Insect Musicians

Insect Musicians: Katydid Courtesy US FWS, Dr Thomas Barnes, Photographer
Katydid
Courtesy US FWS
Dr Thomas Barnes, Photographer
It gives me great pleasure to take a moonlight walk on these warm summer nights, serenaded by a gazillion insect musicians. Pulsing in unison with a background of cricket chirps, it reminds me that summer is waning and I must enjoy what remains!

As birds grow silent with nesting season past, I become aware of the gradually intensifying chorus of the inset tribe- a cacophonous mixture of chirps, trills, ticks, scrapes, shuffles, and buzzes. What a joy to behold these choruses of males, serenading females of their own species until cold weather dampens the chorus and heavy frost finally brings it to a close. Crickets, katydids, grasshoppers, and cicadas are prominent songsters. They can be found in trees, shrubs, lawns, fields, woodlands—nearly all habitats, and sometimes inside our homes.

My USU entomologist friend recommends the Snowy Tree Cricket as a champion night chorister here among the insects. It’s “snowy” name is derived from its pale coloration causing it to appear white. Snowy Tree Crickets sing from brushy understory plants at forested margins or within open woodlands. During cold spells, they can be found close to the ground on the trunks of small trees where they find a warmer micro-climate. It is also referred to as the “thermometer cricket” due to its accuracy of giving the temperature in degrees F. Just count the chirps for 15 seconds and add 40.

Jerusalem Cricket Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Jerusalem Cricket
Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae
Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
The Spring and Fall Field Crickets are next in line as musicians. They look very similar to each other, but are two different species. The season they appear helps identify them. Another difference is their life histories. Fall Field Crickets overwinter as eggs while the Spring version as nymphs.

Spring Field Crickets develop quickly when warm weather arrives and adults typically appear and begin singing and mating in late spring, continuing until late June or early July when they finish laying eggs and die off. In contrast, Fall Field Crickets hatch in the spring, and adults don’t appear and begin singing until mid to late July, after which they continue singing and mating into the autumn, when they are finally killed by frosts. In most areas of overlap, there is a period of silence in midsummer when neither species is heard.

Finding and identifying a singing insect can be a fun challenge. With the help of a flashlight and considerable patience, you will be able to track down individual singers, and perhaps even view a singing performance firsthand! Many are small and well camouflaged in their green and brown coats, and they sit motionless when singing, blending into their surroundings. Many sing only in the dark of night. Use LED lights as their spectrum seems to enhance finding them.

Check out these glorious beings at songsofinsects.com.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, I’m wild about Utah!

Credits:

Images: Katydid, Courtesy US FWS, Dr. Thomas Barnes, Photographer
Images: Jerusalem Cricket, Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Hershberger, Wil & Elliott, Lang, Songs of Insects, https://songsofinsects.com/

Montagne, Renee, Insect Sounds: Telling Crickets, Cicadas And Katydids Apart, NPR, September 8, 2015, https://www.npr.org/2015/09/08/438473580/insect-sounds-telling-crickets-cicadas-and-katydids-apart

Rankin, Richard, Bug Bytes, Reference Library of Digitized Insect Sounds – USDA ARS, https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/3559/soundlibrary.html

Weather Wonders

Lightning Storm Courtesy US NPS, J Schmidt, Photographer Yellowstone Weather Collection
Lightning Storm
Courtesy US NPS, J Schmidt, Photographer
Yellowstone Weather Collection
I’m caught in an epic electrical storm in a deep gorge in Montana’s Bear Tooth range. Lightning flashes instantly deliver ground-shaking thunderclaps crashing and booming off thousand foot granite walls. A battleground of the wildest kind! Plunging waterfalls absorb sound energy mimicking an avalanche of boulders. I’m immersed in electrical aura!!
Two days later, I discover a friend was caught in a storm of similar magnitude while exploring high country in the Bear River Range of Northern Utah. He too felt nature’s omnipotence, describing it as heavy battlefield artillery.

Anvil Cloud from the Air Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Jane Hartman, Photographer
Anvil Cloud from the Air
Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Jane Hartman, Photographer
I find our earth’s atmosphere to be mystical- from rainbows to mystery clouds- from tornados to hurricanes and tennis ball sized hail.

