Leaf wings

katydid wing
Pterophylla camellifolia

These are the leaves we are hearing now: a kind of dry crepitation. Shall we believe the old folk wisdom, that this means it’s only six weeks now until the first frost? The real leaves are already yellowing, some of them, but from drought rather than from any intimation of an early fall. The katydids stay green as April right up until they die sometime in November.

This “testy little dogmatist,” rendered familiar by the verses of Holmes, is one of the loudest and most persevering of our native musicians; silent and concealed among the leaves during the day, at night it mounts to the highest branches of the trees, where the male commences his sonorous call to the noiseless females. The sound is produced by the friction of the taborets in the triangular overlapping portion of each wing cover against each other, and is strengthened by the escape of air from the sacs of the body, reverberating so loudly as to be heard a quarter of a mile in a still night.

Thus the venerable American Cyclopedia from 1879. The referenced poem is Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “To an Insect,” which is fairly dreadful, managing to be sexist and factually incorrect at the same time:

Thou art a female, Katydid!
I know it by the trill
That quivers through thy piercing notes,
So petulant and shrill;
I think there is a knot of you
Beneath the hollow tree,—
A knot of spinster Katydids,—
Do Katydids drink tea?

Meanwhile, something with enormous, filmy wings has somehow made it through the screen and launches periodic assaults on my reading light, flopping awkwardly about and startling me each time. I think it might be a species of lacewing. It rests now on the yellow wall, and I notice that its wings, too, somewhat resemble leaves — the kind that have been eaten away by leaf miners until only the veins remain.

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