Shorthorned Grasshoppers. About 8,000 species of grasshoppers occur worldwide with approximately 600 species found in North America. The term, shorthorned grasshoppers refer to the fact that all individuals of this family have short antennae that do not exceed the combined length of the head and thorax. All species are phytophagous, but only a few increase to numbers enough to become major agricultural pests. Shorthorned grasshoppers exhibit a one generation per year and pass the winter as egg pods in the soil. Some species of these grasshoppers are quite colorful. One of the more famous shorthorned grasshoppers is the lubber grasshopper. This African species has been commonly used for decades for classroom dissections.

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 Shorthorned Grasshoppers Illustrating the Short Antennae. Top Courtesy J.M.Garg CC BY-SA 3.0. Bottom. Courtesy fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au GFDL 1.2. Talking About Mimicry-Both Sitting on Matching Background.

Locusts. The term locust is used to refer to some species of migratory shorthorned grasshoppers. A few species of these are the most important agricultural pests in the world. They have destroyed crops from Biblical days to the present time and all continents are subject to the attack of these migratory locusts. These insects are especially prevalent and troublesome in semi-arid climates.

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A Lubber Grasshopper that is Commonly Used for Classroom Dissections.  Also a Migratory Species. Image Compliments of Bob Spencer.

Desert Locust. The desert locust is one of a few dozen species of short-horned grasshoppers (Acrididae) that form huge swarms of adults and migrating bands of hoppers (wingless nymphs).

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Left. Migrating Nymphs. Image Courtesy ChriKo  4.0 International. Adult Locust Swarm. Courtesy CSIRO-Creative Commons. Right. Solitary and Gregarous Forms. Public Domain.

Biology. The desert locust lives a solitary life until it rains. Rain causes vegetation growth and stimulates the female to lay eggs in sandy soil. The new vegetation provides food for the newly hatched locusts and provides them with shelter as they develop into winged adults. Adequate rain stimulates hatching of eggs, and the new hoppers begin to congregate. Their close physical contact triggers a cascade of metabolic and behavioral changes. As a result, the insects begin to transform from solitary to the gregarious forms.

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Desert Locust Depositing Eggs in the Soil. Image Courtesy Christian Kooyman. Public Domain.

During recessions (quite periods), these locusts are limited in distribution to a 16-million-square-kilometer belt that extends from Mauritania into northwest India. Under ideal ecological and climatic conditions, multiple successive generations can occur resulting swarms to form that invade countries on all sides of the recession area. This can occur from as far north as Spain and Russia and as far south as Nigeria and Kenya and as far east as India and southwest Asia. This can encompass as many as 60 countries and an area of 32 million square kilometers. Put more amazingly, this is approximately 20 % of the Earth's land surface.

Locust swarms fly with and at roughly the speed of the wind. They can cover from 100 to 200 kilometers a day and will fly up to about 2,000 meters above sea level. Therefore, swarms cannot cross tall mountain ranges such as the Atlas Mountains, the Hindu Kush or the Himalayas. They will not venture into the rain forests of Africa or into central Europe. However, locust adults and swarms regularly crossing the Red Sea between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula\ and on occasion across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to the Caribbean.  This was accomplished in ten days during the 1987-89 plague. A single swarm can be as large as 1200 square kilometers and consist of between 40 and 80 million locusts per square kilometer. The locust can live from3 to six 6 months, and there is a 10 to 16-fold increase in locust numbers from one generation to the next.

The migratory locust (Locustae migratory) ranges from Europe to China, and even small swarms may cover several square miles and weigh thousands of tons. Spreading poisoned bait among the hopper bands is a very effective mean of control, but it is cheapest to spray concentrated insecticide solutions from aircraft over the insects or the vegetation on which they feed. The largest known swarm covered 1,036 km2 (400 sq. miles) comprising approximately 40 billion insects.

Desert locusts are capable of consuming the equivalent of their body weight each day in vegetation which includes leaves, flowers, bark, stems, fruit, and seeds. Nearly all types of plants and crops are at risk.  Important crops include pearl millet, rice, maize, sorghum, sugarcane, barley, cotton, fruit trees, date palm, vegetables, rangeland grasses, acacia, pines and banana. In addition, the feces of these pests are toxic, and spoil any of the majority of food that is left uneaten.

