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Rare pink katydid discovered in northern Illinois

Allison Frederick discovered and photographed this pink katydid at Middlefork Savanna near Lake Forest.

Allison Frederick discovered and photographed this pink katydid at Middlefork Savanna near Lake Forest.

Katy did. Katy did.

In northern Illinois the chorus of insects whose name reflects their song has begun.

As day passes to night, these late summer and early fall insects called katydids sing their courtship melodies hidden in trees, especially oaks.

The 2-inch long green insects belong to the true katydid  family.

Thousands of katydid species exist worldwide—but only four true katydid species live in North America. “Of these, the common true katydid—the quintessential noisy katydid with which most of us are familiar—is the only wide-ranging species in the east,” wrote  Lang Elliot and Wil Hershberger, authors of  “The Songs of Insects.”

Other katydid species that don’t sing the familiar song, but rather have other buzzes and chirps, also live in fields and meadows of Illinois—and they can be difficult to identify.

Katydids are related to grasshoppers and crickets. The common true katydid has oval-shaped wings with veins. The wings look just like leaves—perfect camouflage for an insect preyed upon by birds, bats, frogs, spiders and snakes.

Though only male grasshoppers and crickets make noises, both sexes of katydids can sing by rubbing their front wings together—they hear those sounds with ears on their front legs.

These noisy insects are courting. Females will soon lay eggs on leaf stems. The eggs will overwinter, then hatch into nymphs or tiny katydids in spring and munch on leaves, particularly oaks. Over several weeks, they’ll grow to adulthood through a series of molts called instars.

Joan Sayre photographed some young katydids about a month ago in her Libertyville back yard. Click here to see her photos.

Though most katydids are green, once in a while someone discovers a pink one. And indeed while hiking at Middlefork Savanna near Lake Forest recently, Allison Frederick found a pink katydid. Frederick, an environment communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves, discovered the pink insect during a phenology and photography workshop.

First described in 1887, “the pink katydid is so rare that they occur once out of every 500 individuals,” Frederick said.  This coloration is the result of a condition called erythrism, similar to the recessive gene found in albino animals, she said.

Frederick photographed the pink katydid—one can only wonder how long this unusually colored insect that sticks out in a field of green will escape a hungry predator.

To hear a katydid singing drive through neighborhoods at dusk where there are lots of oaks.  Also, if you’re going to Ravinia in Highland Park, you can often hear the katydids upon exiting the park at night.

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