The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Crickets Often are Unwelcome Neighbors
Ro Wauer, September 21, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003

Field crickets have recently invaded many of our towns, homesites, and businesses. Usually, these insects are found only in our fields and woodlots, but recent rains have apparently contributed to their movement into conflict with people. There are places in our towns where their dead bodies become smelly and obnoxious.

Field crickets usually are welcome neighbors, so long as they stay away from our shops and homes. Many people consider crickets symbols of good luck. Jiminy Cricket, of Pinocchio fame, helped establish a positive image. And crickets are sometimes prized for their "singing" and sometimes kept in cages in people's homes. In China, crickets were also kept for their fighting ability; cricket fights were as popular as horse races. The Chinese fed their crickets special diets, including mosquitoes fed on trainer's arms, and even weighed them to classify them for fighting.

Many of us enjoy their cheerful evening songs, and as the nights grow longer and cooler, their nocturnal serenades increase in intensity. Before winter they must mate to perpetuate the species. But only the males sing. They have three basic sound signals: a call note, an aggressive chirp, and a courtship song to attract a female. Singing is done with the edge of one wing rubbing against the opposite wing, creating a chirping noise. Filelike ridges, called "scrapers," near the base of the wing produce the sound. We can produce a similar sound by running a file along the edge of a tun can.

Wing covers provide an excellent sounding board, quivering when notes are made and setting the surrounding air to vibrating, thus giving rise to sound waves that can be heard for a considerable distance. The cricket's auditory organ or "ear," a small white, disklike spot, is located on the tibia of each front leg. The chirps become much higher in pitch in the presence of a female. Some of these ultrasonic sounds can reach 17,000 vibrations per second, higher than most people can distinguish. Females are easily identified by a long, spearlike ovipositor (egg-laying device) protruding from their abdomen. Eggs are laid in the ground and hatch is the spring.

Our local field cricket, sometimes known as black field cricket, is almost an inch in length. Members of the Gryllidae Family of insects, they are related to grasshoppers and mantises. They feed on a wide variety of materials, including vegetable matter, and when they get into our buildings, they can consume everything from clothing to paper. However, they will not remain there and breed but will return to their preferred outdoor environment when given a chance. Outdoors they are an integral part of our South Texas wildlife.

A recent posting by Mike Quinn, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, cited a control method for crickets, suggested by Michael Merchant, Texas Agricultural Extension Service. "Outdoor lighting is the most important single cause of severe cricket infestation around homes and commercial buildings. Buildings that are brightly lit at night are most likely to attract the largest numbers of crickets during the fall mating season. Reducing outdoor lights is the first, and most important, step in a cricket control program"

For additional information about cricket as pests go to http://citybugs.tamu.edu/FastSheets/Ent-1008.html

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