The earth’s onionskin-thin atmosphere is a rich soup from microscopic life and dust particles to avifauna and airplanes. Uniform to the eye, its mixture is anything but. Examine a column of air most anywhere and you’ll find it different from any other air column. The components found in this heterogeneous mixture are of endless variety as any atmospheric chemist will tell you.
Many aerosol substances of natural origin are present in locally and seasonally variable amounts, including dust of mineral and organic composition, pollen and spores, sea spray, and volcanic ash to name a few. Various industrial pollutants also may be present as gases or aerosols, such as chlorine and fluorine compounds and elemental mercury vapor. Sulfur compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen may be derived from natural sources or from industrial air pollutants.

Rainbow and Rainshaft Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Jared Rackley, Photographer
Rainbow and Rainshaft
Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Jared Rackley, Photographer
Clouds are utterly fascinating for their beauty and how they are formed. Why do they suddenly appear from thin air? Clouds have three essential ingredients- small particles, water vapor, and a critical temperature called dew point. Considering the air is anything but uniform- including temperature, humidity, and particle types, when these three ingredients converge, Newalla- a cloud is birthed!

Weather Wonders: Cumulonimbus with anvil top (Cumulonimbus Capillatus) Courtesy NOAA NOAA Photo Library
Cumulonimbus with anvil top
(Cumulonimbus Capillatus)
Courtesy NOAA
NOAA Photo Library
My favorites are cumulonimbus- also called thunderheads. They can reach heights of 6 miles and may spawn violent storms, including tornados. They are saturated with both electrical and mechanical energy. Due to updrafts causing friction among icy particles, the cloud becomes electrically charged with positives on top and negatives on the bottom. The strong negative charge at the clouds base creates a temporary positive charge on the ground. Considering opposite charges attract, an exchange of electrical energy may occur- lightening! The extreme heat, averaging 36,300 degrees F, causes molecular collision manifested as sound energy. It can be deafening, resulting in temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Cloud from Orographic Lifting Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Commander John Bortniak, Photographer
Cloud from Orographic Lifting
Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Commander John Bortniak, Photographer
Our mountains are great cloud makers, referred to as orographic lifting. As the air rises to travel over the summit, it expands and cools, reaching the critical dew point mentioned. Thus, as one increases a thousand feet in elevation the temperature drops about 4 degrees F and gains about 4” of annual precipitation.
More reason to marvel at our miracle planet, more reason to celebrate its beauty, mystery, and fragility.

Jack Greene representing Bridgerland Audubon, and I’m wild about Utah!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone Weather Collection, J Schmidt, Photographer
      Courtesy NOAA, NOAA Photo Library, Jane Hartman, Photographer
      Courtesy NOAA, NOAA Photo Library, Jared Rackley, Photographer
      Courtesy NOAA, NOAA Photo Library
      Courtesy NOAA, NOAA Photo Library, Commander John Bortniak, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Ewing Nunn
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Basic Weather Education, Corpus Christi, National Weather Service, https://www.weather.gov/crp/weather_education

Educational resources, National Headquarters, National Weather Service, https://www.weather.gov/learning

Weather & Atmosphere Education, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://www.noaa.gov/weather-atmosphere-education

Air Quality, Chemical Sciences Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/csl/research/airquality.html

Utah Winter Fine Particulate Study (UWFPS), Chemical Sciences Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/csl/groups/csl7/measurements/2017uwfps/

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Utah’s Changing Climate and Weather, Wild About Utah, December 21, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/utahs-changing-climate-and-weather/

Strand, Holly, Wind, Hold on to Your Hat!, Wild About Utah, June 16, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/hold-on-to-your-hat/

Strand, Holly, Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Wild About Utah, January 17, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/baby-its-cold-outside/

Cane, James, Kervin, Linda, Virga: Teasing Rain, Wild About Utah, August 12, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/virga/

Sego Lily

Sego lily bulbs are edible, either raw or cooked, and were used as food by the Cheyenne. The sweet-tasting bulbs were often dried for later use. Caption & Photo Courtesy US NPS,  Michael Wheeler, Photographer
Sego lily bulbs are edible, either raw or cooked, and were used as food by the Cheyenne. The sweet-tasting bulbs were often dried for later use.
Caption & Photo Courtesy US NPS,
Michael Wheeler, Photographer
With Pioneer Day’s a few weeks away, it’s time to honor a very special plant that saved many Utah pioneers.

