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Summer 2010

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

July 20, 2010

Katydids use wings to sing

True Katydid; Pterophylla camellifolia

As July's heat reaches its peak, katydids add their voices to summer's insect chorus.

Katydid nymphs are shedding their final skins to emerge as adults. Early this spring, they hatched from long, pointed eggs that their mothers glued to crevices in tree bark last summer.

At night, adult males cry out from the crowns of deciduous trees: "Katy did, Katy didn't!" The raspy sounds are produced when the insect raises

its leathery forewings and rubs them together.

Similar to a guitar pick stroking a tiny washboard, the hard edge of the right wing scrapes a ribbed "file" on the underside of the left wing. A special area on the right wing resonates to amplify the sound.

With eardrums on their front legs, females listen to the mating serenade, and each softly answers "tick" to the male of her choice.

Most katydids will never use their wings for flight, but if disturbed they will weakly flutter to the ground. They then start a long climb up to the top of the nearest tree, where they will remain until they are killed, either by a predator or by the first heavy frost.

Listen to a katydid call.

Sources: Journal of Experimental Biology; University of Arkansas Arthropod Museum; University of Florida Department of Entomology