The longer you garden, the more likely you are to eventually encounter one or more of these weird crickets:

  • Mormon cricket
  • mole cricket
  • greenhouse camel cricket
  • Jerusalem cricket

Picture at right is a Mormon cricket (photo by Marshal Hedin)

Mormon crickets in the western states can cause extensive damage

Mormon crickets earned their common name after waves of the insects plagued Mormon settlers in the 1800s in Utah. It seemed a plague of Biblical proportions to the Mormons. But this was simply part of the natural cycle of Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex) population. These insects are native inhabitants of Western rangelands. Departments of Agriculture in the affected states are well aware of the potential for economic loss due to these creatures, and actively monitor the populations.

Mormon crickets are huge chubby bugs up to 3 inches long and are variously colored in earthy tones, shades of brown or green. These insects have a home range covering most of the area west of the Missisippi and roughly centered on Colorado. Mormon crickets breed out in the rangeland, where they eat a variety of native plants. The number of Mormon crickets waxes and wanes over many years. Periodically, the population swells and huge bands of Mormon crickets take to the open road, so to speak. Cricket caravans travel across pastures, agricultural areas, and landscape, eating vegetation and each other. The crickets can cause significant damage to crops and landscape, and leave a disgusting detritus of droppings and dead crickets in their wake.

Homeowners in Mormon cricket zones can't do much more than hunker down and wait a few days. Traveling Mormon cricket bands will crawl on by in three or four days. Since they only hop and crawl, they can be blocked by slippery barriers about two feet tall. Baits containing Sevin® (carbaryl) are effective for the crickets that eat the bait, and also deadly to the cricket that cannibalizes its neighbor. Raking the lawn in fall and tilling garden soil over winter will expose any cricket eggs to weather and reduce their viability.

Image

greenhouse camel cricket

photo by Dendroica cerulea,

flickr Creative Commons

Camel crickets in the East are creepy but essentially harmless

Call them camel crickets, humpbacked crickets, greenhouse camel cricket, or cave cricket — these bugs are common in warm humid states and plentiful in the Midatlantic and Southeast. They often invade our manmade simulated caves of basements, dark sheds, crawl spaces, and garages. These light brown crickets have a humpbacked body and very long thin legs and antennae. They live in dark moist nooks, such as underneath appliances. The also cling well to concrete or cinder block walls. When startled they use those incredible legs to spring, often seeming to aim for you. Try to control your panic; these insects do not sting or bite. Thanks to recent work by North Carolina State University entomologists, it's now believed that native camel crickets are far outnumbered by two Asian species of greenhouse camel cricket. Whatever the species, they are high on the creepy scale but cause litttle to no damage, and don't even keep you up all night with chirping. Maybe their utter silence adds to the mistaken association of these things with spiders. Some folks call these bugs "sprickets"' or "spickets."

To control camel crickets, first keep the out of the home. Seal entry points and clear the ground around foundations. Camel crickets can reproduce indoors given moisture and food. Sticky traps will capture traveling beasts, and sanitation deprives them of the food and water needed for long term survival. Insecticide may be applied to foundations and baseboards. These measures are usually sufficient.

Image

mole cricket, Gryllotalpa sp

Donald Hoburn,

flickr Creative Commons

Mole crickets are rarely seen but widespread over most of US; invasives are becoming a nuisance in Southeast

Mole crickets (Gryllotalpidae) are shocking at first sight. They aren't seen often, preferring to stay underground, and live in very moist soil near water. They have sturdy forelegs with mole-like digging feet, supported by a chunky powerful thorax (first body segment.) Native Northern mole crickets (Neocurtilla hexadactyla) range from Canada to Texas. Since Northern mole crickets live in soggy soil near a water feature, homeowners without those conditions may never see these bugs.

Native mole crickets are rarely problematic, but invasive species of mole crickets have become pests in the Southeast. The invasive mole crickets can be very damaging to turf and gardens in several ways. Mole crickets may directly eat roots and seedlings, or make tunnels that cause plants to dehydrate. Plants can also be damaged when other animals dig in search of a mole cricket dinner.

Where invasive mole crickets cause problems, homeowners can use liquid or granular insecticides such as carbaryl. Beneficial nematode treatements to control mole crickets have also been developed. Get further advice from your local extension service, landscaper, or pest control company if mole crickets seem to be a problem.

Image

Jerusalem cricket

Stenopelmatus

Franco Folini, Wikimedia Commons

Jerusalem crickets may be the ugliest of this bunch but are the least problematic

Jerusalem crickets (Stenopelmatus) are denizens of western North America, covering the Pacific coast and extending into the Great Plains. Despite the name, these are American native insects. At up to three inches, they're pretty impressive. According to The Encyclopedia of Entomology, the name may have arisen from popular slang of the early 1900s, when suddenly discovering one of these critters might prompt the exclamation "Jerusalem! What a cricket!" Jerusalem crickets have huge heads, chubby legs, and a bulbous, striped rear end. Luckily for us, they spend the daylight hours underground, unless they're looking for love. These crickets are harmless to our gardens, crops, and homes.They can bite if they have to, but they'd rather run and hide.

The imposing physique of Jerusalem crickets belies a tame lifestyle. These bugs live inderground or on the soil surface, hiding during the day. They eat vegetable matter but aren't seen as a particular garden pest. They also eat other insects and may be helpful to gardeners. They pop up when soil is being worked, or root crops being harvested, thus a common name "potato bug." Jerusalem crickets actually make an interesting "insect pet" for a terrarium. (I'll confess that watching one of these insects bumble across the ground on a Youtube video changed my opinion of them from "horrific" to "tolerable if I had a little boy to entertain.")

Crickets as a whole won't bite unless provoked and have no venom or stinger. Some of these bizarre types can be pests in certain areas. When crickets of any kind are a problem, common insecticides generally give home gardeners enough ammunition. And when these guys are benign, you may leave them unmolested to continue whatever role they play in your garden's ecosystem.

Credits

Permission to use photos was kindly granted by the following:

Mormon Cricket By Marshal Hedin [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Greenhouse camel cricket by Dendroica cerulea flckr Creative Commons aAttribution 2.0 Generic license

Mole cricket By Donald Hoburn, flckr Creative Commons aAttribution 2.0 Generic license

Jerusalem cricket by Franco Folini, Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic