This is the season of the night fiddlers, when you know summer is fraying away. The air brims with their eerie music, although we rarely see the musicians — katydids and crickets playing their marimbas, as they lift their wings high and rub a sharp edge of one wing over a ridge of pegs on the other. It’s as if they’re combing strands of song from their wings.
Katydids rasp a tattletale: Katy did! Katy did! Katy did!! Cicadas, buckling and unbuckling their stomach muscles, yield the sound of someone sharpening scissors. Fall field crickets, the thermometerhounds, add high-pitched tinkling chirps to the jazz, and their call quickens with warm weather, slows again with cool. Carolina crickets (which roost far beyond the Carolinas) furnish a buzzing trill. Grasshoppers sound as if they’re shuffling decks of cards. Snowy tree crickets lend a chirping melody to the ensemble. It’s the ultimate jug band using body parts as instruments.
The males do all the serenading, lustful for females, each of whom waits in the dark loins of the night, listening with ears in rather odd places — on the abdomen or the front legs. A female homes in on a winged dude, lured by his siren song. Then the happy male croons a different courtship tune. But they haven’t much time for dalliance before the first heart-stopping frost. According to folklore’s timetable, frost creeps in 90 days past the katydids’ first song. In my insect-loud yard, I heard the first katydid call about a week early this year, round about the middle of July.