In New York, A Quest For Long-Sought Katydids

Last Friday, citizen scientists fanned out across New York City, and learned the sounds of seven different kinds of crickets and katydids in the urban wild. They were particularly anxious to document the common true katydid. Naturalists believe that species left the city 100 years ago, but some people say they can hear them every night.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Finally this hour, a lighter critter story, New York City's Cricket Crawl. We heard about it earlier this month from an entomologist and organizer of the event. The idea was ordinary citizens go out at night all over the city, all over the New York metropolitan area, searching for species of crickets and katydids.

Well, NPR's Margot Adler went out on the Cricket Crawl on Saturday night, and here is what she found and heard.

MARGOT ADLER: The Cricket Crawl was partly about getting people outside, creating a citizen-scientist model that could be used for many surveys, but it was also about finding the classic katydid, the common true katydid, found all over. But 90 years ago, a naturalist said they were no longer in New York City.

A week before the crawl, I spent an evening with Marie Winn, author of several books about nature in the city. She had become obsessed.

Ms. MARIE WINN (Author): I feel that I have sat at my window on Riverside Drive and 91st Street every night and hear these katydids.

ADLER: And there they were.

(Soundbite of katydids)

ADLER: But like most of us, she wasn't sure. Perhaps it was the lesser angle-wing, which has a somewhat similar sound. After all, most of us aren't experts on crickets. Even Marie Winn says she's sort of a second grader.

Ms. WINN: I can pretty well tell you, oh, that's a chestnut-sided warbler, and that is a (unintelligible). But here, I've just started learning these things.

ADLER: And yet, she says, it's sort of like the orchestra. It's only when you start playing the clarinet that you hear it all the time. A week later, it's time for the crawl. In front of the Museum of Natural History, Lou Sorkin says there isn't really a strategy for finding these crickets and katydids.

Mr. LOU SORKIN (Entomologist, American Museum of Natural History): You just have to stop, listen, continue a bit, stop and listen, and see what you hear.

ADLER: But that's not as simple as it seems for most humans. I hear cicadas every August, but never realized until a week ago that they are day singers, and katydids are the night singers, except on those hot summer evenings where they mix for a few hours. The katydids are high in the trees, but you can get close to some crickets.

Mr. SORKIN: See this cricket here?

(Soundbite of cricket)

ADLER: Now, it stopped chirping now that you shined the light on it, right?

Mr. SORKIN: Yeah.

ADLER: How does it make its call?

Mr. SORKIN: By the wings moving across each other.

ADLER: Wings moving? Back at the American Museum of Natural History, data is coming in to Team Cricket.

Mr. DAVE JENKINS: This is Dave Jenkins, Carla Jenkins(ph). The time is 8:39, and we are…

Ms. CARLA JENKINS: In our backyard.

Mr. JENKINS: That's Milford, New Jersey, and we heard the field cricket, the jumping bush cricket and the…

Ms. CARLA JENKINS: Lesser angle wings.

ADLER: People could go on the Web site and learn the sounds of seven target species. But out in Central Park, naturalist Sam Droege, one of the coordinators of the crawl, showed me it's not so easy.

Mr. SAM DROEGE (Naturalist): What's calling now?

ADLER: Field cricket?

Mr. DROEGE: Nope.

ADLER: Jumping bush cricket?

Mr. DROEGE: You got it. Very good. You're (unintelligible) to cricket level two now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADLER: In the end, people called from about 350 different sites with reports on all seven species. By the way, Sam Droege and Lou Sorkin say the sounds outside Marie Winn's apartment are those of common true katydids.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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