A Butterfly, a Flycatcher, and an Intro to Trig

By all accounts this has been a slow year for Monarchs. I’ve seen five flying over the Museum’s airspace this fall on their way south to Mexico. The numbers of Monarchs seen here are never great, but five is particularly disapointing. It may be wishful thinking to say that the weather has not been conducive to a good Monarch flight here in the Piedmont. I hope that’s all it is.

I was excited to see this male Monarch stop to nectar on groundsel tree before continuing it’s southward journey.

While photogrpahing the Monarch above, two phoebes were calling from the Wetlands. One was perched on a birch tree just off the Main Wetlands Overlook.

Silhouetted against a gray sky, this Eastern Phoebe calls out, “fee-bee, fee-bee.”

I briefly stopped by the Bird Feeder Area to see if any winter sparrows had arrived. Although I did see one White-throated Sparrow, more interesting was the small bush cricket that was working the arm of the Adirondack chair next to me.

This little cricket was quickly marching across the arm of the chair next to me searching for something unseen by my eyes.

The miniature cricket, about 3/8 inches in length, was marching up and down and across the arm of the chair frantically feeling the surface of the chair with its palpi. Palpi are sensory organs connected orally to the cricket, and in this case, are somewhat enlarged and flattened, paddle-shaped. This cricket was also missing its left hind leg.

Feeling the surface of the chair with its palpi.

My new friend is known variously as a Red-headed Bush Cricket, or my preference, Handsome Trig (Phyllopalpus pulchellus). It is certainly a cricket and it is found in the bush, usually at waist level and below, and it does have a red head. But, it’s also quite handsome and rather trig, if I’m reading the meaning of trig correctly.

Is this cricket not handsome and stylish?

Just take a look at it. Note the dark, shiny abdomen, the red thorax and head, the neat, tan colored legs (the five legs that are present). The handsome part of the name is obvious. But the trig part? I’m assuming the neat and stylish look of the cricket is where the trig part of the name comes in.

But this is not the only trig in North America. Are they all tidy little crickets? One close relative to the Handsome Trig is the Columbian Trig. The Columbian Trig is also small, neat and trim in appearance, although various shades of green. The other crickets, the non trig crickets, like the Field Cricket, House Cricket, and heaven knows, the Mole Circket, are not nearly as attractive or trim as these two trigs.

I could be wrong, though, on the naming of this group of crickets. Trigs belong to a subfamily of crickets, Trigonidiinae. A trigon is a triangle or a triangular lyre or harp of ancient Rome and Greece. Perhaps there’s some physical feature on crickets in this subfamily that is triangular or lyre-shaped that is lacking in other crickets. If there is, it’s not obvious. Maybe I just didn’t look hard enough. In addition, a search of the online literature also came up empty.

Trigs do share one characteristic which should be mentioned, the females have a sword-like projection at the tip of their abdomens, an ovipositor. Now, all female crickets have ovipositors but these crickets have sword-shaped ovipositors. In fact, these crickets are often called sword-tailed crickets.

I don’t have a photo of the ovipositor, but it looks like a scimitar, the long curved sword of the middle east. In cross section, this ovipositor is somewhat triangular in shape but I don’t think this is the feature which gave the crickets their subfamily name.

Oh, and in the case of these crickets, I don’t think trig is meant as an abbreviation for trigonometry.

So, until someone tells me differently, I’m going with the neat, tidy, and trim definition for the naming of these crickets as trigs. Without a doubt, this little, handsome cricket is indeed fit and trig from head to toe, except for the missing leg, that is.



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