War of the Roses

A female fork-tailed busy katydid nymph stands vertically on a rose leaf

Portland is known as the City of Roses and decades ago a prior owner planted a bunch of roses in our backyard. I’ve always been a bit torn as to whether or not I should keep them. I’m not a huge fan of roses themselves, although we have one variety in particular that I think creates a lovely flower. Some of them aren’t doing so well, but even those that are thriving often get leaves covered in black spots, a consequence of a fungus that thrives in our climate. There’s a natural pesticide that can keep it under control but when possible I prefer to not use pesticides.

My favorite thing about the roses is the katydids that sometimes live there in the summer, in July we had a handful in one spot, from fairly young nymphs to an adult. The nymphs go through several stages, this female is easily recognizable as a katydid but she is only starting to grow her wings. When full grown they’ll stretch down the length of her body (as you can see on this adult female from last year). When I see one on a bush, I leave nearby spent flowers a little longer than normal so that my friends will have plenty to eat.

The Forked Tail

A view from the front of a male fork-tailed bush katydid nymph

I’m not a big fan of roses even though we have a bunch in our back and side yards. I often think of digging them up and replacing them with something both more to my liking and a better fit for our climate, and may do it yet, but I do like that they sometimes host an insect I love to photograph, the fork-tailed bush katydid. I found this male nymph on a rose bush along with several other katydids, two that were younger and one adult. This one was pretty large but still had short little wings. I’ve photographed them multiple times over the years but only now noticed that they don’t stand on the tips of their feet, but on pads further up.

I took a picture from behind as well as it shows the fork that gives them their name (both the top and bottom are forked but the name refers to the top). There are other katydids with forks but this is the only one in Oregon.

A view from behind of a male fork-tailed bush katydid nymph

A Surprise in the Salvia

A katydid prepares to jump from the salvia branch it is clinging to

I normally like to photograph the insects and flowers in our garden the same way I shoot animals and plants when I’m hiking, which is to photograph them how I find them. In this case though the water drops on this katydid came not from rain but from me. It’s been a brutal summer here in Portland so even though our plants our drought tolerant to deal with the normally dry Northwest summers, I’ve been giving them an occasional drink of water since they missed out on the rains that usually last through June.

While watering the wildflower garden I saw something jump from the plant I was watering into our bee balm. I dropped the hose and ran over to see what it was, expecting a moth, and was delighted to instead find my favorite insect to photograph, a katydid. I had the chance to photograph them from 2006 to 2009 but hadn’t seen one since, so I put aside the watering and ran inside to grab my camera and tripod and macro lens and try for some pictures, even though the breeze was going to make things difficult.

I was a bit crushed when I got back to the bee balm and discovered the katydid was gone. But it hadn’t gone far, as I saw it moving on the nearby salvia and settled in for some pictures. In the top picture it is about to jump from one branch to another, its two front legs in open space balancing in the wind while the back four maintain purchase on the salvia. In the bottom two pictures it is using its mandibles to cut off pieces of the flower to eat. It was hard to get any pictures as the breeze was blowing the flowers around, I did my best to manually focus whenever the katydid came back into view and hoped for the best.

I planted the salvia for the hummingbirds, and the bees and butterflies like them too, so I was delighted to see the katydid enjoy them too. The katydid’s enjoyment is more destructive than the others, but no worries, there are plenty of blossoms to choose from. I hope it can forgive the disturbance of my watering, as the same water that upset it nurtures the flowers it loves to eat.

A katydid pulls on a salvia blossom as it prepares to cut it with its mandibles to eat it

A katydid cuts a salvia blossom with its mandibles as it prepares to eat it