Crop loss from locusts was noted in the Bible and Qur'an; these insects have been documented as contributing to a number of Ethiopian famines. During the twentieth century, desert locust plagues occurred in 1926-1934, 1940–1948, 1949–1963, 1967–1969, 1987–1989 and 2003-2005. In March to October 1915, a plague of locusts stripped Ottoman Palestine of almost all vegetation. The significant crop loss caused by swarming desert locusts exacerbates problems of food shortage and is a threat to food security.

Control.  Warning and preventive control techniques have been adopted by those countries in Africa and Asia that are affected by these locusts. The goal is to try to stop locust plagues from developing and spreading. In the 20s and 30s locust control became a major goal for international cooperation. The International Agricultural Institute promoted a number of programs aimed at sharing data about these pests, and international conferences were held in several different countries in the 1930s.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS) in Rome monitors the weather, prevailing ecological conditions and the locust situation on a daily basis. It receives results of survey and control operations carried out by national teams in affected countries, and combines this information with satellite data such as MODIS. With these tools, rainfall estimates and seasonal temperature can be predicted to assess the current situation and forecast the timing, scale and location of breeding and migrations up to 6 weeks in advance. These situation assessments and forecasts are published in monthly locust bulletins that date back to the 1970's. These are supplemented by warnings and alerts to affected countries and the international community. The Food and Agricultural Organization also provides information and training to affected countries and coordinates funding from donor agencies in case of major upsurges and plagues.

The desert locust is a difficult pest to control, and control measures are further complicated by the large and often remote areas (16-30 million km²) where these locusts can be found. Undeveloped basic infrastructure in some affected countries limited resources for locust monitoring and control, and political turmoil within and between affected countries further reduces the capacity of a country to undertake the necessary monitoring and control activities to control this pest.

At present, the primary method of controlling desert locust infestations is with insecticides applied in small concentrated doses by vehicle-mounted and aerial sprayers using ultra-low volume (ULV) concentrations of malathion. The insecticide is applied on the insects directly or via secondary pickup (i.e. walking over or eating the residue on a plant). Control is accomplished by government agencies in locust-affected countries or by specialized organizations such as the Desert Locust Control Organization for East Africa (DLCO-EA).

Natural enemies such as predatory and parasitic wasps and flies, predatory beetle larvae, birds, and reptiles may have limited effects on desert locusts.  However, these beneficials can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of most swarms and hopper bands. On the other hand, they may be effective in keeping solitary populations in check.

Farmers often try mechanical means of killing locusts which include digging trenches and burying hopper bands, but this is very labor-intensive and is difficult to undertake when large infestations are scattered over a wide area. Farmers also try to scare locust swarms away from their fields by making noise, burning tires or other methods. If at all effective, techniques such as these could tend to shift the problem to neighboring farms, and locust swarms can easily reinfest previous treated fields.

Green Muscle was developed under the LUBILOSA Program which was initiated in 1989 in response to environmental concerns over the heavy use of chemical insecticides to control locusts and grasshoppers during the 1987-89 plague. The project focused on the use of beneficial disease causing microorganisms (pathogens). Locusts were considered to be too mobile and to reproduce too fast to be readily controlled by classical biological control.

Entomopathogenic fungi were traditionally seen as needing humid conditions to be overly effective.  However, the LUBILOSA Program found a way to avoid this by spraying fungal spores in an oil formulation. Even under desert conditions, Green Muscle can be used to kill locusts and other Acridid pests such as the Senegalese grasshopper. During recent trials in Algeria and Mauritania (2005 and 2006), various natural enemies (especially birds) were abundant enough to eliminate treated hopper bands in about a week.  The success was attributed to the fact that diseased hoppers became sluggish and easy to catch.

