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Knowing your backyard bugs, insects

The “little” grasshopper.

I recently spent some time with a delightful 3-year-old.

Among other things, she was entranced by the creepy crawlies — they were all bugs to her. Of course, I immediately found her a container for her insects and we became bug-hunting buddies. Grasshoppers and crickets were the most prolific. She was a master at catching them, and every other little crawly. Already at three, she has the dexterity to catch things without hurting them, even the fast spiders and moths. It is quite remarkable.

She particularly likes daddy-long-legs and moths, those were her favorites. Though we caught beetles, crickets, slugs, grasshoppers, and flies, too. But no ants. She doesn’t like to catch ants. We decided that we liked to watch ants but not catch them. And we don’t like mosquitoes at all. That’s fair.

Having dedicated time in the summer to go bug hunting turned out to be a treat for me. When else would I take hours during the height of summer to wander around and catch insects? But in the presence of a three-year-old from Wyoming, for whom this area is a lush green oasis, this became a priority. Full disclosure, once she discovered that the turkey peeps liked to eat grasshoppers, we were catching for them and feeding them. Sometimes the turkey peeps would hunt with us. Sorry, grasshoppers.

It also made me slow down, watch more closely, and better appreciate the makers of my favorite summer sounds. The buzzing, chirping, and trilling of the crickets and grasshoppers lulls me to sleep at night, and I drift off picking out the different patterns and tones. Wandering through the grass looking for them gave them definition, a tangible shape. I cannot match sound to species yet — someday I’ll make that a summer project — but the variety in colors and shapes makes the sounds that much more magical.

In the order Orthoptera, there are hundreds of different representatives in our region including varieties of grasshoppers that include short-horned, band-winged, and spur-throated. They sound like gang names… Katydids and crickets take the night shift, and are just as diverse. I think everyone is familiar with the band-winged grasshoppers that startle as you get near and flutter through the air in a random escape, landing ungracefully but quickly disappearing due to their camouflage.

The camouflage doesn’t help them much when the turkey peeps are actually on the prowl. It took them about a day to get their search parameters down for the grasshoppers — to be able to pick them out sitting still in the grass versus flying. Once they knew what they were looking for, watch out orthopteras! However, on some foraging trips they weren’t interested in them. This was a great opportunity for us human bug catchers to capture a few of them in our observation jars.

Up close, some of the grasshopper friends are actually garishly colored. Red, yellow, orange, a couple different greens, brown, and black all on one individual. No wonder kids like them! Others are all mottled brown, practically invisible on the gravel driveway (though the turkey peeps think these are the tastiest). The emerald and slightly otherworldly green of the katydids really defies the limits of our artistic palette. Their antenna so delicate, they have such a curious expression. They are also mostly wing, so the turkey peeps often ignore them. They are a great treasure for the observation jar though!

This summer has been a busy one, more dealing with the world at large than I normally do. The days I spent bug hunting, and walking turkey peeps, has kept me grounded. All the things I need to remember come up during the walks… there are beautiful things in life, just look harder; flamboyant and subdued both have their place; sing; slow down; death is inevitable, but should sustain other life; stay still and patient most of the time, but fly when you need to; be generous with your time and your treasures. It is easy to walk around at home, through the yard, and take it for granted. It is easy to slide into complacency and forget how special the world — especially the natural world — really is; how much it can heal, inspire, and calm. Sharing it with a three-year-old made grasshoppers into mythical creatures, worthy of hunt and capture, and then gentle release at the end of night. If they weren’t offered to turkey peeps.

Enjoy the summer sounds, and take a bit of time to meet the residents that sing in twilight.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.

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