Lucky crickets. They are among the few insects for which many people have a unique affection. These small musical creatures are well known around the world. They appear in American literature (The Cricket in Times Square) and pop culture (Jiminy Cricket, The Crickets, a rock band from the 1950s.) China has a long tradition of keeping crickets as singing pets and sporting insects. The word cricket is derived from the French verb criquer, "to make a creaking sound." The song of crickets inspires our curiosity and affection.
There are actually a number of species of creaking crickets, and they are just one group of many in the insect order Orthoptera. Crickets are kissing cousins of katydids (no surprise, they both sing at night) grasshoppers (OK, long hopping legs, that makes sense) walking sticks and preying mantis (getting kind of out there) and cockroaches (say it ain't so!). Common black backyard crickets are field crickets, Gryllinae, like the Gryllus pennsylvanicus pictured here. They are not a major garden pest and they don't carry disease. They don't sting and rarely bite. Female field crickets have a long egglaying "spear" on their back end. The soft spine may look scary, but isn't used in defense.
Field crickets of some kind seem to be present in every garden zone in America. The warmer states are home to more crickets, in species and overall numbers. Some cricket species spend the winter as juveniles. As these insects reach maturity in spring, they begin to chirp. These species may have two generations each summer. Other crickets spent the cold season as eggs. The eggs hatch in spring and the crickets are fully grown later in summer. When the second generation of one group joins forces with the late summer maturing others, they give the second half of summer its soundtrack,.
It's the males that do all the singing, all day and all of the night. Females listen, ostensibly judging prospective mates by their song. Each species has a distinct song. Entomologists have studied and recorded these soungs as part of their work in differentiating Gryllidae species. The website Singing Insects of North America describes cricket species in detail and has cricket soundbites for many of them.
Cricket chorus is a charming background for summer in the gazebo. As fall progresses, the cool nights and the crickets' brief lifespan reduce the chorus to a few wistful solo performers. Crickets find their way into homes, through any small gaps. Once inside, the lonely male cricket chirps wistfully away under the refrigerator or clothes washer, all night long.Field crickets won't live long inside a home, and rarely casue much damage.
Creaking insects outside are appreciated by most people. But the same songs seem strident to others when the singer is in the house (the precise word for this way of singing is "stridulation.") Here are suggestions, from Texas A&M Agrilife Extension and University of Minnestoa Extension, for reducing or eliminating crickets inside or near your living areas:
- Keep the ground clear within several feet of the foundation. Take away all material that seems to provide a cozy resting spot for crickets: log piles, stacks of empty flower pots
- Turn off outdoor lighting or change white bulbs to yellow ones. Crickets are attracted to light.
- Use glue boards under appliances. Put a bit of cornmeal in the center of the trap.
- Use insecticide baits outside where crickets gather.
- Use insecticides on building foundations and around entry points.
- Seal gaps in the foundation. Expanding foam works well for larger gaps around pipes; steel wool will fill those gaps and prevent rodent entry, too.
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Resources and credit
Singing Insects of North America, http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/walker/buzz/a00samples.htm#fcrickets, accessed 8-28-2014
"Cricket control in the fall" by Texas &M AgriLife Extension, http://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/household/misc-house/ent-2003/
"Crickets" University of Minnesota Extension, http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/crickets/
Thumbnail photo Gryllus pennsylvanicus, credit to Cody Hough, college student and photographer in the Michgian area, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.