Major African Outbreak.  From October 2003 to May 2005, West Africa faced the largest desert locust outbreak in 15 years. The upsurge started as small independent outbreaks that developed in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Sudan in the autumn of 2003. Two days of unusually heavy rains that stretched from Dakar, Senegal to Morocco in October allowed breeding conditions to remain favorable for the next 6 months and the desert locusts rapidly increased. Lack of rain and cold temperatures in the winter breeding area of northwest Africa in early 2005 slowed the development of the locusts and allowed the locust control agencies to stop the cycle. During the upsurge, nearly 130,000 km² were treated by ground and aerial operations in more than 20 countries. The costs of fighting this upsurge have been estimated by the FAO to have exceeded $400 million, and harvest losses were valued at up to U.S. $2.5 billion. Of course, this had disastrous effects on the food security situation in West Africa. 

Katydids, Longhorned Grasshoppers. As indicated by their name, members of this family have elongated antennae that often exceed their entire body length. In most cases, the front wings of these insects are leaf-like in appearance. Of course, the advantage of this is to blend in with the leaves of their host-plants and thus avoid potential predators. Even though these insects occasionally are found feeding on agricultural plants, they rarely reach numbers high enough to become major pests.

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Right Typical Longhorned Grasshopper or Katydid with Elongated Antennae and Leaf-like Front Wings.  Image Courtesy Vishalsh521 CC BY-SA 3.0. Left. Nymph Longhorned Grasshopper.

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Left. Katydid Exhibiting a High Degree of Mimicry. Image Courtesy of Peter Chew. Right.

I was once collecting insects in Guatemala and happened to walk by a plant that was apparently severely damaged by some caterpillars with large holes eaten in the leaves.  Out of the corner of my eye, one on the leaves appeared to be walking.  On close inspection, it was a katydid.  Its wings were leaf-like and even more amazing was that its wings also looked like they had been partially consumed with large holes in them.  More to my astonishment, the wings also exhibited several symptoms of bacterial leaf spot-a plant disease.  Bacterial leaf spot on leaves initially starts out as small brown rotting spots.  As the disease progresses, the brown spots turn into small holes.  Here was an insect that had wings that looked like leaves that had been feed upon by another insect and had several symptoms of plant disease-all mimicry.  Nature is amazing.  I wish I had taken and picture of that to show you.

Walking Sticks. There are about 700 species of walking sticks worldwide. Almost all are tropical in origin with relatively few occurring naturally in the United States. Most species of this family mimic twigs in both body shape and color. However, there are some tropical species that are quite leaf-like in appearance. Most walking sticks are quite large with some Thai species reaching 13 inches in length (longest insect species).

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Left. Thai Walking Stick. Right. Image Dr. Kaae.

These insects have developed a variety of protective mechanisms. An example of these behaviors is exhibited by the large Phyllium stick insect from Malaysia. This stick is flattened and leaf-like in appearance. In fact, when the authors have kept several together in a terrarium, 1 or 2 eventually were partially eaten by the other sticks. Apparently, one confused the other as an acceptable food source--leaves.  As do most sticks, these insects rarely move; when they do, it is quite slow. There is no advantage in moving rapidly while mimicking a leaf or twig.

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Phyllium Walking Stick from Malaysia. Image Dr. Kaae.

Heteropterix sp. has a whole bag of defensive mechanisms.  It blends in with its host plant as it is flattened, green and somewhat leaf-like.  In addition, it will use its hind legs which are armed with sharp spines to fend off potential predators. These spines are capable of drawing blood when the insect is handled carelessly. At the same time that this stick attacks with its hind legs, it will spread its hind wings and expose its bright red underwings and produce a hissing noise (caused by scraping wings) in an attempt to startle its attacker. Many insects commonly use flashing bright colors.  It is thought that the sudden display of bright color will startle a potential predator.  Normally bright colors in nature are a sign of some type of danger (warning coloration). The hissing is assumed to mimic that of a snake.  If these mechanisms fail, it will fall to the ground and play dead. Very few predators will attack dead insects.

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Female (left) and Male Heteropterix Walking Stick from Malaysia. Public Domain.  Right Image Courtesy Greg Hume CC BY-SA 4.0. .

Another aggressive species is Eurycantha sp. from Papua New Guinea. This species has a pair of very large spines on its hind legs that it readily uses when threatened. These spines are so large on the males that the natives of this country carve them to make fish hooks. As one might expect, this species commonly is eaten by the natives and is said to taste like shrimp.

