Field Crickets Are Back
by Ro Wauer
Once again, field crickets have invaded our towns, homesites, and businesses. Everywhere you look are black field crickets, scurrying here and there trying to find hiding places. Dead ones can leave an odor that can sometimes be detected from a considerable distance. There are times that these unwelcome critters pile up and actually drive customers away. They need to be cleaned up constantly.
Normally field crickets are found only in our fields and woodlots and are primarily nocturnal in character; the recent rains have driven them out of their preferred habitats into conflict with people. Millions are zapped with insecticides. But they will keep on coming until the weather changes.
Field crickets usually are welcome neighbors, so long as they stay outdoors. Many people consider crickets as symbols of good luck. Jiminy Cricket, of Pinocchio fame, also helped establish a positive image. And crickets are prized for their singing and sometimes even 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 actually fed their crickets special diets, including mosquitoes fed on trainer’s arms, and weighed them in order 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 with a female to perpetuate their species. But only the males sing. They have three basic sound signals: a calling note, as 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. File-like 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 tin 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, disk-like 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, spear-like ovipositor (egg-laying device) protruding from their abdomen. Eggs are laid in the ground and hatch in the spring.
Our local field crickets, almost an inch in length, are members of the Gryllidae Family of insects, closely 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 books. However, they will not remain there and breed but will return to their preferred outdoor environment when given the chance. Outdoors they are an integral part of our South Texas wildlife.