The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 29, 2003


Biodiversity Corner: Katydid

Adult Katydid
Name: Pterophylla camellifolia, or eastern katydid or true katydid. Pteron is greek for wing and phyllo means leaf so the scientific name translates into leaf, winged creature that looks like a camellia leaf. The name Katydid is North American and is the common name for all members of the family Tettigoniidae in which there are hundreds of species. The one that sings the "katydid" song is the true katydid. The others make clicking, chirping, buzzing, rasping sounds. Grasshoppers and crickets are close relatives and along with katydids are members of the insect order Orthoptera.

When and where found: In the dog days of August, when the canine thermal units are not needed on the bed, one of the sounds that fills the night is the "katy did, katy didn't" serenade of the male katydid. Marilyn Harte heard it for the first time this year on Estabrook Road in the week of August 16. I have seen young ones in the garden in the rhododendrons and the helianthus. The photograph of the adult was taken on October 5, 2001 as it ambled slowly across a bed of fallen pine needles. The photo of the young one with its incomplete wings was taken on July 17, 2003.

Folklore: In a morality tale a girl called Katy told a lie. When caught, she refused to admit the lie and was struck dead. The bugs now commemorate her sin by debating whether she did or didn't do the deed. (Bugs have limited debating skills.) Steely Dan, in a rare journalistic moment, summarized the already skimpy story and said, simply, Katy lied.

Weather reports: Katydids attend the weather forecasting school founded by Punxsutawney Phil. If you note the date when you first hear the song in the summer, it will be six weeks until the first frost · maybe. Also, the song is thought to be an indication of temperature. The lower the temperature the shorter the phrase. On Sunday night when it was around 60 degrees, the song was predominantly two syllables ·"she did". A few days earlier when it was over 80 degrees, the Katydids were all fired up and the majority were proclaiming in three syllables that "Katy did." Some long-winded four-syllable suitors were singing "Katy didn't" or "Katy did it."

Characteristics: Katydids are about two inches long and green with net-veined leaf-like wings. They have highly developed hind legs and very long antennae · often longer than the body. They are not good fliers. The hind wings are used for flight only when escape is crucial. The forewings are adapted as musical instruments. The song is created by scraping a rough patch on the right forewing against a vein on the left wing. The Katydid has a pair of dark-colored oval ears called tympana on each foreleg just below the knee. When it wants to hear more clearly, it raises a leg in the direction of the sound. The adult female has a large curved egg-laying organ called an ovipositor at the tip of the abdomen.

Life cycle: Katydids spend the winter as eggs. The nymphs that hatch in spring look like small adults with little wing buds in place of wings. They eat leaves from a variety of trees and shrubs and molt four or five times until sexually mature and the wings are developed. The male attracts the female with his song. When a pair mates, the male delivers not only a sperm package but also a tasty snack which the female eats over the next 18 to 24 hours. She lays her eggs on twigs.

Edibility: In our culture, the question "can you eat it" is heard more often by mycologists than entomologists. In other cultures, grasshoppers and katydids are prized edibles and good sources of protein. If you were to ask the Old Man of the Woods if you can eat them, he would probably say ,"Katy did."

References: Hubbell, Sue; Broadsides from the Other Orders, A Book of Bugs, Random House, 1993 · in the Gleason Library.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. Find some non-tax-paying resident of the town and report it. The only requirements are that it exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito