Snowy Tree Cricket – Nature’s Thermometer

Perhaps the most familiar of our tree crickets, the Snowy Tree Cricket (Oecanthus fultoni) is a species whose chirp rate can be used to estimate the temperature. One popular formula is to count the number of songs given in thirteen seconds and then add that number to 40 to yield the temperature in Fahrenheit. That’s seems easy enough, so why not determine for yourself the approximate temperatures of the two singing males featured in the above video … then share your results in the comment section below.

This wide-ranging tree cricket, found across much of the United States, is referred to as “Snowy” because individuals are sometimes so pale that they appear white (although a number of other tree cricket species are similarly attired). It frequents brushy understory plants at the margin of woods or within open woods. During cold spells, Snowys can also be found close to the ground on the trunks of small trees – here they probably find a warmer microenvironment.

The male’s song is a pleasant series of evenly-spaced chirps, each chirp actually consisting of 8 (occasionally 5) pulses, given too fast to differentiate (see sonogram below). Males prefer to sing from the underside of branches or dead leaves, but sometimes position themselves in a hole in a leaf or else in the “V” created when two leaves overlap (as demonstrated in the video). Furthermore, as you can see for yourself, they have no problem singing upside down!

snowy tree cricket sonogram

Snowy Tree Crickets can be very difficult to locate because of the ventriloquial quality of their song. Finding them is further confused by sound reflecting off of, and being absorbed by, surrounding leaves. Sometimes, a male’s call actually gets softer as you approach him, because of nearby leaves suddenly blocking the sound. In addition, if you shine a flashlight in the direction of the singing male, he’ll usually collapse his wings and then hide behind a leaf, at times giving his position away unknowingly as he waves his antennae beyond the leaf’s edge.

MORE FACTS: Like all our native crickets, the male’s song is produced by structures on the wing. One wing has a ridged area called a “file” and the other wing has a “scraper.” A chirp is produced by the rapid vibration of one wing against the other, of the file against the scraper. Another fact: neighboring males often synchronize their singing such that a small group may be heard singing in unison..

NOTE: For additional information, see this species’ profile in Our Insect Musicians.

A Note from Lang:

portrait of Lang Elliott among maple leavesOf all our native tree crickets, this one is my favorite by far, due to its pleasant demeanor and its sweet, rather low-pitched song (low-pitched in comparison to most other tree crickets). But one thing is for certain: these buggers are difficult to videotape while singing! Not only are they hard to find, but they are easily disturbed, and they don’t like to be in the light.

I worked very hard to get the two singing sequences in the video, enticing the two males to sound off by turning my light off, and then back on when they finally started performing. After a few tries, they seemed to get used to my antics. I can’t wait to capture more footage this coming season, which is almost here … I fully expect to hear one singing within the next week or two!

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Video Metadata
Snowy Tree Cricket
Title
Snowy Tree Cricket
Description

This video features the Snowy Tree Cricket, a widespread species with a chirping song that can be used to calculate the temperature. Just count the number of chirps in 13 seconds and then add 40 ... that will yield the approximate temperature in Fahrenheit. Video and sound © Lang Elliott, musicofnature.com.

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Comments

  1. Id sure like to hear the story behind this video. Most awesome job at Getting this on video, and Audio.

  2. I love listening to the chirping songs on summer nights along with the frogs interspersed! I do not know how you managed to record just one song among so many!! Your equipment must be phenomenal! Thank you for sharing all that you do to help me single out special songs in my area! I hear lots of songs but do not know all of the animals that they come from and being able to see and hear them from your website has been great!
    By the way, I figure 56* on the first and 58* on second.

    • 56F and 58F sound about right to me. I failed to mention in my post that the last video clip was made earlier in the evening than the first clip, plus they were two different males. As you know, the temperature drops as evening progresses, which accounts for the difference.

  3. What a good idea to videotape them when it’s not very warm and we can really see the wing movements. Their wings are so beautiful at night! I love observing how two individuals who are close to each other may still sing at slightly different speeds and pitches because of micro-climate variation. I hope to hear the first of the season any day now.

    • I gathered both videos during the same night, but over a period of a couple of hours as the temperature dropped … that accounts for the pitch and rate differences of the two singing males. Perhaps, in the name of realism, I should have begun with the last one (early evening, faster rate, higher pitch) and ended with the first one (about an hour later, slower rate, lower pitch).

  4. Beautiful. Amazing footage. I see that they are in Arizona. I live in the northern part of the state at 7000 feet. We don’t hear too many crickets, but once in a while. .. :). I grew up in Southern New England so it is so lovely to hear them.

    • I’m amaazed at how widespread the species is, but I’m not at all familiar with preferred habitats in arid western areas. Maybe in shrubbery along canyon streams?

  5. What a sweet, familiar sound. And now I get to see the cricket for the first time. Thanks, Lang!

    • 56F Sounds about right for the first individual! But the individual at the end is higher in pitch and also singing a little faster than the first one. Has anyone calculated him yet?

  6. Wow – great footage! My video capture a few years back was good for the lovely sound only! I share the favorite sentiment.

  7. Hi Lang,

    The more time I spend recording, the more I appreciated the singing insects. But they are so hard to see! Beautiful capture – thank you!

    • I often use a directional shotgun microphone to find singers. I can carefully insert it into vegetation, trying not to disturb leaves, and all the while listening with headphones for when the signal gets loud. Triangulating also helps. Approach from right angles to get directional lines … the singer is where the lines cross. It’s always helpful to have two people looking.

      My friend and fellow team member Wil Hershberger is great at finding them. I’m not so hot because I have high frequency hearing loss and can only hear many singers with the help of a listening devices.

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