Katydids: The Nightly Debate

Posted by on Sep 13, 2017 in insects, night, summer, Unmowed Blog, wildlife | 0 comments

Peace and quiet on a summer’s night in the country? Not when the katydids are singing.

“Singing” is a polite way to describe the weird noise these insects make, a cross between a raven’s croak and a rusty hinge. They break the lyrics of their song into three syllables: Kat-y-did. And then they endlessly repeat it. A whole chorus of them harmonizes every night right around my porch.

So where are these noisy nocturnal creatures hiding during the day? Katydids are big insects, and there must be hundreds–thousands!–of them out there. Where are they lurking?

Mostly, they’re high in the trees, but one day I spotted one on this potted plant—a big katydid, about three inches long. See it?

Upper right.

Keep looking.

On top of the farthest marigold sticking out to the right.

Amazing, huh? They have the most astonishing camouflage—they look exactly like a leaf, with legs.

As September passes and the night air cools, the katydids change their tune a bit. Their song slows down, like a record player (remember them?) running slower and slooowwer. They add a syllable: Kat-y-did-n’t…

On chilly nights they barely make a peep. But as soon as there’s a warm spell, they’re back to the endless argument: katy-did, katy-didn’t. Many voices raised in eternal disagreement. Sort of like Congress.

The reason for the song, of course, is that the males are courting the females. After mating, the females lay eggs in the ground. The eggs overwinter and, come spring, will hatch out a new generation.

Meanwhile, the nocturnal jamboree continues. Until finally, there comes a night when the frost settles in. Time to bring in the potted plants, put away the fans, start the wood stove. All the katydids cease their music, forever. The cold puts an abrupt end to their brief lives, and the nights are quiet. Until next summer, when their children will start the debate all over again.

 

To learn more about creatures of the night, please check out my book:

Wait Till It Gets Dark: A Kid’s Guide to Exploring the Night.

by Anita Sanchez and George Steele, illustrations by John Himmelman.

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