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Female Eurycantha sp. from Papua New Guinea.  Image Dr. Kaae. Walking Stick in Threatening Position with Hind Legs. Image Courtesy Drägüs CC BT-SDA 3.0.

There are many stick species that exude a noxious odor when disturbed, and some species that mimic leaves will sway back and forth as though being windblown. Both of these defensive mechanisms can be readily observed in McCleay's Spectre. This is an Australian species that is commonly raised by many stick enthusiasts around the world. As with many species of walking sticks, this species exhibits a high degree of sexual dimorphism with the female looking totally different that the male. In this case, the male is less heavy bodied and bears wings.

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Right-Female McCleays’s Spectre Looking Totally Different than Male-Left. Images Dr. Kaae.

There is an Australian species of walking stick that is related to McCleays’s Spectre that feeds chiefly on the plant Casuarina.  The seeds of this plant are relatively small, round and appear quite similar to the eggs of the walking stick.  The plant seeds contain a small fleshy portion that is highly nutritious and highly prized by a few species of ants which readily collect and store them below ground as a food source in the winter months.  Because of the similarities between the appearances (the seeds and stick eggs), ants frequently mistakenly collect and store the walking stick eggs.  However, when the ants begin feeding on the eggs, they recognize that the eggs are not edible and leave them in their nest.  This is obviously advantageous to the walking sticks as the eggs are protected from poor weather and potential predators. Once the sticks hatch, the new nymphs are similarly colored as the ants and rapidly run around like adult ants. This allows them to walk out of the ant’s nest unharmed by these predators (the ants).

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Left.  Australian Walking Stick Egg.  Right.  Ant-like Walking Stick that is Very Active. Images Dr. Kaae.

All walking sticks are phytophagous and most will feed on a large variety of host-plants. There is a large walking stick society based in England that has over 700 members throughout the world. Members are primarily amateurs who enjoy raising and studying these delightful insects. The standard plants used to raise most stick species from throughout the world are the leaves of deciduous oak and bramble (blackberry, raspberry etc.).  Even though these are not the natural hosts of these insects, most species do quite well on them.

In the United States, an USDA permit is required to legally raise or keep walking sticks from foreign countries. The reasoning behind this requirement is that these insects are plant feeders and have quite a wide host range.  If some were to get loose, it is possible that they could become pests; consequently, very few permits have been issued in the last few years.  Unfortunately, there is a walking stick underground and many people now own colonies of several species. Some pet stores now illegally sell them and the authors have even seen them for sale at a well-known California amusement park (not any more).   The most commonly reared stick in the United States is Baculum thai.  As with many species, this insect is parthenogenetic. That is, males are not needed to reproduce and only females are produced from the unfertilized eggs.

It should be noted that a few exotic species of sticks have escaped from captivity and actually have caused some plant damage in Southern California (initially mainly San Diego but now several more areas.).  However, considering the number of people that are keeping cultures of exotic species of these insects, they will probably not cause any major damage to our crops even if escaped.

Praying Mantis. These insects are comparatively long-lived with many species requiring from 3 to 12 months in the egg stage.  After hatching, development to adulthood may range from 3 months to 2 years with adults living similar periods (depending on the species).

The first name of the mantis is often spelled with either an "e" or an "a."  Preying" refers to the fact that they are predators. Praying" refers to the behavior of holding their front legs up near their head when hunting. In this case, they look as though they are praying. Praying mantis is more commonly used than preying mantis.

These well-known insects are easily recognized by their elongate prothorax and well-developed raptorial front legs (in raptorial legs the front femur is swollen).  Since the femur is the bulkiest segment of the leg, it houses most of the muscles in the leg.  It follows that mantids would benefit from an enlarged femur to house more muscles and give the front legs additional strength to catch and hold its prey.  Mantids are also well armed with large spines that line the ventral margins of the femur and tibia. The tibia is also capable of being folded back on the femur forming an efficient grasping organ for their predaceous way of life.

