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Pat’s Bug Corner: Crickets | Garden Compass
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Pat’s Bug Corner: Crickets

CricketsWe seldom see grasshoppers, the kissing cousins of crickets, in our houses, but crickets definitely qualify as house guests. The charm of Jiminy Cricket, “a cricket on the hearth” chirping merrily, crickets as pets-and pet food-, crickets as combatants for gambling and even crickets on the menu are all signs of their close affinity to humans. Now, not all crickets want to be cozy with us, so we’ll just consider those most commonly encountered and leave the cave cricket, camel cricket etc. to their privacy. Incidentally, the Mormon Cricket of historic fame is actually a katydid.

Crickets have an incomplete metamorphosis. Eggs are laid which hatch into miniature adults without wings. As they grow and shed their skins, the wing pads appear and finally the full-grown winged, reproductive adult. There is no resting stage like the pupa. They have two extensions on the rear and the female has an ovipositor for egg-laying. Eggs are often laid into the soil or duff. Crickets listen using their front legs. Crickets in general are not nearly as harmful as grasshoppers can be. The short-horned grasshopper creates the plagues of locusts still in Africa.

We already saw our first cricket in the house. It was a fall field cricket and probably hitchhiked in when we brought in the container plants for the winter to our attached greenhouse and solarium. It seems to be quite happy, although I did exile it to the attached greenhouse. The field crickets (Gryllus pennsyvanicus) prefer plant and animal matter, but have been known to munch on fabric and paper in a pinch. These crickets also consume eggs and pupae of pests and scavenge dead insects. You are more likely to see them if you live near open farmland or meadows. They are dark reddish to black.

The house cricket (Acheta domesticus) is not as good a singer as the field cricket, but is much more common. It is sold for bait and pet food. It is easily raised in captivity as well. They definitely prefer living indoors. Originally native to North Africa, Asia and Europe, this straw-colored insect with reddish brown markings is now found all over North America., Although I love the sound of a cricket by the hearth, We have rooms full of books and house crickets do eat fabric, paper and cardboard. A number of them would immediately rouse my attention. Jiminy Cricket was, of course, a house cricket, with very good manners.

Even in Shakespeare, the cricket makes its appearance. Thus, Poins, in answer to the Prince’s question in “1 Henry IV.,” (ii. 4), “Shall we be merry?” replies, “As merry as crickets.” By many of our poets the cricket has been connected with cheerfulness and mirth. Thus, in Milton, “il Penseroso” desires to be-“Far from all resort of mirth, Save the cricket on the hearth.”

In Asia crickets are kept in cages like a bird for their chirping sound. Their singing is actually fiddling as they produce the chirps by scraping special ridges along their forewing margins. They are also bred as gladiators with huge wagers on the winner of the cricket fights. Males are both the singers and the fighters. Crickets are prized for their voices and sell for large sums, though not for as much as the fighting crickets.. In the U.S., a chirping cricket in the basement is deemed an annoyance. For the Chinese, a cricket singing in the home is a sign of good luck and potential wealth. The more crickets invade a family’s residence, the wealthier that family will become. So cherished are these insect songsters that they are often housed in beautiful cages made from bamboo, and displayed in the home. Chinese farmers have relied on crickets to signal the start of the planting season, and celebrated the crickets with poems, fables, and paintings.

Cheyenne hunters believed that crickets could predict the movements of the buffalo. herds. In Southeastern tribes such as the Cherokee, cricket legends sometimes depict them as plucky critters that succeed at things despite their small size. And in Mexico, crickets sometimes make an appearance in traditional stories as food! Roasted crickets and grasshoppers were a traditional delicacy in many Mexican tribes, and are still enjoyed by many people there. In many countries they are a much appreciated item of the diet, although grasshoppers are also high on the menu preference list. Here in the United States you can buy cricket flour protein bars, chocolate covered crickets, enjoy chocolate chirpy cookies, all at very high prices as befits a yet rare delicacy. In the US grasshoppers and crickets were dried and salted for winter protein of very high quality by the indigenous peoples. Fish, reptiles and birds which live with us as pets will attest to how great crickets are.

If you want to meet a cricket, go to your nearest pet store which sells them. The crickets are very good at escaping so the area near the fish is often enhanced by their chirping in corners, behind shelves etc. They are also sold in jars, dried. May you always have one lucky cricket on your hearth to bring wealth and happiness.

About the author

Pat Patterson

Raised as a gardener in California and Washington, Pat grew things in order to eat. In 1976, she participated in the first Oregon State University Master Gardener volunteer training.