Eine Kleine Nacht Musik

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

Lean from your window and listen on a warm July night when the Milky Way clabbers the sky with light and the air smells like freshly-ironed sheets. You'll hear summer: Crickets chiming from the grass, katydids sawing the darkness with raspy wings. But what if the singing stopped? Would you miss it? Field biologist Susanne Greenlee thinks so, and she's involved in a project to help keep these singers around for a long time.

Susanne, land steward for the Nature Conservancy in Missouri, is working with the Missouri Department of Conservation to make audio recordings of common male Orthoptera-grasshoppers, katydids and crickets. The goal of the project is to produce a tape and identification guide that will help people like you and me learn about the local composers of our summer afternoon sonatas and late night fugues.

Susanne hopes that one day people will be as passionate about crickets, katydids and grasshoppers as they are about butterflies. "It's easy to appreciate butterflies because they dazzle us with their beauty, but it's a little harder when it comes to crickets and katydids. To most people they're voices without owners."

The first owner Susanne introduced me to was a handsome katydid whose scientific name means, "I dance in meadows." She caught him right in my own back yard going about his katydid business. When she let him go, his wings caught the sunlight like tiny windows, and I knew I'd always remember who he was.

There are 142 species of Orthoptera in Missouri, 20,000 worldwide. Grasshoppers make up a good portion of the count with only a few species causing harm to Missouri cropland. Most are benign, gentle creatures, with names like handsome grasshopper, green grasshopper and bunch grass grasshopper, that are an important food source for more than 200 species of birds. Grasshoppers spend the warm summer days grazing among the grasses, gliding from plant to plant in a flurry of colored wings.

Crickets and katydids make up the rest of Missouri's Orthoptera population and are the voice of our summer nights. Spring field crickets tune up in the grasses of early summer, and fall field crickets (Gryllus pennsylvanicus) serenade us from the dusty yards of August. The true katydids live in the trees and many, like the large true katydid, look exactly like leaves: hence their name Peterophylla camellifolia, which means, "that being which has wings like a camellia leaf."

There's a funny little tale about an

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