This weekend is a fine time to lay back in a lawn chair, close your eyes and listen to nature. What do you hear? If you are lucky, perhaps you will hear some birds and a few insects. The dull hum of the honey bees flying from flower to flower, flies buzzing or perhaps in the evening, you may hear a cricket or katydid.
Here’s a video of a field cricket singing to get you in the mood (you may or may not want to listen for the entire 2 minutes 🙂 ). Notice the wings moving. The scrapers on the wings produce the chirping sounds in crickets.
Children love to make homemade musical instruments. To imitate a cricket, find a small comb and a wooden craft stick to represent the file and scraper on the cricket’s wings. Rub the craft stick along the comb. Try fast and slow.
Listen to some of the insect sounds from the links in the next activity. Design musical instruments to replicate them. Have fun!
If you live in New York City and are looking for something to do on September 11 or if you are simply interested in crickets and katydids, take a look at the event known as Cricket Crawl.
Although the title is cricket crawl, the scientists are interested in 7 insects, including a variety of katydids. The survey itself takes on a modern twist, because the researchers want citizen scientists to actually record the insects with their cellphones and then submit their recordings. The results will be posted real-time on a blog.
The website has a lot of information about singing insects, such how to identify them and links to recordings of their songs. For example, you can find out what the Indian house cricket from last week’s post sounds like at Singing Insects of North America or take a look at (and a listen to) Songs of Insects, for crickets, katydids and cicadas
Here’s a list of Insect Sounds (from Arizona) that include a wider variety of insects, including a cloud of midges and honey bees.
Hope you have a wonderful Labor Day and listen to some peaceful insect music!
In addition to the cicadas and tree crickets that we discussed previously, toads also sing at night in the desert.
Because it so dry for most of the year, desert toads stay dormant in underground chambers until the summer rains come. When the rains start, the toads emerge from the ground. They hop to nearby puddles, lay eggs, and attempt to complete their entire life cycle before the puddles dry out again. They don’t have long, often only about 7 days. The adults dig underground again and go dormant until the next rainy season.
We have several common species of frogs and toads, but one of the most amazing is the Couch’s spadefoot toad. Some people say they sound like sheep baaing.
Sheep baaing? Well, maybe.
1. Get to know your local frogs and toads.
First of all, what is the difference between a frog and a toad?
As it turns out, the terms “frog” and “toad” are common names, they are not scientifically-based groups. According to frog taxonomists, all frogs and toads belong to a group called “frogs.” Although many people call the bumpy, dry land-dwelling creatures “toads” and the smooth-skinned, pond-dwelling creatures “frogs,” there are a number of species that are hard to place into one of those groups, such as the smooth-skinned spadefoot toads shown above. Check Frogs and Toads for more information.
To learn more about frogs, take a field trip to a pond or wetland.
Public domain photograph Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, uploaded at Wikimedia.
Pictures of frog and toad life stages
Identification guides if available
Camera and/or paper and pencil to record what you see
What you may see:
When I see frog eggs, I always think of punctuation. They start out a dark round periods, and then right before they hatch they turn into commas. Always leave eggs alone because handling them may damage their jelly coating.
The larvae, commonly called tadpoles, are often easy to spot along the shore. Sometimes you may see a mix of different kinds. In this case the larger light-brown tadpoles are bullfrogs.
If you are very lucky, you may discover some of the tadpoles beginning to grow legs.
Ask everyone to be quiet and stand still in order to see adult frogs. Typically the adults swim away quickly when there are rapid movements nearby.
Can you identify the adults? Are they common species?
Frog fact: Frogs regularly live 4-15 years, and sometimes much longer. Keep this in mind if you decide to raise one.
2. Frog Songs
Visit the same wetlands or pond at night to listen to frogs and toads singing. Ever hear the spring peepers? These tiny frogs can make a tremendous racket early in the spring.
If possible, make recordings of different types of frogs and toads singing. Or listen to recordings, such as at Sing to me baby! …Ribbit!
Try to mimic the calls yourself. Can you tell the different kinds apart? Before long you should be able to recognize different frogs based on their calls alone.
Older kids might want to try playing recordings of male frogs singing at ponds at night and see if they can attract female frogs.
Think of ways to design an experiment to find out if only the male frogs sing, or whether the females do too.
3. Eat or be eaten
While you are studying frogs and toads, try to figure out what they eat at each stage and what eats them.
The spadefood toads mentioned above eat insects that swarm at the same time the frogs are active. Both ants and termites tend to produce new queens and males in swarms when the summer monsoons start. At times the air will be filled with flying and mating insects. It is a great time for the toads to store up a lot of food to survive the rest of the year underground. Amazing!
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Although we expect to hear cicadas this time of year, there’s a new sound at night in our yard that we didn’t predict. Follow this link to hear what it sounds like:
Any idea what it might be?
These photos might be a clue.
This individual is a female, which because of her long egg-laying tube or ovipositor. She isn’t the singer, however, only the males sing.
This is a female tree cricket (genus Oecanthus). A tree cricket is more slender and delicate than the common field cricket. One type of tree cricket, the snowy tree cricket, is used as a thermometer because the frequency of its chirps can be used to calculate the temperature. The snowy tree cricket has a similar appearance to this one, but it is pale green or almost white.
Based on the tan coloration, this is probably the western tree cricket. Although we’ve seen and heard tree crickets in other parts of Arizona before, this is the first time we’ve had them in our yard.
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