It’s been a banner year for our state flower. The sego lily has graced our meadows since early June, now in its late stages at lower elevations. It has generated many stories in our state. Before I launch them, I must compliment it’s delicate beauty and love for adverse conditions- the dry, rocky soils in which it’s found. The sego lily personifies the tough, resilient, beautiful pioneer spirit.

Brigham Young declared the sego lily “a heaven sent source of food.” Friendly Native Americans taught Mormon settlers how to harvest and prepare the bulbs for much needed survival food when a devastating cricket infestation destroyed crops.

From pioneer journals:

Sego Lily Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
Sego Lily
Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
“”In the spring of 1848, our food was gone. Along the month of April we noticed all the foothills were one glorious flower garden. The snow had gone, the ground was warm. We dug thousands of sego roots, for we heard that the Indians had lived on them for weeks and months. We relished them and carried them home in bucketful’s. How the children feasted on them, particularly when they were dried, for they tasted like butternuts.”
Elizabeth Huffaker, Salt Lake City

And here is another one:
“In my childhood our whole group of children used to go east of town, each carrying a sego digger. It was a piece of wood sharpened on one end, and flat on the other. We would just go out of town and look for segos, which were plentiful. When we found them we each went to digging by putting the sharp end of the stick into the ground close beside the sego, and pressing down on the flat end of the digger until it was a few inches in the ground. Sometimes we pounded on the top of the digger with a rock…when the stick was far enough into the ground to suit us, we just pushed it to one side and up came the segos. Then we ate them, and oh how we enjoyed hunting them.”
Lorena Washburn Larsen, 1868, Manti, UT

Native Americans considered the sego lily a sacred plant and developed culinary uses for its bulbs, seeds, and flowers. Many tribes created a healthful porridge from roasted or boiled sego lily bulbs. Several tribes considered it sacred. For the Navajo it was one of the “Life Plants” used for ceremonial purposes. Sego was derived from the Indian word Sego. Many Indian women were named Sego or Sego-go-chee. The Spanish named it mariposa, their word for butterfly for these beautiful mountainside flowers looked like butterflies.

The sego lily was formally designated as the Utah State Flower in 1911 chosen for its natural beauty as well as its historical significance.

The lily gets its scientific name Calochortus Nuttalli, from Thomas Nuttall, a naturalist, who collected the sego lily in 1811 while traveling along the Missouri River. It’s found throughout the western states. Please do not disturb this iconic beauty. Photos are encouraged!

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, I continue to be infatuated with Utah’s wildness!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy US NPS, Michael Wheeler, Photographer
      Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Sego Lily, Cedar Breaks National Monument, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/learn/nature/sego-lilly.htm

Utah State Facts and Symbols, Utah.com, Deseret Digital Media, https://utah.com/state-facts-symbols

Utah State Flower – Sego Lily, Pioneer-Utah’s Online Library, Utah State Library Division, Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, https://pioneer.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/flower.html

Sego Lily, Calochortus nuttallii Torr. & A. GrayShow https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=CANU3

https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/liliaceae_calochortus_nuttallii.htm

Sego Lily and Friends, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sego_Lily_and_Friends_(14368043194).jpg

LORENA EUGENIA WASHBURN, Autobiography, Published by her Children, Brigham Young University Press, 1962, http://www.ourfamilylegacy.info/files/washburnlorena1860autobio.pdf

Young, Levi Edgar, The Sego Lily (See quote from Mrs. Elizabeth Huffaker, a pioneer of 1847, p.7), The Great West in American History, Bulletin of the University of Utah, Volume 11, Issue 9, Department of Western History, University of Utah, https://books.google.com/books?id=4LfOAAAAMAAJ

Sagers, Larry A., Utah Sego Lily Thrives In Dry, Sandy Hillsides – Not Gardens, Deseret News July 25, 1990, Larry A. Sagers, https://www.deseret.com/1990/7/25/18873035/utah-sego-lily-thrives-in-dry-sandy-hillsides-not-gardens

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Green-eyed Dragonfly Courtesy Pixabay Guenther Lig Photographer
Green-eyed Dragonfly
Courtesy Pixabay
Guenther Lig Photographer
A few days ago a friend invited me to join him on a dragonfly odyssey high on a ridge in a canyon east of Smithfield, Utah. What we observed can only be described as a natural phenomenon.

