with no chemicals so the red headed bush cricket had a good dinner as well. I love bugs of all sorts...

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    1. This made me laugh, I hope that's ok....Wow, that cricket has a stronger palate than *I* do! Thank you for sharing this story. :-)

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