Crickets are fairly common insects that you may have encountered many times in your home or backyard. Most memories of crickets are restricted to them flying in through a bedroom window, as someone runs screaming out the door to fetch a pest-killing spray.
These insects, however, can turn out to be quite fascinating if you look at them with an open mind. They have an intimate relationship with nature around us and play a major role in breaking down plant material and renewing soil minerals for re-growth.
These six-legged creatures have an exoskeleton and can be found in a variety of colors, sizes, and physiologies depending on their habitat and environment. They have thin antennae, hind legs evolved especially for jumping, three-jointed foot segments, and two sensory appendages called cerci. There are two pairs of wings; the hind ones are used in flying, while the forewings are hard and leathery.
Crickets belong to family Gryllidae, which is home to about 2,400 species of these chirpy insects. What most people do not know is that only male members of the family can produce this trademark chirping sound.
Let us explore more facts about these interesting bugs, their habitat, diet, their place in human culture, and their various species that are found around the globe.
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According to a branch of biology known as taxonomy, all animals are categorized systematically from kingdom to sub-family.
Crickets, in particular, are classified as follows:
Crickets are found in almost all parts of the world, with the exception of regions located higher than 55-degree latitude, as they seem to be averse to cold weather.
These flying insects have conquered several islands, often traversing over large oceans to reach suitable locations for nesting and reproduction.
The most diverse population of crickets is found in tropical regions like Malaysia, where 88 different species were detected chirping at a single spot. It is expected that the actual number of species could be much higher but remains undetected due to several species being mute.
Crickets can live in bushes, amongst grass blades, on tree canopies, in caves and burrows, and some have even evolved to be able to bounce over the surface of the water!
Some species of crickets are herbivorous and feed on flowers, fruit or leaves. Others can be predatory in their dietary habits, attacking larvae and pupae of other insects, aphids, and other small invertebrates.
A few species can be classified as scavengers as well, as they feed on decaying matter
Interesting observation scientists have made about crickets in captivity is that once captured, their diet is adaptable. They become omnivorous and end up eating whatever they receive.
Crickets may not be able to feed on humans per say, but with their powerful jaws, they are known to have bitten humans.
In species that stridulate or chirp, females are attracted to the males based on their calls. The pair makes contact using the antenna, after which, a short stage of courtship occurs where the mating call changes.
The female is fertilized by a single spermatophore, transferred to its external genitalia. The female can attempt to remove this spermatophore since it can mate with different males on several occasions.
The females lay their eggs in soil or inside plant stems, where they turn into larvae or nymphs. There are ten different larval stages to pass before adulthood is reached.
Crickets chirp by rubbing their two specialized forelimbs together. There are many theories as to why crickets have evolved to stridulate. Some studies suggest that their chirping is entirely for mating purposes since crickets deliberately choose to mate with those unlike themselves in order to expand the gene pool of their offspring.
Another reason for chirping is to celebrate after establishing dominance over another male cricket. These chirps are different from the ones usually emitted by these insects, and they inform the female about the fitness of the male as a partner.
Along with locusts, crickets and grasshoppers belong to the order Orthoptera, which also includes some other related species. Despite being closely linked, there are several differences between crickets (image below) and grasshoppers (image above) that can help you tell them apart.
While crickets have long antennae protruding from their head, grasshoppers have short ones. Another difference is in the way they stridulate, or ‘sing.’ Crickets produce sound by rubbing their wings together while grasshoppers rub their hind legs against their wings.
The way these two insects detect sound is also different. Grasshopper ‘ears’ are located at the base of their abdomen, but crickets sport them on their front legs.
Their diet also differs slightly in that grasshoppers feed exclusively on grass, whereas crickets can also feed on animal matter.
In various myths and legends, crickets are a popular trope. On the one hand, they are associated with good luck and intelligence – harming a cricket known to bring calamity. And on the other hand, they represent calamity itself. In the Bible, a locust infestation is one of the ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptian king by Yahweh.
