The Mystery of the Donut's Hole

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

This scene, this conversation, must have taken place 20 years ago, maybe more, for it was back in the days when there were still hippies and I'd recently moved to the Ozarks. I was middle-aged, and an ex-librarian, but I'd made friends with some of those back to-the-landers, colorful, bewildered, engaging young people. My memory is of a warm, humid, summer evening. We were sitting outdoors, scratching our chigger bites, thinking ourselves explorers of a new world.

Fireflies flashed. Insects chirred and buzzed. Katydids debated. Cicadas whined like buzz saws. The sense of lushness, sex, potential was palpable. One young man, Cortez-silent, upon a peak in Darien - finally blurted out, "This must be the kind of place where new species are formed all the time."

Older, priding myself on what I considered to be greater rationality, and probably not high on a controlled substance, I demurred and gave a cautious lecture on the pace of evolution in which I used a lot of Latinate words.

Well, a lot of water has passed over the dam since that evening and here I sit, like some mad scientist, cross breeding camel crickets, testing out the young man's supposition.

It didn't take me long after moving to the Ozarks to realize it was a special place, but it was only a few years ago that I discovered I was living at the center of a great orthopteran mystery.

Camel crickets belong to the insect order Orthoptera. They are those hump backed, pale fawn crickets a couple of inches in length with the black stripy hind legs. They are good jumpers but don't fly and don't chirp like their cousins, the hearth crickets. They are common, harmless insects, found in one species or another all across the continent. I've been familiar with them for years and curious about them because there is so little in the field guides about them.

A few years ago I began to learn a little more. What I learned (but more importantly, what I didn't learn) is laid out in detail in the final chapter of my 1993 book, Broadsides from the Other Orders; what may be of interest to Missourians is that it turns out that a portion of the Ozarks of southern Missouri, where I have my farm, lies in the puzzling center, in camel cricket reporting data, of a species circle.

The camel crickets in that center, although of the same species, are

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