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The Jerusalem Cricket is scary looking but harmless | Environment

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The Jerusalem Cricket is scary looking but harmless
The Jerusalem Cricket is scary looking but harmless

The large (up to 2 inches in length), fierce-looking Jerusalem Cricket is a member of the Stenopelmatidae family.  It is commonly called a “potato bug,” in spite of the fact that it doesn’t prefer potatoes and is not a true bug.  The Native Americans called it Who-tzi-Neh or “Old Bald Man.”  Southwestern Indian tribes once called it, “child of the desert” and regarded it with fear. In Mexico it is sometimes referred to as, ”Niña de la Tierra,” translated, “Child of the Earth,” because of the almost child-like appearance of its relatively large, roundish head.

Occurring only on the North American continent, west of the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia to Mexico, the Jerusalem Cricket, Stenopelmatus fuscus, is a mostly subterranean insect that is only occasionally seen when it ventures above ground after dark, when cool, moist conditions prevail, or when the ground is being tilled for planting.  It is not poisonous but its large, heavy duty, powerful jaws, which are used to chew roots, tubers, a wide variety of meats, vegetables, fruits and other insects, can deliver a pronounced “pinch.”  However, they prefer to escape and only bite humans in self-defense when provoked.  The head of the Jerusalem Cricket is fairly large in comparison to its body and is amber-to-copper colored.  It has small eyes with poor vision situated just below and outboard of its slender antennae.  The abdomen has alternating brown-to-black and amber-to-copper banding.  The spiny legs are stout, strong and adapted to digging, not jumping so the insect is unable to hop like grasshoppers or other crickets. 

Males and females communicate with “drumming” sounds which are produced by hitting their legs against their bodies.  The smaller female has been known to eat the male after copulation.  The fertilized female digs a burrow six to ten inches down underneath rocks, boards or other objects and lays her eggs in a chamber that is nearly at right angles from the burrow.  The eggs hatch in the spring, with one generation being produced and reaching maturity per year.  Individuals may live up to three years.

Jerusalem Crickets generally cause little damage to plants, unless present in large numbers.  It is preyed upon by fly and worm parasites, birds such as owls, rodents and sometimes cats.  If large numbers develop they can be controlled by physical removal and relocation.  Other controls include baiting, trapping and as a last resort, treatment with an insecticide.  They also make interesting terrarium pets when provided with plenty of soft, loamy or sandy soil, some clumps of live grass, objects to hide under and appropriate food.


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