Small critters, big sounds
The caller was somewhat frantic about the presumably large animal making the obnoxious noise in the oak tree near his bedroom window.
Undoubtedly trying to be a hero, he told me he got out a baseball bat, flashlight and extension ladder. His plan was to scale the tree and hit whatever it was that was keeping him and his wife awake on those hot summer nights over 25 years ago. (just think of what many are now missing with air conditioners running all summer long.)
As he approached what he thought might be a large bird or mammal, the noise subsided and he was unable to see anything moving. So he did what hundreds of stumped people had over the years, called Quarry Hill the next morning. Since this was my first of what would be many calls about a critter making this type of noise, I was not sure what he was dealing with.
I asked if he could get a recording of the critter so I might have a little hint. He did so the next night and played it for me over the phone. I recognized the intruder as a green insect probably no longer than 2 inches called a katydid.
Katydids, along with crickets, are both members of the group of insects called Orthoptera, which also includes grasshoppers and locusts. The noises of katydids and crickets, unique for all of the different species of each, are made by rubbing their two forewings together. Although male and female katydids both make their sounds, it is only the male crickets which "chirp."
Since I don’t profess to know the many species of katydids and crickets, I suspect at times I often get their sounds confused. However, one cricket I have learned to recognize is the snowy tree cricket. Not as easily seen as our common black field crickets, it has a very unique and somewhat amazing chirp that can serve as a fairly accurate thermometer. By counting the number of chirps in 13 seconds and adding 40, one can get within a couple of degrees of the actual temperature.
Black field crickets also chirp faster when warm, but may not be as welcome a sound as they often take up residence in garages or basements. Since they can consume their own weight in food each day, in your house they might be a bit of a problem.
If you do see one up close, and it has a long tube sticking out its back end, you will know it is a female since that is what she lays her eggs with. And if you can avoid killing it and just let it go outdoors, all the better.
While we occasionally hear birds, frogs, coyotes, or other mammals at night, the sounds of silence at night this time of year are mostly broken by the wings of crickets and katydids. Though most katydids are not too easy to find, a night hike in a woodsy area with a flashlight can often yield the little critter behind the big sound. Treat yourself, or a child, to this experience while you can, since we all know winter is just around the corner.