By Jim Moore, Entomologist
Nor Cal meadows are often very diverse in many kinds of plants and animals. Many of the plant species are readily observable, showing forth their flowers and seed in their appointed season. However, most of the animal life is rarely if ever observed. What is usually seen are what I call the three B’s: Birds, Bees and Butterflies; as well as a few dragonflies and other flying insects.
But, hidden within the meadow flora are myriads of small animals! Once, when taking some kids on a hike, along a lush green meadow, I asked the kids to look close and tell me what kind of bugs they could see. No one was able to see a bug of any kind. I said again, “look closer.” Again not a bug was to be seen. Then, taking an open and empty butterfly net I ‘swept’ the top of the meadow foliage a few times; and then showed the results to the kids. “No way!” said one of the kids. “Where did all those bugs come from?”
In the net were close to a hundred small bugs! Ants, gnats, flies, bees, plant bugs, a couple of damsel flies, small spiders, and scores of bugs too small for my eyes to tell what they were. And then there was this small, mostly green, grasshopper with long antennae in which the kids were particularly interested in. The grasshopper, our featured critter, was actually a female Pacific Meadow Katydid, (Conocephalus occidentalis). This Katydid, with its long sword-like ovipositor, was probably in plain view before the our eyes, but invisible because of its perfect camo clothing.
Pacific Meadow Katydids, males only, are more likely to be ‘heard’ than seen. They produce their own distinct mating song on warm late-summer and autumn days. However being a small katydid, less than one inch in length, their song is not very loud, as is the case with some of the larger katydids. If you hear a soft buzz or maraca like sound within a meadow, then track it down if you can; perhaps you may be one of the few who see one of these colorful little katydids!