Sunday, September 13, 2009

Crunching Data

Behind the scenes and insulated from the wilds of the city streets and parks by the thick walls of the museum, things are far less glamorous than the reports we're fielding. No naked men or werewolves here. The volunteers have been our eyes and (mostly) our ears tonight, and it's been a blast.

It's late, but things here at Cricket Central are barely slowing down. I'm about to sign off for the evening, but the rest of the team is still processing and posting data.

We have finished with the reports that were phoned into the IO dropbox--including at least one great impersonation of a fall field cricket by a volunteer who sounded like she needed some sleep. Now we are diving into reports emailed in from the field. We just went over 100 records and still haven't scratched the surface of the emailed data. After that, we have to cull through the blogs to make sure we didn't miss anything.

It's too preliminary at this point to make any meaningful assessment, but we've all been amazed by the dedication and enthusiasm of the volunteers. We also have several new, interesting records for the common true katydid. It will be interesting to see what will show up as we wade through all the data. For now, quoting Kevin Matteson from the Matteson-Clark Expedition, I doubt the night will ever sound quite the same again.

Birds Do It

Eat insects, that is. So do many mammals--including humans.

It's called entomophagy and in many parts of the world, it's a common part of many people's diet. Put a tray of roasted crickets out at a party in the U.S., though, and you're more than likely to clear out a room. If entomophagy is practiced here at all, it is more than likely a novelty.

There are, however, groups devoted to promoting the practice. Tonight, I had the opportunity to sample cricket cookies--chocolate chirpies, admittedly something of a novelty.

Still, it got me thinking that perhaps in some places it might be a viable way for under-nourished people to get protein and calories. According to Insects Are Food, quoting the Entomological Society of America, insects generally contain more protein and are lower in fat than traditional meats. In addition they have about 20 times higher food conversion efficiency than traditional meats. In other words they have a better feed-to-meat ratio than beef, pork, lamb or chicken.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Common True Katydid Pretty Common Afterall

In 1920, a naturalist by the name of William T. Davis published a paper (pdf) in the Journal of the New York Entomological Society in which he described what appeared at the time to be the disappearance of the common true katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia) from the forests of New York City. He noted in particular a 1908 publication that described the insect "quite numerous and very noisy in the tall trees in the Egbertville [Staten Island] ravine," but lamented the fact that by the time he was writing they were completely gone from the island.

His assumption was that increasingly poor air quality, caused by the factories that were cropping up along Arthur Kill had driven them away. All he had was 1919 report from S. Harmsted Chubb of the American Museum of Natural Hostory, who heard some singing in some tall trees near Van Cortland Park on the evening of October 6. After that, and until the present day, there were no reports of P. camellifolia anywhere in the City.

Of course, the Cricket Crawl took that as a challenge and almost immediately some teams set out to find it. Advance teams in the Bronx Forest and Manhattan's West Village reported songs on September 1 and later on the far western edge of Manhattan, on Staten Island, and in New Jersey.

Tonight, the air seems to be almost alive with the calls of this once-elusive insect and we are getting reports from teams in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens of common true katydids singing from trees.

New York is Alive with the Sound of Crickets (and Katydids and Naked Men)

Lou Sorkin (above), entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History, and Sam Droege from the USGS took a couple of radio reporters out into Central Park across from the museum for a quick survey of singing insects. The fall field crickets were calling almost constantly, with a few greater and lesser anglewings chirping through.

We are getting dozens of calls to the Cricket Crawl phone-in message system (646-462-4073 ext. 10220). After a brief period where we were scrambling to figure out some of the fine details of how to get the data mapped accurately (who knew that the Google Earth conversion for decimal degrees would be in the 3-D display perference screen?) things are moving much more smoothly. Lots of expeditions and individuals calling in, Tweeting, and blogging (see the blog roll to the right for the latest news from all 5 boroughs).

The Runfola Expedition in the Bronx Forest has retired for the evening with 5 species recorded and are headed for a pub. Color me jealous. Gowanus is still going hot and heavy with a Common True Katydid under their belt almost immediately. NYBG has almost run the board of all 7, but the sighting of the night has to go to the Sweet Expedition, which went hunting for a cricket they heard calling from a bush and found a naked man instead.

Get Your Count On

Only a slight chance of showers this evening, so the Cricket Crawl is ON. Organizer Sam Droege, who develops wildlife monitoring techniques for the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, says sound carries farther in humid air, so conditions should be optimal as dusk approaches. Who am I to doubt?

There have been several new expeditions organize in the past 24 hours. The list now includes:

The Buffington Expedition ranging throughout Manhattan
The Feller Expedition in the Bronx and Queens
The Sweet/AMC Expedition in Brooklyn
The Jones/Cub Scout Expedition in Pelham Manor
The Mateson and Clark Expedition crossing the Bronx
The New York Botanical Garden Expedition gamely venturing into the wilds of their own back yard
The Gowanus Expedition exploring the banks of their eponymous creek
The Moskowitz Expedition in East Brunswick, NJ
The Runfola/Bronx River Alliance Expedition in the the Bronx Forest and other wild places along the Bronx River

Many of these folks will be blogging on their own and you can find links to their sites in the sidebar. I will also be updating their progress and that of the many expeditions and individuals that do not have access to teknoligy. Remember, we'll also be Tweeting (or Chirping) updates through the Cricket Crawl Twitter feed (@cricketcrawlnyc) throughout the night. I will be physically located at Cricket Crawl HQ in the American Museum of Natural History and will be posting updates about the data as it is processed by our team of wildlife and analytical experts.

Let the games begin.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cricket Crawl Postponed to Rain Date

So with a moderate-sized storm pushing wind and rain up the East Coast, we've decided to exercise Cricket Crawl's rain date option. Expeditions and individuals will be headed out Saturday evening from dusk to midnight to listen for crickets and katydids. Frustrating but at least it gives us all an extra day to memorize the calls.