Eine Kleine Nacht Musik

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

same enthusiasm as a present-day football game, they poked the crickets with specially-made straws, called ticklers, to induce aggressive behavior.

But it's a long way from Beijing to Branson. More than likely we won't trade our Dobermans for watch crickets or quit watching Monday Night Football in favor of a clash between a pair of pennsylvanicus. But it is our responsibility to preserve the habitat of the wild species who share our yards and woodlands.

Susanne said that one of these wild singers, the prairie mole cricket (Gryllotalpa major) may be in trouble. This orthopteran member is what we call a remnant dependent species. He can only survive on high quality prairie sod, a commodity fast disappearing on the planet. "If we lose the habitat, we lose the species."

Susanne described Gryllotalpa major as "not much to look at really, but he does such an amazing thing. He builds an echo chamber in his burrow under the prairie sod and by using the chamber, he can produce a sound that can be heard up to 1/4 mile. He's a big guy with a low voice," Susanne says, "definitely a bass."

Susanne apologizes when she gets out what she calls her "cheat sheets" to check a certain marking or the shape of a particular ovipositor-the organ females use to lay their eggs. But she shouldn't. She's a careful investigator with a passion for her subject. She believes these smallest of creatures matter, and the more we know about them, the better we can protect them.

When Susanne works, she says she enters a zenlike state. Stalking insects becomes her meditation time and helps her keep her focus. The day I was with her, that focus was keen. "Listen. You'll hear a faint tinkling sound at your feet." I listened. Like ice cubes clinking against the side of a glass, the call of a tiny cricket drifted up from the forest floor. Susanne parted the decaying leaves and I saw him. A dab of shoe polish, a drip of ink... one hop and he was gone.

Crickets, katydids and grasshoppers don't live long. They make their debut in the spring as nymphs with small wings and immature reproductive parts. Over the summer, they go through a series of molts, reaching adulthood in early fall when their wings and reproductive organs mature and they are able to mate.

It is in this adult stage that the male begins his courting call. Once mating takes place, the female lays her eggs (in the ground in the case of grasshoppers; on the bark of trees, along twigs or in plant stems in the case of crickets and katydids) and their purpose is fulfilled; in a single season they have grown old.

As the harvest moon waxes, the voices from field and woods grow weaker. With the first frost, they perish. But this great die-off is not the end. Their progeny sleep within the eggs until the warm nights and plentiful rains of another spring call them forth.

The year has come full circle, and once again the Ozark night is full of song. Close your eyes, sit beneath the moon and listen to "a little night music." Now you know the composers.

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