Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Insects by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Insects by  Anna Botsford Comstock

The Katydid

Teacher's Story

"I love to hear thine earnest voice

Wherever thou art hid,

Thou testy little dogmatist,

Thou pretty katydid,

Thou mindest me of gentle folks,

Old gentle folks are they,

Thou say'st an undisputed thing

In such a solemn way."


dropcap image ISTANCE, however, lends enchantment to the song of the katydid, for it grates on our nerves as well as on our ears, when at close quarters. The katydid makes his music in a manner similar to that of the cricket but is not, however, so well equipped since he has only one file and only one scraper for playing. As with the meadow grasshoppers and crickets, only the males make the music, the wings of the females being delicate and normally veined at the base. The ears, too, are in the same position as those of the cricket, and may be seen as a black spot in the front elbow. The song is persistent and may last the night long: "Katy did, she didn't she did." James Whitcomb Riley says, "The katydid is rasping at the silence," and the word rasping well describes the note.

The katydids are beautiful insects, with green, finely veined, leaf-like wing-covers under which is a pair of well developed wings, folded like fans; they resemble in form the long-horned grasshoppers. The common northern species (Cyrtophyllus)  is all green above except for the long, delicate, fawn-colored antennæ and the brownish fiddle of the male, which consists of a flat triangle just back of the thorax where the wing-covers overlap. Sometimes this region is pale brown and sometimes green, and with the unaided eye we can plainly see the strong cross-vein, bearing the file. The green eyes have darker centers and are not so large as the eyes of the grasshopper. The body is green with white lines below on either side. There is a suture the length of the abdomen in which are placed the spiracles. The insect breathes by sidewise expansion and contraction, and the sutures rhythmically open and shut; when they are open, the spiracles can be seen as black dots. The legs are slender and the hind pair, very long. The feet are provided with two little pads, one on each side of the base of the claw. In the grasshopper there is only one pad which is placed between the two hooks of the claw. The female has a green, sickle-shaped ovipositor at the end of the body. With this she lays her flat, oval eggs, slightly over-lapping in a neat row.

The katydids are almost all dwellers in trees and shrubs; although I have often found our common species upon asters and similar high weeds. The leaf-like wings of these insects are, in form and color, so similar to the leaves that they are very completely hidden. The katydid is rarely discovered except by accident; although when one is singing, it may be approached and ferreted out with the aid of a lantern.


The front portions of the wings of a male katydid showing file on one wing and scraper on the other.

The katydid, when feeding, often holds the leaf or the flower firmly with the front feet, while biting it off like a grazing cow, and if it is tough, chews it industriously with the sidewise working jaws. A katydid will often remain quiet a long time with one long antenna directed forward and the other backward, as if on the lookout for news from the front and the rear. But when the katydid "cleans up," it does a thorough job. It nibbles its front feet, paying special attention to the pads, meanwhile holding the foot to its mandibles with the aid of the palpi. But once washing is not enough; I have seen a katydid go over the same foot a dozen times in succession, beginning always with the hind spurs of the tibia and nibbling along the tarsus to the claws. It cleans its face with its front foot, drawing it downward over the eye and then licking it clean. It cleans its antenna with its mandibles by beginning at the base and drawing it up in a loop as fast as finished. After watching the process of these lengthy ablutions, we must conclude that the katydid is among the most fastidious members of the insect "four hundred."

References—Manual for Study of Insects, Comstock; American Insects, Kellogg; Ways of Six Footed, Comstock; Grasshopper Land, Morley.


The angular-winged katydid and her eggs.

Comstock's Manual.

Lesson LXXXI

The Katydid

Leading thought—The katydids resemble the long-horned grasshoppers and the crickets. They live in trees, and the male sings "katy-did" by means of a musical instrument similar to that of the cricket.

Method—Place a katydid in a cricket cage in the schoolroom, giving it fresh leaves or flowers each day, and encouraging the pupils to watch it at recess. It may be placed in a vial and passed around, for close observation. In studying this insect, use the lesson on the red-legged grasshopper and also that on the cricket. These lessons will serve to call the attention of the pupils to the differences and resemblances between the katydid and these two allied insects.

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