A friend (and insect photographer extraordinaire) named Marla recently gave me a copy of My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir. Last night I read Muir's charming description of a grasshopper:
"Up on the mountains he comes on excursions, how high I don’t know, but at least as far and high as Yosemite tourists.. I was much interested with the hearty enjoyment of the one that danced and sang for me on the Dome this afternoon."Hmm…if it's "dancing and singing" it's definitely an Oedipodine or band-winged grasshopper. There were three common species in the high country early this fall when I visted the Sierras:
Muir goes on and gives a few more clues to the identity of the mystery hopper:
"He seemed brimful of glad, hilarious energy, manifested by springing into the air to a height of 20 or thirty feet, then diving and springing up again and making a sharp musical rattle just as the lowest point in the descent was reached. Up and down a dozen times or so he danced and sang, then alighted to rest, then up and at it again…
…A fine sermon the little fellow danced for me on the Dome, a likely place to look for serrmons in stones, but not for grasshopper sermons."
The description implies a species that does a lengthy, conspicuous display flight with much noisy crepeation (wing snapping). The habitat is bare rock rather than woodland or meadow, and the entry is dated July 20, 1869. While not 100% conclusive, these characteristics strongly suggest Circotettix maculatus. I found this species abundant in the Sierras, and Muir’s description nails them. I find it very satisfying to be able to read his description and make the identification nearly 140 years after the observation.
The other two species have both been associated with common names: the Crackling Forest Grasshopper (T. verruculatus) and the Pronotal Range Grasshopper (C. neglectus). There is no such association with C. maculatus. Perhaps we should let Muir have a say in this species and refer to it as the Dancing Grasshopper.