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Common Praying Mantids with Raptorial Front Legs. Top Image Dr. Kaae. Bottom Image Luc Viatour CC BY SA 3.0

Other characteristics of these beautiful creatures are their huge eyes that help them find prey and the wedge or triangular-shaped head that can rotate in almost any direction. Mantids are chiefly tropical in origin with over 600 species occurring worldwide. There are only about 20 species in the United States with most of these found in the southern states.

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Common Praying Mantis with Raptorial Front Leg and Huge Compound Eyes. Image Dr. Kaae.

A few year ago, I was reminded how fascinated people are with these amazing insects. I was in Malaysia working with my friend Michael Yeh (an insect dealer), and he asked me if I wanted a few egg cases of the orchid mantid. The orchid mantid is a beautiful species that is frequently found on and mimics orchid flowers.  Its coloration blends in perfectly with these flowers. In addition, their legs and even abdomen are expanded laterally to blend in with the petals of the orchids. I didn’t think much about it at the time but brought them home.  Once home, I forgot about them and most hatched and subsequently died. I was getting ready for the Cal Poly Insect Fair and found some the mantids with approximate 60 first instar nymphs still living.  I decided to see if anyone would be interested in buying these young and took them to the fair.  I was amazed how many people wanted to the young at $25 each.  At one point, there was a line a dozen or more deep who wanted a baby orchid mantid.

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Left. Immature Orchid Mantid. Courtesy Michael Yeh.

Mantids are general predators and feed on any insect of appropriate size (neither too small nor too large).  As a rule, they are not considered very important in the natural or biological, control of pest species. Typically, the insect species most important for the biological control of a pest species are those that are host-specific and which feed only on that pest. Because their life cycle is closely tied to that pest, their numbers in the environment will increase as the population of the pest increases and eventually will reduce the pest to a non-problem level. Because mantids are not host-specific, the practice of buying their egg cases in order to turn the hatched nymphs loose for backyard pest control is of little value--but it is fun!

The praying mantis is cannibalistic with larger forms commonly eating smaller ones. The female frequently consumes the male after mating. Any male mantid attempting to mate approaches females with great caution (very, very slowly) because he doesn’t want to be eaten before mating. In most cases, he will take several minutes to travel a few inches, especially in her immediate vicinity. Most predators, including female mantids, recognize their prey by movement. In some species, once the male mounts the female and copulation begins, he has a difficult time releasing his sperm packet due to a neurological hang-up located in the brain. However, once the male mounts the female, she reaches backward and bites his head off thus releasing the neurological block. Then the sperm packet is released and the female consumes the rest of the male.

In the United States, eggs are typically deposited on branches or bark in an egg case or mass. This is the overwintering stage. In the spring, the young nymphs emerge to grow to adults by late summer or fall.

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Preying Mantis Egg Case. Image Dr. Kaae.

Being large common insects, mantids in many countries are subject to considerable folklore and have influenced various cultures. In Guatemala, children are told that these insects will eat your tongue if given a chance; consequently, it is not uncommon for children upon seeing a mantid to slap their hands over their mouths and run as fast as they can. The translation of the Vietnamese name for mantis is heaven’s horse. There it is believed that if you see a mantis, it is considered good luck if you place a drop of honey or sugar on its head as the insect will fly to the heavens and present this gift to the gods. It is no wonder that many people are fascinated by these creatures, and there are many myths associated with them considering their interesting behaviors, large size and in some cases, beautiful and striking appearance. Two martial arts separately developed in China have movements and fighting strategies based on those of the mantis. As one of these arts was developed in northern China, and the other in southern parts of the country, the arts are nowadays referred to (both in English and Chinese) as Northern Praying Mantis and Southern Praying Mantis. Both are very popular in China, and have also been exported to the West in recent decades.

Mantids, Mimicry and Defense. The coloration and anatomy of many of the mantids blend in with their surrounding environment. This could serve to protect them from potential predators or hide them from their prey thus making capture easier.  On the other hand, certain and coloration and anatomy of matids functions for defensive purposes.

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Top/ Left. Bark Mantid Mimicking Lichen. Top/Right. Leaf Mantid. Both Images Courtesy Michael Yeh.  Bottom/Left. Leaf Mantid. Courtesy Didier Descouens-GNU Free Documentation 1.2 .