At 6 am, the sun was just cresting the Bear River Range as we arrived at our destination. We dropped off the ridge to search small cliff bands of Lake Bonneville conglomerate for our quarry. We were not disappointed.

Hundreds of dragonflies were just beginning to launch from the cliff bands to being their daily hunt. As many were still plastered to the rock face awaiting the critical temperature to activate. I was mesmerized while sun-lit wings glowed gold and silver. Questions filled my head. Why so concentrated far above the canyon bottom in this strange rock? At what temperatures are they active? How many species occupy this small space? How can there be enough prey to support this high population? How far do they range from this rest in their daily forays? A good research thesis for a USU grad student!

An updated Utah faunal list contains 94 species dragonflies and damselflies, or Odonate, with 5000 recorded world wide.

Odonates are aquatic or semi-aquatic as juveniles existing up to 6 years in their aquatic state. Thus, adults are most often seen near bodies of water and are frequently described as aquatic insects. However, many species range far from water. They are carnivorous throughout their life, mostly feeding on smaller insects.

Odonates can act as bioindicators of water quality because they rely on high quality water for proper development in early life. Since their diet consists entirely of insects, odonate density is directly proportional to the population of prey, and their abundance indicates the abundance of prey in the ecosystem. Species richness of vascular plants has also been positively correlated with the species richness of dragonflies in a given habitat. If one finds a wide variety of odonates, then a similarly wide variety of plants should also be present.

Twelve spot skimmer, Courtesy US FWS, Rick L. Hansen, Photographer
Twelve spot skimmer, Courtesy US FWS, Rick L. Hansen, Photographer
In addition, odonates are very sensitive to changes to average temperature. Many species have moved to higher elevations and latitudes as global temperature rises and habitats dry out. Changes to the life cycle have been recorded with increased development of the instar stages and smaller adult body size as the average temperature increases. As the territory of many species starts to overlap, the rate hybridization of species that normally do not come in contact is increasing. If global climate change continues many members of Odonata will start to disappear. They are one of the first insects to develop

Trivia: With 300 M years of flight evolution, dragonflies are supreme – longest nonstop distance (11,000 miles across oceans), helicopter maneuvers, eat and have sex on the wing, and near 40 mph top speed. They are amazingly efficient hunters with 95% success. And sight- 30,000 lenses allow 360 degree range and can see in ultraviolet light.

There wingspan can range from less than an inch to 6 inches and lifespan from a few weeks to a year. In Indonesia they are eaten as delicious snacks and considered good luck if one lands on your head.
This is Jack Greene for BAS- and boy am I wild about Utah!!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Pixabay, Guenther Lig, Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/dragonfly-wings-insect-nature-3456317/
Audio:
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Strand, Holly, Dragonflies, Wild About Utah, July 21, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/dragonflies/

Morse, Susan, Dragonfly Spotting on Wildlife Refuges, Nov 14, 2019, https://www.fws.gov/refuges/features/dragonfly-spotting-on-wildlife-refuges.html

Wild Utah, Dragonflies and Damselflies, https://www.wildutah.us/index_dragon.html
Eight-spotted Dragonflies, Wild Utah, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_d_skimmer_8_spotted.html

Dragonflies, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish & Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/lee_metcalf/wildlife_and_habitat/dragonflies.html

Order Odanate, Dragonflies and Damselflies, Bugguide.net, Department of Entomology, Iowa State University, https://bugguide.net/node/view/77

Report Dragonfly and Damselfly sightings, much like eBird to:
Odonata Central, https://www.odonatacentral.org/#/

Paulsen, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West, Princeton Field Guides, Princeton University Press, https://www.amazon.com/Dragonflies-Damselflies-Princeton-Field-Guides/dp/0691122814/

Kavanagh, James (Author), Leung, Raymond (Illustrator), Dragonflies & Damselflies: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar, Widespread North American Species, Wildlife and Nature Identification Pamphlet, Waterford Press, April 9, 2018 https://www.amazon.com/Dragonflies-Damselflies-Familiar-Widespread-Naturalist/dp/1583554750