What’s that sound? It’s a cricket! Are you aware of how a cricket makes music? Have you ever wondered why they were popular pets in China and Japan? Do you know how far a cricket can jump?
Adult crickets spend their days in shallow burrows beneath a stone, clod of dirt or a tuft of plant. They are most active during the night, and that is when males begin their nightly serenading to attract female mates. Females don’t stridulate, or rub special body structures together. A male cricket has a heavy vein with a row of teeth on the underside at the front of each wing. The top of one wing is used as a scraper against the underside of the other wing, like a fingernail drawn along the teeth of a comb.
This performance occurs with both wings elevated so that the wing membranes can act as sounding boards. The pitch of the chirps is slightly higher than the highest octave on a piano. Air temperature influences chirping rates: the warmer the night, the faster they chirp. There are special songs for courtship, fighting, and sounding an alarm.
Ears on Knees?
Since crickets “chirp,” you would suspect that they have some kind of “ear” to hear with, and they do. Crickets have a special eardrum for hearing, but it’s not where you’d expect. If you look closely at the front leg right below the elbow, you will see a small pale spot that is the eardrum. It is not well known how precise a cricket’s hearing is, but you can imagine that it’s good enough to hear the song of a potential mate.
A cricket’s life begins as one of about 300 eggs a female lays in the soil during late summer and fall. Some species overwinter successfully as nymphs or adults. Others overwinter as eggs and hatch in the spring. A year-old cricket is a rarity. Crickets feed on just about anything. They will eat plants, dead insects, seeds, leather, paper and old cloth (especially if the cloth is stained by food or perspiration). They are particularly fond of wool and silk.
Crickets are able to jump up to 20 or 30 times their body length, which is about three feet into the air. Instead of getting a head start, they just stand still and take a big leap. This might seem like it would be hard to you, but to them, it is easy. They weigh much less than we do, and their legs are built differently.,
Hundreds of species of crickets have been described in North America. Entomologists (people who study insects) disagree on how many species there are. Generally, crickets are about an inch long, with strong back legs and long antennae. They have wings, but rarely fly. They are good jumpers and use their legs as their primary response to escape from predators. In fact, if a cricket is caught in a spider web, the spider takes great care to wrap webbing around it before moving in for the paralyzing bite. If the spider gets impatient, a swift kick from those powerful jumping legs could cause a grave wound.
Crickets were kept as pets in ancient China and Japan for their beautiful melodies. Prized as singing insects, some crickets were kept in beautiful gold cages that only the rich could afford. Crickets were put in boxes in the bedchamber so the owner could hear a nighttime serenade. For people who couldn’t afford golden cages, wooden ones were made from trees and bamboo.
“Cricket Cage Peddler”
Japanese woodblock print by: Kiyonaga, Ca. 1700
Cricket fighting was an ancient and popular form of entertainment. Crickets were prized as sporting pets. A person would select the toughest cricket available and place it on a special diet of seeds and small insects. Just before the contest, the cricket would be starved to increase its aggressiveness. Two starving crickets would be placed into a cage with the intent of inciting a fight to the death. The ancient Chinese delighted in placing bets on the crickets and found the contest entertaining. Today, it is still regarded as a sport in modern China.
According to Zhiyong Buang, “Cricket fighting, which was very popular in ancient China, is slowly being revived. The earliest publication for how to use cricket for fighting is in Song Dynasty (1213-1275). The practice became rare after the revolution, due to its ‘bourgeois nature.’ Now it is making a comeback. There (is even an) Association for Cricket Fighting in Beijing. The association sponsors national tournaments whereby modern equipment such as video cameras are used to zoom in and project the fighting onto many television sets, which enable many viewers to see the fighting simultaneously.”
“Brass Cricket Box”
Today, crickets can be found in many locations. Most species can be found in grasslands and forests. Scaly crickets (Pseudomogoplistes scamper) can be found on seashores. Bog bush crickets (Merioptera brachytera) can be found in bogs and marshes. Camel crickets are natural cave dwellers. The mole cricket (Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa) can be found underground. Many other species live in trees like the Oak Bush cricket (Meconoma thalassinum). In addition, the ant cricket (Mymecophilus acervorum) lives only in ant nests.
“Did you know some people eat crickets? We roasted crickets and made cricket brownies. Our school secretary was polite, but unenthusiastic, about trying one.”