 

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Great Mantid Mimicry. Image Courtesy Adrian Pingstone Public Domain.                                                                             

Eye Spots, Mantids and other Critters.  Eyespots may be a form of mimicry in which a spot on the body of an animal resembles an eye of a different animal to deceive potential predator or prey species; a form of self-mimicry, to draw a predator's attention away from the most vulnerable body parts; or to appear as an inedible or dangerous animal.

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Top. Mantid Displaying Coloration Warning Eyespot. Image Courtesy CaPro CC BY SA 3.0. Bottom. Zaire Mantid Eyespot. Dr. Kaae. Hawk Moth Courtesy OhWeh CC BT-SA 2.5

Pet stores occasionally sell praying mantids with the most common species available being a large green or tan African mantid. It is best to buy a small nymph as the adults are not long lived. Mantids can be kept in a small aquarium at room temperature. They will eat almost any insect (adult or immature) of appropriate size (1/4 to 3/4 their size) and should be fed several times a week. Occasionally, egg cases can be found in the late fall through spring. In this case, up to 80 or 90 nymphs will hatch in the spring. The young can be kept together if they are provided enough room.  When they reach the third instar, they will begin to eat one another.  Fruit flies are an easily obtained diet for the early instars. Simply let a ripe banana sit for a few days and an instant colony of these flies will appear. An alternative source of food for the early instar nymphs is aphids. Mantids do not require a source of water as they will get enough moisture from their food.

Crickets. Everyone has enjoyed the peaceful chirping of a cricket on a warm summer night.  And most know that the male produces this chirping to attract the opposite sex for mating. The forewings possess a hardened tooth ("file") and a ribbed ridge ("scraper") on the hindwings. When the wings are rapidly opened and closed, it causes the file to rub over the scraper producing this characteristic chirping.

Actually, it is possible to determine the prevailing temperature by counting chirps from the common field cricket.  As with all insects, crickets are cold blooded.  In cold blooded animals the body temperature is determined by prevailing temperatures.  And as might be expected, the rate of metabolism and activity slows or increases as prevailing temperatures decrease or increase.  As a result, the rate of cricket chirping (number of chirp in a given time) increases or decreases with changes in prevailing temperatures. The formula for determining temperature is to count the number of chirps in 15 seconds and add 38.  For example if a cricket chirps 30 times in 15 seconds, the prevailing temperature would be 68 F.

Over the past 25 years, almost all of the male field crickets in the Hawaii have progressively lost their ability to chirp and cannot attract females for mating.  This is apparently a result of evolution which in most cases can take hundreds if not thousands of years.  This phenomenon was likely initiated by genetic mutations in a few individuals.  Mutated males lack the scraper and file and therefore cannot chirp.  As remarkable as this appears, this loss actually gave these crickets a competitive advantage over the crickets that could chirp.  In Hawaii, a parasitic fly is present that is attracted to cricket chirping.  Once locating a cricket host, the flies deposit their eggs on the crickets with their hatching larvae subsequently feeding inside and eventually killing the cricket.  Off course, these flies cannot find non-chirping crickets thus the edge.  It would appear that since the silent cricket cannot call females, this may prevent them from finding a mate and loose such an edge.  However, they have avoided this by congregating around the few remaining males that can chirp and thus mating with attracted females.

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A Common Field Cricket Found Throughout the United States. Image Dr. Kaae.

Crickets have historically played a very important role in Chinese folklore, entertainment and recreation. Cricket culture in China encompasses a 2000-year history of insect singing and cricket fighting. The Chinese appreciation of crickets extends far beyond the entertainment value to include their powerful vitality and interesting life cycles. The fact that crickets are capable of laying hundreds of eggs was in line with the historical Chinese beliefs that the one ingredient to a successful life was to have as many children as possible. It was considered a compliment if someone blessed another to have as many children as a cricket. Ground crickets or katydids were even thought to possess aphrodisiac properties.

