listen up: what tiny backyard voices have to say lately

OK, YES, TRUE: Besides talking to myself, I also hear voices. I think this is a good thing, a positive sign—the fact that after decades spent outdoors I have tuned into the subtler creatures and eagerly lend an ear to what they have to teach me.

Recently on Instagram, I’ve been sharing some of what the fall contingent—the late-flying moths, the last of the katydids and others—want me to understand, about insect ID, about surviving winter when you don’t live in a house, and more.

what’s in a name? maple spanworm chaos

AN IMPORTANT message from some of my many Lepidopteran yardmates:

“A maple spanworm moth is not a maple spanworm moth is not a maple spanworm moth. We would like you people to pay stricter attention, because the damn common names you gave us are confusing. We are all in the same family (Geometridae) and subfamily (Ennominae), but not the same genus or especially are not the same animal.”

The scalloped-looking hairy-footed orange beauty flying well into cool mid-fall at the top of the page is a maple spanworm moth. Next, just above, large maple spanworm is distinctively shaped, sleek and modern-looking, flying summer and into fall, too.

Last is lesser maple spanworm, zillions of whom hang out in June and July at my place (and sometimes even pose together on a maple leaf for a giggle). #mothsrule

lose something? (and: not a spider)

WHAT’S WRONG with this picture? (And even though my friend here is a bit off-balance at the moment he/she wanted me to please tell you he/she is not a spider but a harvestman, a.k.a. daddy-longlegs, a spider cousin among arachnids.) So what’s not right here? Notice anything amiss? (This one’s pretty easy.)

profiled as a grasshopper

OVERHEARD recently was this recent outburst:

“Look you big-brained arrogant Homo sapiens types, can you maybe show some respect and get with the insect identification thing? I am NOT repeat NOT a grasshopper. And I am NOT a cricket, either. Yes, I am in the Orthoptera like those guys but I am a proud katydid, specifically a round-headed katydid, genus Amblycorypha.

“Margaret (maybe because her name is Roach, a source of endless grief as a child, think: cockroach) tries a little, and she knew first off to see how long my antennae were (hidden in this photo angle), which narrows things ‘cause grasshoppers’ antennae are shorter than their bodies and mine and the crickets’ are longer than ours.

“And another thing I reminded her about: we sing at night, not by day like those grasshoppers. So get the app from iNaturalist.org or upload a photo to BugGuide.net and get to know us.” (This public service announcement was paid for by Insects for America. #kidding)

staying alive: winter defense strategies

FURRY FALL FRIEND: I look forward to crossing paths with this woolly caterpillar of the giant leopard moth this time of year, Hypercompe scribonia, when its fiery intersegmental bands and plush coat seem to be just the right autumn-into-winter look. Miraculously this tiny animal will overwinter in a woodpile or in the leaf litter, even here in the North, building up a concentration of antifreeze (glycerol I think?) in its cells before the worst weather begins to avoid disaster. (Reminds me of the super-hardy wood frog who does similarly. Such heroes.)

Here’s a beat-up pic of the adult moth, tattered with scales missing at its wing margins, but still dramatic. Unlike various spine-covered caterpillars that can sting you, this one’s hairs (or setae) won’t, but he will roll up tight if touched, in self-defense. I am in awe of such complex strategies of survival, I am.

If I had not been moving slowly and listening closely out there, I might have missed it all.

Categoriesinsects & worms
  1. Karen Erickson says:

    Wonderful! Thank you for this. I’m slowing down and thinking of all the creatures out there on this dark, rainy morning.

  2. Nancy says:

    A beloved neighbor in Queens had a hammock strung behind her old garage between the trees. I would visit for a swing and she would encourage me to listen to her “tree people”and the important things they had to say. Thanks for reminding me.

  3. Katherine L Varnum says:

    Hello Margaret.
    My Nonna used to to say the only good conversation she was sure she would have were the ones with herself in her garden. Same for me.

  4. Kathy Menold says:

    Have not heard the Katydids this fall in the Piedmont area of N.C.. Are they in decline?. Always heard them in Conn.and Virginia in late summer early fall. Listening to them was always with a bit of sadness but also knowing nature was on schedule. With climate change I am always looking for differences that may signal a species in decline. Thanks for any comments by your readers as to their observations.

  5. Mary Ellen Sandahl says:

    Poor little daddy is missing TWO long legs. I guess when you start with 8 you can afford to lose 1 or 2 — wonder if that is , in its way, another survival adaptation allowing for fast getaways, like the detachable tails of many lizards?

    Keep up the good (and strenuous!) work — I really enjoy your writing, pics, and insights.

  6. Miranda says:

    Thank you for bringing these glorious and achingly moving creatures’ voices into our world.
    I’ve always loved your sensibilities, never more so than with this.

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