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The Crickets of the High Line

If you’re having trouble re-engaging with work this first week after Labor Day, I encourage you to take a walk through the Chelsea Thicket, one of my favorite sections of the High Line. I’m sure there’s a scientific reason for why a billion crickets have taken up residence in this particular patch of Manhattan, but after a long day in the office you probably don’t care.

I couldn’t resist doing a bit of investigation into this question and quickly stumbled upon a project that took place in New York just a few months after the High Line opened in 2009: the Cricket Crawl. This was a crowd-sourcing event whose purpose was to discover whether the common (or true) katydid  (Pterophylla camellifolia) — the cricket we commonly hear in the country — had disappeared from New York City. In 1920 an amateur naturalist, William T. Davis, published a paper in the Journal of the New York Entomological Society in which he lamented that “the true katydid is either extinct or nearly so on Staten Island.” He speculated that it was also gone from the surrounding area, a victim of poor air quality that resulted from the many factories that were active at the time. (You can download Davis’ report from Ken Kostel’s blog.) The Cricket Crawl, organized by the American Museum of Natural History and the U.S. Geological Survey, took place on September 11th and the news is good: there are indeed true common katydid’s in town, along with seven other species of cricket. You can read the group’s final report here.

But all of this is getting rather wonky. You’re tired, longing for another week of summer. The Chelsea Thicket is a particularly peaceful part of the High Line, and it has become wonderfully unruly as the trees have grown. Branches reach out across the path, and in wet weather you’re likely to emerge drenched, as though you’ve had a sponge bath that lasted a full city block.  But best of all is the sound track: those chirping crickets — who knows what species they are, but who cares? — all male (because only the males chirp), singing up a storm.

You might prefer, this September 11th, to tune out the news and listen to crickets instead. So head over to the Chelsea Thicket for a live concert. If you can’t make it to the High Line, you can listen to a few examples that were aired as part of this NPR story. Or you can really wonk out and listen to mp3 files of citizen cricket crawlers reporting on what they heard, when, and where.

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