Crickets -- Soothing serenade or annoying disturbance
Published November 6, 2021, McAllen Monitor
Story and photos by Anita Westervelt, South Texas Border Chapter Texas Master Naturalist
Crickets, like cicadas, are noise-makers. The chirp-chirp of a lone cricket in the night might be a familiar, if not nostalgic, sound of backyard camp-outs when life was simple and night sounds lulled you to sleep.
There are about 900 species of crickets in the world. Perhaps the most common in Texas is the field cricket (Gryllus assimilus). A nocturnal creature, they sleep during the day and hunt for food and a mate at night.
Field crickets can be as large as one inch or more in length. They have a black outer shell called an exoskeleton, a large head and thin antennae longer than their bodies that they use to sense things around them. Their eyes are made up of many hexagonal lenses which allows them to see in every direction. They have hind legs modified for jumping, three-jointed tarsal (foot) segments, and two slender abdominal sensory appendages called cerci. The two forewings are stiff and leathery, and the two long, membranous hind wings are used in flying.
Male crickets chirp; it is a courting song they make by rubbing the edges of their forewings together to attract females. They also have a territorial song to ward off other male crickets coming into their territory.
It’s rather difficult to find a noisy cricket; they are sensitive to vibration, no matter how soft. When it feels a predator or human approaching, it becomes silent, a way of hiding and confusing the predator. Flying is their first line of defense; however, they can only fly short distances. Jumping is another defense; they can jump about three feet.
Field crickets spend the daytime in grass, gardens, fields, debris and in crevices and holes in the soil. Because they are small, crickets are prey to a majority of animals including larger insects, spiders, lizards, turtles, mice, bats, frogs, toads, small snakes, opossums and birds.
Crickets themselves are omnivores; their diet consists of protein and grains, including insect larvae, flowers, seeds, leaves, fruit and grasses. Considered beneficial to the ecosystem, they prey on eggs and pupae of pest insects in agricultural crops. They eat aphids and scale, consume weed seeds and help to break down dead leaves and other plant debris into organic matter.
As for the next generation of crickets, cooler and moist weather after a hot dry summer is a trigger for crickets to mate and lay eggs before they die off in the winter. Most crickets lay their eggs in the soil or inside the stems of plants.
Ground crickets (Genus Neonemobius) also are prevalent in the Valley. They are much smaller than field crickets, usually under three-eighths inch long and are dark brownish-red. Their sounds are weaker and higher pitched than field crickets.
Both field and ground crickets are attracted to lights at night and congregate on the ground under security lights. They also can be attracted to a moth sheet and black light set up.
For the fisherman, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension field guide touts crickets as one of the more effective baits for sunfish, bluegill and catfish!
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Articles helpful in writing this article were tamu.edu factsheets and field guides, ipcpest.com, biokids.edu, bugguide.net and sciencing.com.