Sword-bearing Conehead (Neoconocephalus ensiger)
Abundant in NE Ohio
Meadows, grassy fields, wetlands, pond edges.
All counties in our region.
These long, relatively slender katydids have wings that extend far beyond the abdomen. The female’s very long ovipositor is the “sword” in this species’ name, though other female coneheads also have similar ovipositors. The cone on the end of the head is somewhat pointed with black on the tip and sides. Both green and brown forms are possible for conehead katydids in general, but the brown form of the Sword-bearing Conehead is rare in NE Ohio.
Sword-bearing Conehead's cone.
Both males and females have them.
Sword-bearing Conehead female's ovipositor
Brown female with rosy face
A steady, rhythmic, and relentless “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch” that can be quite loud when you’re close to the insect. I’ve had many people call this the “sprinkler song” (though that would depend on the kind of sprinkler you’re accustomed to hearing). Since there’s seldom just one or two of these coneheads, a chorus can drown out nearby meadow katydids, bush katydids and ground crickets. As with other singing insects, the song speeds up or slows down as the temperature rises or falls. When the night temperature drops, their songs become very slow and unsteady until they simply cannot continue.
The third week of July, but possibly a week earlier in hotter summers. They can be found through September and possibly into early October, but gradually become less common after mid-September.
General description and context
No goldenrod meadow is complete without an army of Sword-bearing Coneheads! They are also very common in grassy fields, wetlands, and edge habitat – basically anything that is not woodland. On occasion, you may even find one singing in a shrub. They can be found in areas that are fairly urban if the right habitat is available. They eat seeds, so look for them on any taller grasses with seed heads and also on sedges with seeds.
Similar species: All of our coneheads look similar, but the Sword-bearing Conehead is by far the most likely conehead you’ll find. This is the only conehead with a rapid “ch-ch-ch-ch” song that sounds like a sprinkler.
For being rather substantial insects, coneheads hide well within the vegetation – especially as their long, slender profile fits nicely with plant stems. Sword-bearing Coneheads can sing with their heads pointed down just as easily as when their heads are upright. When their cone-shaped heads are pointed toward the ground, they can drop into the vegetation and escape danger (including you) in a second. They can resemble thick blades of grass so easily that they become impossible to find.
Listening in Nature
Songs of Insects:
Singing Insects of North America: