Small habitat…


Blue-eyed Daisy and Katydid copright 2012 Pamela Breitberg

I had a single mission, to protect my home. I was arming a defense of our newly restored driveway from gradual destruction. Our property is alongside the end of an alley and used by garbage trucks twice a week to make a wide turn onto the street leaving tire tracks. Snow plows gouge pits into it as they complete their run through the alley plowing the gravel path clear of snow. I would create an appealing defense. I was going to create a large barrier that would not go unseen even in a foot of snow. It would stop monster trucks from crossing our driveway which was built to withstand light car traffic. I had no idea that my obstruction would be a habitat in itself.

Our driveway hosts the only patch of all-day sunlight on our property. The gardener in me chose three large planters to place at the corner of driveway/alley area. The pots would hopefully be large enough to sustain plant roots during the Chicago winter weather. Two pots were to hold small evergreen shrubs. One pot I filled with some perennial trailing groundcover and for summer color I added African Daisies (Osteopermum)
in blue and white. Osteo means “bone” and permum is “seed” so I thought this a valid name for flowers that were placed to send a “strong” message to trucks to “watch out” as they drove past.

One day, I back-tracked as I passed the pots because I wasn’t sure if I had seen an insect or a blade of grass lying across a flower. The curious naturalist in me had to know which I had observed. To my excitement (yep, that’s exciting for me!) I spied what looked like a long legged grasshopper with spotted antennae. I was unsure if it would still be there after taking a few minutes to get my camera, but it seemed to be patiently awaiting my return. It was resting on the blue Osteopermum, also known as Blue-eyed Daisy. Its delicate profile fit the peaceful setting.

African Daisy and Katydid copyright 2012 Pamela Breitberg

One sighting is all the encouragement I need. So the following day I was anxious to see if by any chance the grasshopper-like insect had remained in this habitat. What a wonderful amazement to see that it was still there, but now on one of the white African Daisies. So now I was hooked and needed to do research to learn the identity of my new fascination.

What I learned is that this was not a grasshopper, but a Scudderia – Scudder’s Bush Katydid. Specifically it was a nymph (young) Scudder’s Bush Katydid. I would have recognized it had it been an adult, but have never knowingly seen a nymph. Insects are amazing at going through many changes during their short life. Metamorphosis is the official name for this, and perhaps the degree of “change” is worthy of such a big word. I have often wished for a reference book ( or online resource) with a visual image of every change during life of every common insect for our area. But I realize this is quite ambitious because there are over 90,000 insect species in the United States (that have been identified). Even if 1/4th of them reside in Chicago that would be quite a reference book if each phase of change is documented for each species. This is even more overwhelming a project when you realize that a stage for an insect, such as larva, can contain several physical transformations before moving onto the pupa stage. So some insects would warrant documentation for quite a few more than four changes before maturity. Desired habitats change also for an insect as it matures (much like us!?), so I do not expect my new friend will remain a part of this small habitat very long.