I was getting ready to clip a head of hydrangeas transforming from their cool summer blues to warm autumn reds, when I noticed I was being watched. Stock still in the middle of that very cluster was a large green insect of the grasshopper and cricket family–a fork-tailed bush katydid.
How to tell a grasshopper from a katydid? Look at the antennae. Grasshoppers have short antennae, only about the size of their own head, while katydids’ antennae are much longer.
These katydids are the bane of citrus growers as their favorite food is immature orange rind. Like food testers, they like to take only one or two bites. Unfortunately, even those little bites of the rind ruin the developing fruit. Fork-tailed bush katydids are widespread in the U.S. and happily feed on any tree and shrub leaves.
These katydids are masters of camouflage and are more often heard than seen. The males have a “file and scraper” adaptation on their shoulders, which they rub together to attracts the ladies, making that “s-s-s-s-s-t” sound of summer. Before dying off in the winter, the katydids will lay their eggs between a leaf’s layers, to emerge in the spring.
At this time, the katydids will probably be on their last instar, so they are full grown and most easily sighted. If you are out in your yard or your woods looking closely at some flowers or leaves, don’t be surprised if there is someone looking right back at you!