In your yard: crickets


They go primarily unheard until late summer and fall, but their familiar chirps are everywhere from then on. Why then? Because it’s mating season for crickets, and the males are calling to females.

These small insects belong to the Gryllidae family and are found in diverse environments worldwide. Their chirping is produced by the rapid rubbing of their wing surfaces together. The sound, often a staple of tranquil summer nights, varies in rhythm and frequency, providing clues about the temperature and the species of cricket. Understanding these insects’ behaviors and ecological roles can offer insights into the broader complexities of natural ecosystems.  Listen to a cricket  

Female crickets can be easily identified by their long ovipositor (egg-laying organ), which projects from the rear of their abdomen. You’ll notice two shorter projections coming from there, too. They’re sensory organs called cerci, and both sexes have them. After mating, females deposit their eggs in the soil, where they’ll hatch the following spring. Young crickets look like their parents, except they’re smaller and without wings. They molt several times over the summer as they grow to adult size. Their wings grow longer and longer until they’re fully developed as adults.

Crickets are omnivorous. They feed on seeds, grains, flowers, leaves, and small fruits, and some species eat meat, such as ladybugs and insect larvae. Their foraging causes no damage to speak of, and they’re harmless to humans. They may bite in self-defense, but when they do, it rarely breaks the skin.

All crickets are nocturnal and spend the day under rocks, logs, and fallen branches where they can find moisture and protection from the elements. Also, in leaf litter, tall grasses, dense shrubs, ground cover plants, beneath loose bark, in cracks and crevices, under boards, bricks, and other human-made debris. Mole crickets hide in their burrows. Inside homes, crickets hide in basements, behind appliances, or in any dark, undisturbed area.

Crickets are in the order Orthoptera, along with grasshoppers and locusts. You might be most familiar with those in the Gryllus genus—field crickets, of which there are about 900 species around the world, except Antarctica. They’re so-called “true crickets,” and about 100 species inhabit the United States. You’ll read about the most common ones here. Also, about some “crickets” that aren’t actually crickets!

Field Cricket, Gryllus spp.

An all-black Field Cricket standing in a green plant that has small lavender flowers.

Field Cricket, Gryllus campestris (gailhampshire / Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Listen to a Field Cricket Chirping

Field crickets are a group of crickets in the genus Gryllus. They typically live in grassy fields, forests, and meadows. They prefer outdoor environments but may enter buildings, usually in the fall, seeking warmth. They’re omnivorous and feed on plant materials, such as leaves and seeds, insects, and organic debris. Male field crickets begin chirping in late July to attract females. Two of the most common species are the Common Field Cricket, Gryllus pennsylvanicus, and the Southern Field Cricket, Gryllus rubens. There are about 900 field cricket species. They’re native to North and South America, with about twenty-five species inhabiting the U.S.

Field crickets are often used in scientific research due to their simple care requirements and interesting behaviors. They’re surprisingly smart1, and studies on them have provided insights into animal behavior, communication, and ecology. They range from 0.59 to 1.22 inches (15–31mm) long.

House Cricket, Acheta domesticus

Brownish-colored House Cricket standing on a white surface.

House Cricket, Acheta domesticus (Geyersberg, Prof. Emeritus Hans Schneider / Wiki; CC BY-SA 3.0)

Despite their name, House Crickets are found predominantly outdoors. Males are known for their distinctive chirping sound, produced by rubbing their wings together. Their chirping rate can be used to estimate the temperature. This is known as Dolbear’s Law, which states that counting the number of chirps in 14 seconds and adding 40 can give an approximate temperature in Fahrenheit.

House crickets are omnivorous and have a varied diet, which includes plant material, insects, and even household items like fabrics and paper if food sources are scarce. Historically, House Crickets have been associated with good luck and prosperity in various cultures. In some traditions, they’re kept in cages and revered for their songs. They have a relatively short lifespan of about eight to ten weeks. Inhabitants of the eastern half of the U.S., they’re thought to be native to southeastern Asia. They’re about 0.63 to 0.83 inches (16–21 mm) long.

Snowy Tree Cricket, Oecanthus fultoni 

Snowy Tree Cricket standing on a flower

Snowy Tree Cricket, Oecanthus fultoni (Mark Yokoyama / Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This is another species of cricket you probably know very well by sound, even if you can’t give a name to it. And you may never see one because they blend into their environment so well. They’re pale green or whitish, with long, slender bodies and wings that are almost transparent, giving them a delicate, ghostly appearance.