In East Asia, male crickets are kept in specially designed cages for entertainment and song production, while cricket fighting has been a widely enjoyed Chinese sport for many hundred years.
In Thailand, Ghana, Mexico, China, and many other countries crickets are consumed as a favorite snack, cooked or fried it in various ways, in different cuisines.
In film and theatre, the song of crickets is used as a symbol for desertion and calmness in the night.
Some Fascinating Types of Crickets
The camel cricket is named such because of a hump-like feature on its back, and long spidery legs. Adult camel crickets neither have wings nor a stridulating mechanism. Commonly found around greenhouses, they can become real pests if they enter your home. This is likely because, in extreme weather conditions, camel crickets look for cool and humid places such as your bathroom or laundry room, which they enter and inhabit. Because of its choice of environment, the camel cricket is also often called a ‘cave’ cricket.
The Mormon cricket derives its name from the first Mormon settlement in the state of Utah, which became infested with these crickets. Even though it is called cricket and looks very familiar to one, the Mormon cricket is actually a katydid. They live in western North America and can grow as long three inches in length.
Their exoskeleton can be black, brown, green, or purple. They can change color based on whether or not they are in their swarming phase. In this phase, the female can lay several of her eggs in the soil through her ovipositor. Mormon crickets eat grass and vegetation and are enjoyed as food by crows, coyotes, and even some Native American tribes.
Jerusalem crickets are also known as potato bugs or ‘old baldheaded men’ because of their rounded body that resembles a human head. These are not true crickets, since they belong to family Stenopelmatus, but are considered to be because of their similar stridulating habits. They produce a hissing noise by rubbing their hind legs against their abdomens in order to scare away predators.
These crickets are not venomous, but they use a foul smell to ward off threats and can even bite humans quite hard!
If you have ever come across a cricket indoors, the odds suggest it was probably a house cricket. They can be found in kitchens, patios, fireplaces, behind various appliances and furniture, and other crevices in your home. They are nocturnal, becoming vocal and active during nighttime.
From the family Anostostomatidae comes the Parktown prawn, or the African king cricket. They are not true crickets either but very closely related. They get their name from a South African neighborhood where they are extremely common.
Even though homeowners would not want one inside their houses, gardeners keep them in high regard since they help immensely in controlling garden snail populations. These crickets are omnivorous and hardy, eating anything and everything from vegetable matter to cat and dog food and their droppings.
An urban legend in the city of Parktown claims that the high population of king crickets within the area is a result of a genetic experiment by a local university in the 1960s.
The Roesel’s Bush-cricket is small in size and usually brown or yellow. They can be easily recognized by their spotted abdomens, and the females’ long sword-like ovipositor located at the end of their bodies.
The species is native to the United Kingdom, quickly gaining ground as the most commonly found one in the country. It has even made its way to North American regions of Canada. While the weather remains hot and sunny, the Roesel’s Bush-cricket never stops singing. Its singing consists of a continuous high pitched buzzing which often proves to be irritating to humans.
Australian Field Cricket
The field cricket, or Teleogryllus oceanicus, is known by many names. What is really interesting about these crickets is that their species grew in number because of human assistance. It was brought to Hawaii either in 1877 by trade ships or in the 5th century by Polynesian settlers.
These crickets are black or dark brown in color, with stripes on the back of their heads. They produce their song by opening and closing its wings rapidly. The females of the species are often choosy, and may not respond to the mating call of every suitor. The competition between males, therefore, is highly spirited: pushing antennae together and struggling to exercise control.
The winning male produces a different mating call, which attracts the female cricket with proof of fitness and suitability. They are also known as Pacific, or Oceanic field crickets.
Once you decide to give them a chance, crickets can turn out to be very interesting creatures with a myriad of fascinating qualities. They may be a nuisance to have in your garden or around your house, but after reading this article, you will at least try to figure out what kind of cricket you are squishing!