January 13 – Leapin’ Rhaphidophoridae!

Today’s factismal: The noise given off by crickets is called stridulation (“shrill sound”).

There are a lot of people who don’t like crickets of any sort. They think that the crickets are dirty, filthy, disgusting critters with no redeeming social values whatsoever. Obviously, they’ve confused  crickets with politicians (or cockroaches) because crickets are among the most useful insects out there. Crickets clean our houses and fields by feasting on dead plants, fungi, and even eat their own dead. They help aerate the soil by digging burrows and fertilize it with their droppings. And while they do all this, they chirp a happy song in a process that scientists call stridulation (from the Latin for “shrill sound”).

A male field cricket. Despite their fearsome look, the spurs on his legs are not used to make sound! (Image courtesy Luis Fernández García)

A male field cricket. Despite their fearsome look, the spurs on his legs are not used to make sound!
(Image courtesy Luis Fernández García)

They do this not with their vocal chords (because they don’t have vocal chords – Jimminy was really a mute!) but by rubbing one wing against the other. The wings of a cricket are covered with fine serrations like a knife; when these flick against the wing, it acts like a big drum that makes and amplifies the sound. In many species, the rate and character of the chirping can be used to tell what the cricket has in mind. A male cricket’s “calling song” is loud and fast and intended to lure females near and drive males away. If another male gets too close, an aggressive “go away” song is heard. But if a female cricket wanders by, the male will sing a low and quiet courtship song. And if he is lucky in love, then he celebrates with a short “copulatory song” (usually sung in locker rooms).

But crickets in America are facing their worst nightmare right now. All of the best places to live and all of the good foods are being taken over by a pair of invasive camel crickets (weta) from Asia. In one survey done by citizen scientists like yourself, up to 88% of the houses had one of two species of Asian camel crickets while only 12% of the houses had a native camel cricket (which gets along better with our native crickets than the invaders do). So what can you do?

A Camel cricket, close up and personal(Image courtesy Your Wild Life)

A Camel cricket, close up and personal
(Image courtesy Your Wild Life)

Count crickets! Winter is the perfect time to look around and see what sort of cricket lives in your house. That’s because crickets and camel crickets have moved in from the cold and are easier to spot than they would be in a field or on a tree. If you spot a cricket or a camel cricket, take a picture of it and send the picture to the Camel Cricket Census. they are now in their third year of collecting data and hope to have results for the whole of the United States very soon. To reach them, chirp at:

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