The most unsettling nature experience I’ve ever had began when I innocently opened the door of my rarely used pickup truck one fine summer’s day. Wondering if the truck would even start, I yanked the door open, which sent a torrent of long-legged green insects raining on my head. Frantically, I jumped back out, flailing wildly and doing a little dance of disgust right there in the street. I’m a garden bug lover, but this was a little much.
After I’d recovered from the shock, I took a closer look to see what had gotten me. Snowy tree crickets. Zillions of the diaphanous green insects, crammed into the door. The poor guys hadn’t gotten into that jam on their own. They’d been cached by a nuthatch or chickadee taking advantage of the summer bug boom by storing food for later. For weeks, I’d been listening to the pleasant, pulsing chirps and slow trills of the tree crickets, a constant backdrop to the harsh staccato of true katydids, the lispy ticks of bush katydids, and the sweet, high throb of field crickets in my little yard. In the meantime, birds were taking advantage of the garden bug bonanza, stocking up for the winter ahead.
On steamy summer nights, our backyards come alive with musical insects. Every one of them is a guy wooing a gal by rubbing his raspy legs against his body or scraping one wing against the other to make music. Where do they come from? Why, they’re right there every day, staying silent in treetops and bushes, or on the ground. Some visit our flowers for food—petals, pollen, smaller insects—while others nibble on leaves or nab any lesser critter in their path. They’re good-sized, but easy to overlook in their green or brown camouflage. At night they’re safe from birds, so they strike up the band.
It’s tricky to find these musicians, because they go quiet when we approach. Check your flowers at night: Asters, goldenrod, Autumn Joy sedum and autumn-flowering clematis are prime hunting grounds. Or try sneaking up on individuals elsewhere. Remain still when the insect goes quiet, and advance when it starts up again. Also, keep your eyes open during the day. You just might spot a leaf-look-alike katydid, a Nebraska conehead katydid in your burning bush, or a chickadee stuffing snowy tree crickets into your car door.
Frogs and toads sing too. Their night music begins in earliest spring, when there’s still ice along the edges of ponds and pools. It takes only a few warm days to draw spring peepers and chorus frogs up from the mud where they’ve slept all winter. These early singers begin their rhythmic music -so loudly that you can hear it a quarter-mile away. An ever-swelling chorus of other frogs and toads soon joins them at the water. Once these guys -and guys they are – are in full cry, you’ll hear them night and day. Some quack like ducks or sound like rattling stones; others give a -plaintive cry. Our chubby backyard friend the American toad has a high, continuous trill. Finally, the last of the singers chime in: big -bullfrogs with their sonorous gulps, which may keep singing all summer long.
Want to know what garden bugs or other creatures are keeping you awake at night? Pin down your night-singing insects at Singing Insects of North America.