Critters in the Garden
RSABG Volunteer, Nature Interpreter
Cool autumn days and evenings sometimes bring unexpected guests into the house. Hiding in carpeting next to a baseboard or tucked into a corner of a closet may be a cricket or two. It can introduce itself with loud chirping that stops, maddeningly, when you try to locate the fellow!
There are about 900 species of cricket, order Orthoptera, distributed throughout most parts of the world. They tend to be nocturnal and have a similar body structure to that of grasshoppers including jumping hind legs.
One of the most common is the field cricket, Gryllus pennsylvanicus. It is black to reddish brown, about an inch or less long, with black antennae longer than its body. Like all insects, it has three body parts: head, thorax, abdomen. Three pairs of legs are attached to the thorax. Two pairs of wings, held flat, cover the abdomen. The front wings are leathery and cover the hind wings. Females have a long ovipositor in the rear. Both sexes have segmented, tail-like appendages attached dorsally, called cerci. Tympanic membranes, located on the front legs, serve as sound receptors or ears.
The house cricket, Acheta domestica, is found mostly indoors. It can be about three-quarters of an inch long with the female somewhat larger. It is a yellowish brown with wings that project beyond the abdomen and cerci. Unfortunately, the house cricket, as well as the field cricket, can become a pest around human habitation—devouring seedlings, chewing on carpeting, eating food pantry items.
Crickets live under rocks, logs, in leaf litter in meadows, pastures, along roadsides, in damp places in our gardens and in buildings. Scavengers, they feed on organic materials such as decaying plants, fungi and some seedlings. Because crickets are cold-blooded they take on the temperature of their surroundings. Field crickets prefer to live outdoors but will move indoors when the weather grows chilly. In temperate climates field crickets usually die as frost arrives. The house cricket, much more adaptable, can live longer.
Field crickets mate in the late summer. Their eggs are deposited deep into the ground where they overwinter until spring. Nymphs grow by a series of molts, reaching adulthood in early summer. The house cricket continually lays eggs year-round depositing them in cracks, behind stoves, under floorboards.
Only the male emits the sound we identify as chirping to attract a mate, or to chase away rivals. It does this by running the top of one wing along the teeth at the bottom of the other wing. The wing membranes are held open to act as acoustical sails. It does not chirp by rubbing its legs together, as is commonly thought. As many of us can attest, the house cricket can be an indoor nuisance because of its continuous chirping.
Crickets are seen as good luck in many cultures and have been kept as pets in the Orient since ancient times. Tiny cages are constructed with great care, many of them exquisite in design, to house the tiny creatures. Crickets figure extensively in literature and some movies. Do you remember Jiminy Cricket in the Walt Disney movie, Pinocchio? He represented Pinocchio’s conscience. And, of course, many of us have read Charles Dickens’ The Cricket on the Hearth in which Dot Peerybingle rejoices that the cricket is “the luckiest thing in all the world.”