It was a tough day for a Tettigoniid on a Tithonia.
When a katydid (Tettigoniid) encountered a crab spider on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, in our garden, the katydid didn't last long. The spider administered a venomous bite and it was all over. The small, aggressive predator dragged its large prey beneath the Mexican sunflower to consume its meal. The cycle of life...
Do you know how katydids got their nickname?
The males have stridulating organs on their forewings and produce a shrill sound interpreted as “Katy-did, Katy-didn't."
Well, in this case the crab spider did (survive to live another day) and the katydid didn't.
It's not a question of whether katydid did or didn't.
In answer to what-are-we-going-to-see-next-in-insect-sightings-today-in-our-weird-climate-changing patterns, a katydid appeared on our yellow rose bush on Nov. 21 in Vacaville, Calif.
And stayed for several days.
Usually, they are difficult to see in green vegetation, what with their green bodies and detailed venation. It's not good camouflage to hang out on a yellow rose.
"Katydids resemble grasshoppers but have long antennae," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) in its pest management website on Scudderia furcata. "Female katydids lay their gray, oval 1/8- to 1/4-inch long eggs in two overlapping rows on twigs and leaves or into the edges of their chewing damage. Nymphs appear in April and May and require 2 to 3 months to mature. Katydids produce one generation a year."
They do like fruit, including peach, nectarine, apricot, and pear. "Katydids may feed on leaves or fruit. Katydids do not eat the whole fruit. They often take a bite and move on, allowing the feeding site to become covered with grayish scar tissue and the expanding fruit to become misshapen. Most damage is done by nymphs."
Last summer we saw them feeding on our nectarines, and later we noticed them hanging out on our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). Usually they're gone by October.
Not this katydid.
I've always rather liked katydids.
Anyone who is called "Kate" or "Katy" in their childhood usually winds up with "Katydid" as a nickname. And they repeatedly hear "Katy did. Katy didn't" (the sound the insect makes).
So when a katydid appeared on our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) this morning, yours truly (once a Kate and a Katydid) grabbed a camera.
Up close, they look like prehistoric animals, a mini version of the huge dinosaurs that roamed the earth 245 million years ago.
From the family Tettigoniidae and the order Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets and katydids), they're found throughout the world except in Antarctica. Sometimes katydids are called long-horned grasshoppers or bush crickets.
Fruit growers know the katydids as pests. They scar fruit such as citrus, taking a bite from one and moving onto the next. You can imagine what that does to the market value.
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) provides information about the forktailed bush katydid: (Scudderia furcata) and the angularwinged katydid (Microcentrum retinerve) in its Citrus Pest Management Guidelines: "Of the two species feeding on citrus, only the forktailed katydid causes economic damage. This species feeds on young fruit at petal fall with subsequent buildup of scar tissue and distortion of expanding fruit. Katydids take a single bite from a fruit and then move to another feeding site on the same or nearby fruit. In this way, a few katydids can damage a large quantity of fruit in a short time. They also eat holes in leaves and maturing fruit, creating injury that resembles damage by citrus cutworm. The angularwinged katydid is less abundant than the forktailed katydid and feeds only on leaves."
Katydids also damage such fruits as pomegranates, pears, peaches, plums and apricots.
"Our" little katydid fed on the petals of the Tithonia, stopping occasionally to look at the photographer.
Katy did and then Katy didn't.
What's that hopping on our patio?
At first we thought it was a grasshopper. Not!
It was a katydid, sometimes called a "long-horned grasshopper," from the family Tettigoniidae (as identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis).
"Katydids have long, threadlike antennae," said Kimsey. "Grasshopper antennae are rarely much longer than the head."
Said Thorp: "Note the long slender antennae (as long as or longer than the body); the very long slender jumping hind legs; and the scimitar-like ovipositor at the end of the abdomen."
Scientists tell us that the number of described species in the family Tettigoniidae exceeds 6400. Most katydids are green. They're often perfectly camouflaged in bushes and trees.
A katydid. The name is derived from the "song" it sings by rubbing its wings together. "Katy did." "Katy didn't."
This katydid, a female, responded to our footsteps. (Their "ears" or hearing organs are on their front feet.)
It hopped away, but not before we captured its image.
Decades after he passed, a cousin gave me a set of his books from his childhood home. One was "The Early Poems of Oliver Wendell Holmes," published in 1899 by T. Y. Crowell and Company.
In it is a poem, "To an Insect," and it's about katydids.
"I love to hear thine earnest voice,
Wherever thou art hid
Thou testy little dogmatist
Thou pretty Katydid!
Thou mindest me of gentlefolks,
Old gentle folks are they,
Thon say'st an undisputed thing
In such a solemn way."
Holmes (1809-1894), a physician, poet and professor, goes on to describe the sounds of a katydid as "thy piercing notes, so petulant and shrill" and asks "Oh, tell me where did Katy live and what did Katy do?"
Katydids, like grasshoppers and crickets, belong to the order Orthoptera. The katydid family, Teggigonildae, includes more than 6400 species. They're found throughout the world, with the greatest diversity in the tropics. They live where their host plants are.
Last weekend we saw long filamentous antennae poking from behind the red salvia in our yard. Upon closer inspection, it belong to a...drum roll...katydid.
The katydid is no friend of the farmer; it can wreak havoc in agricultural crops. Still, there's something about a katydid that makes you stop and ask "Katydid or Katy didn't?"
Or as Oliver Wendell Holmes pondered "What did Katy do?"