Snowy Tree Crickets are primarily herbivorous, feeding on a variety of plant materials, including leaves, flowers, and fruits, but also consume small insects and other organic matter. Their songs evoke summer through and through. Males begin singing at dusk from July into October. They can produce an amazingly loud sound and often synchronize into a chorus that’s even louder. Their predictable chirping rate makes them ideal subjects for studying the relationship between temperature and insect behavior. There are about ninety tree cricket species worldwide, except in Antarctica. Twenty-one of them inhabit the U.S., with all but one in the genus Oecanthus. They’re 0.6 to 0.7 inches (15–18 mm) long.

Listen to Snowy Tree Crickets

Camel Crickets, family Rhaphidorphoridae

Camel cricket standing on surface of a leaf

Camel Crickets, Ceuthophilus spp., aren’t true crickets (Katja Schulz / Flickr; CC BY 2.0)

Despite their name, camel crickets aren’t truly crickets. They’re in the order Orthoptera but belong to a different family, Rhaphidophoridae, and number about 1,100 species in the world. Also known by other names, including cave cricket and spider cricket, they seek out cool, damp, dark areas, so they’re often discovered in basements. It’s a mystery how they find their way in, except the tiniest crack can allow entry. Some species have evolved to live in complete darkness within caves and have lost their ability to see.

Camel crickets are named for the camel-like hump on their back. They’re typically wingless, with long antennae and powerful hind legs adapted for jumping. Since they don’t have wings, they lack the ability to produce sound through stridulation (rubbing their wings together). So, they communicate through pheromones, physical contact, vibrations, and body language. Their color ranges from light to dark brown, often with mottled patterns that help them blend into their surroundings. Omnivorous scavengers, they feed on a variety of organic materials, including plant matter, fungi, decaying leaves, wood, and even dead insects. The heaviest U.S. population of camel crickets is in the East, with scattered groups in the Midwest and West Coast. They range in size from 0.5 to 2 inches (1.3–5 cm) long.

Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex

A Mormon Cricket is seen from the side isolated against a white background.

The Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex, is actually a shield-backed katydid (Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, Thomas Shahan / Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Mormon Cricket’s name comes from its 1848 invasion of the first Mormon settlement in Utah. It isn’t a cricket but, rather, a shield-backed katydid. Katydids are in the same order as crickets but belong to a different family. The Mormon Cricket’s coloration can vary widely, from green to brown to black. Omnivorous and highly opportunistic feeders, they eat a wide range of plant material, such as grasses, crops, and leaves, as well as insects and carrion.

These crickets are known for their dramatic migratory behavior. Large swarms, sometimes covering several miles, can form and move across landscapes. Environmental conditions, population density, and food availability influence their migrations. During migration, they can cause significant damage to crops, making them a concern for farmers. They exhibit cannibalistic behavior, particularly when protein is scarce. This behavior drives much of their migratory movement, as individuals constantly try to avoid being eaten by those following behind them. Mormon Crickets are native to the U.S. and found in the western half of the country. They’re about 3 inches (8 cm) long.

Listen to the buzzing sound of a Mormon Cricket (turn volume up)

Jerusalem Cricket, Ammopelmatus spp.

Brownish-colored Jerusalem Cricket standing on white background.

The Jerusalem Cricket, Ammopelmatus spp., isn’t a cricket (© Quyen Tat / Shutterstock)

Another “cricket” with a misleading name; they’re neither crickets nor from Jerusalem. Also called potato bugs, these flightless insects may emit a foul smell and can deliver a painful bite if threatened. (They’re otherwise harmless). In the family Stenopelmatidae, the origin of their name isn’t certain, but it may have originated from a mix of Navajo and Christian terms. There are nineteen species; some grow quite large, up to 2.72 inches (69 mm) long. Both males and females make a drumming sound by hitting the ground with their abdomens. Jerusalem Crickets range across the western U.S. and south to Central America.

Mole Crickets, family Gryllotalpidae

A mole cricket is shown standing on a brown leaf.

Mole Cricket, unknown species (© Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock)

Fairly common but rarely seen. That’s because, as implied by their name, mole crickets spend most of their lives underground. Their burrowing activity can be beneficial for soil aeration but also detrimental when it comes to damaging plant roots, including turf grass and crops. They dig long tunnels with strong legs and feet (looking similar to that of moles) adapted for that purpose, preferring moist, well-drained soil that makes it easier. Many are herbivores that primarily feed on roots and plant matter, but they’ll sometimes come aboveground at night to eat fruit and vegetables. There are others that are omnivores that include small insects and larvae in their diets.

There are 110 species worldwide, except Antarctica. Two native and eight introduced species inhabit the U.S. One species or another is found from the Great Plains across the eastern U.S. and up into Canada. Mole crickets range in size from 0.5 to 2 inches (1.3–5 cm) long. 

1 Segelken, H. Roger, “Human-like ability, categorical perception, found in insects – Cornell biologists’ experiments show how crickets tell love songs from bats’ ultrasound,” Cornell Chronicle, September 12, 1996.

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