The keeping of crickets in cages purely for appreciation of their songs became very popular in the Tang dynasty (400 BC).  This became popular with both the common people and members of the Royal Palace.  In the fall, ladies of the palace would catch crickets and put them in golden cages to appreciate their song during the lonely evening hours. Because most of these ladies were among the 3000 or more concubines of the emperors, their lives were rich in material goods but lacked social contacts. It is easy to draw similarities between the life of the solitary cricket in a golden cage and the lonely concubines of the palace. Rather than enjoying the sweet chirp of a singing cricket, the concubines may have heard a reflection of their own loneliness and sadness in the cricket chirp.

In some palaces, cricket culture was highly refined with professional cricket "keepers" on the palace payroll.  In some cases, a mixture of brass powder and rosin was applied with a fine needle to the file-scraper apparatus. This application was said to heighten and refine the volume of the insect's voice.

From the beginning of the Song dynasty (960 to 1278 AD), recreational cricket fighting became very popular in the Chinese culture. At its peak, cricket fighting was as popular with the common people and royalty as profession sports are today in the United States. At one point in China, even the famous Cricket Emperor (Jia Shi-Dao 1213-1275 AD) was accused of slacking on his duties due to his every encompassing passion of cricket fighting. Thousands of carefully selected crickets were sent to the capital each year with many a fortune won or lost on the outcome of a single fight. Volumes were written on how to select or selectively breed good fighters.

It is written that when a minister of a local rice granary saw a good fighting cricket, he traded a prized horse for it. When he was away on business, his wife took the lid off the cricket pot for a peek at the prize cricket that quickly escaped only to be eaten by a cockatiel (bird).  In despair of possible repercussions from her returning husband, the wife committed suicide. Upon his return, the minister seeing his dead wife and lost cricket also committed suicide. It is not known whether he committed suicide over his dead wife or lost cricket.

Anyone who has kept any of a variety of insect eating pets is well aware of the cost of using crickets for pet food. Generally these can be purchased in a local pet shop or bait store and typically cost around $2.00 per 50 crickets regardless of size. On alternative to buying crickets is to raise them. This is a fairly easy task with a few minor challenges; the main two are prevention of their escape from the rearing containers and providing the correct environment for egg hatching. Rearing containers should be steep-walled and fairly deep to prevent the later instars and adults from jumping out. Because the hatchlings can climb most surfaces, it is a good idea to coat the upper inside lip of the container with a thin layer of Vaseline. The bottom of the rearing container should be covered with a 1 to 2 inch layer of moist vermiculite which serves as a substrate for egg laying. The degree of moisture in the vermiculite is critical, and dry or excessively wet conditions will result in death of the eggs. Reaching this ideal level is a matter of experimentation. Start off with fairly moist vermiculite and introduce several adult crickets for about three weeks. After that interval, if small white first instar crickets have not appeared, try again using less moisture until the proper level is determined. Crickets will reproduce and grow at room temperature but when raised at 80 to 85 degrees (F), they will complete one life cycle in about three weeks. Water can be provided by a piece of sponge sitting in a dish of water. Crickets eat a variety of foods but chicken mash is a cheap and tidy standby. A cut potato will also provide additional moisture and food.

Jerusalem Crickets. This insect (also called a potato bug) is one of the best known insects in California. Adults are approximately 1 inch long with a very large, rounded head and a striped abdomen. As with other crickets, the Jerusalem crickets are somewhat omnivorous but are mainly phytophagus. These insects are totally harmless.  However, there are many rumors that they are dangerous. These stories are spread in elementary schools and it is a common belief in the Mexican culture that these insects will kill you. The Jerusalem cricket is also known as 'Nino de la Tierra' (Child of the Earth). This name may refer to the somewhat human embryonic look of this ground dweller. It should be mentioned that Jerusalem cricket are not totally harmless. They apparently have the potential of delivering a nasty bite. One day in class I was showing students how harmless they were using a pencil and it bit the pointy end off-probably shouldn’t be handles carelessly!

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Jerusalem Cricket, Child of the Earth or Potato Bug. Image Dr. Kaae.

In Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, a close relative of the Jerusalem cricket is considered a delicacy. In this case, the abdomen is split and stuffed with a peanut and subsequently fried. This is another insect that can be easily kept in a terrarium. They do best in a humid environment and will readily feed on most types of vegetables.

 

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