Shieldbacks

Rare green-form of Least Shieldback showing shield-like pronotum.

Named for the enlarged shieldlike plates that cover the tops of their thoraxes (also called the pronotum), the shieldback katydids are the linebackers of the katydid world, with robust bodies and a fierce demanor (they may look mean, but like most katydids, they are harmless when handled). An extremely diverse group, there are 123 species of shield- backs in North America, represented by twenty-five gen- era. Nearly all are western in distribution — only ten spe- cies occur in the East, most being members of the genus Atlanticus (eastern shieldbacks). In this guide, we feature four eastern shieldbacks, plus the Roesel’s Katydid, a northeastern species in the genus Metrioptera.

Rare yellow-form of American Shieldback.

The shieldbacks are usually the first katydids to emerge as adults. Males can be heard singing as early as mid- to late June, in weedy fields and brushy woodland under- stories. Species can be identified by the pattern of their high-pitched songs, which are swishy rattles or trills, difficult for many people to hear. Species also look different, showing variations in the length of the hind legs relative to the body and the length of the forewings protruding from the shield. Colors vary from neutral gray to reddish brown (note also the rare green color form of the Least Shieldback, pictured above, and the yellowish color variant of the American Shieldback, pictured to the right).

 
 

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