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    Christmas with the Jerusalem Cricket

    Friday, December 13, 2019 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

    When we think of Christmas time our first thoughts go to the child born in a manger, loved ones, snow, Santa, and the carols we most love to sing. As we immerse ourselves in the magic of the season, we are sure to find animals of all shapes and sizes become part of the yearly yuletide; from reindeer to sheep, and mice to turtledoves, we welcome our furry and feathered friends (or at least their most charming likenesses) into our celebrations. Not too surprisingly though, the insects and arachnids that just a few months prior were central to many a Halloween decoration, are largely left out when it comes to the glory and joy of Christmas. Maybe it’s just too difficult to feel the cozy warmth of Christmas when looking at a spider or see the magic and joy when watching a roach skitter across the floor, even if that roach were wearing a tiny Santa hat and beard, or maybe it’s simply that we haven’t chosen the correct insects to include in our Christmas celebrations.

    There is one insect that has had its place in Christmastime lore, one of the few insects that has had several notable positive representations in pop culture: the cricket. In 1845 Charles Dickens published a very popular novella: The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home, the third of his five Christmas books, in which a cricket acts as a sort of guardian angel to a family. Though Mr. Dickens was certainly writing about a fairly common cricket in that story, there is yet another cricket that seems destined to be connected to Christmas: the Jerusalem cricket. Not only does the name instantly bring up thoughts of the Biblical city and its own history, but it also brings to mind the city that’s less than 6 miles away and is infamous especially at Christmas, Bethlehem. But before you start singing “O little town of Bethlehem,” consider the second reason the Jerusalem cricket seems destined for Christmas: instead of making a chirping noise like standard crickets, the Jerusalem cricket makes a sort of drumming noise (perhaps a “Pa rum pum pum pum”…at least at Christmas) with its body.

    Though this insect seems like the best candidate if one were looking to add to the Christmas animal repertoire, it faces the same challenges so many insects face: most people do not want to be around it. Not only is it a strange-looking insect, but it’s large, and the sight of it actually in your home would probably give you Halloween flashbacks instead of making you sing Christmas carols. So let’s learn a little more about this almost-Christmassy insect so you can learn how to avoid an unwanted Christmas surprise.

    Why are they Called Jerusalem Crickets?

    The name Jerusalem Cricket is actually a bit of a misnomer as they are neither from, nor found in, Israel. It’s unknown exactly how they received their name, but the most common theory is that it originated from a misinterpretation of the Navajo name for these insects (“Skull Insect”) by Spanish priests who interpreted the name as being related to “Skull Hill,” the place where Christ died.

    Even calling them a cricket is a bit of a misnomer, as they are technically not a true cricket. Yes, they are still in the same Order as crickets and grasshoppers, but that’s a very broad category and there are several key differences between the Jerusalem cricket and common crickets that help to illustrate the naming confusion: unlike common crickets they are not built for jumping, instead they are built for burrowing into the soil; and though they are known for their unique mating song, it’s not the familiar chirping noise, instead the Jerusalem cricket creates their distinctive drumming sound by bumping the ground with their body.

    In the end, these odd little bugs seem to defy all naming logic, adding even more intrigue to these unique creatures.

    What do Jerusalem Crickets Look Like?

    These strange-looking insects are quite large, around 2”-2.5” long, and have quite a distinctive appearance. Their bald, shiny, amber-colored head is one of the most distinguishing features, being that it is disproportionately large for its body and almost “humanoid” in shape, with two dark, beady eyes set just below its slender antennae. They also have very large mandibles (mouth-parts), which are highly effective for chewing roots, tubers, vegetables, and meat (including other insects), as well as aiding in soil excavation as they dig through the dirt in their subterranean world. Their shiny abdomen is ringed tan against dark brown or black. Finally, its legs, especially its front legs, are stout and spiny and adapted for digging in soil, not for jumping.

    Where are Jerusalem Crickets Found?

    Geographically, Jerusalem crickets are found in the western United States and parts of Mexico.

    Outdoors, Jerusalem crickets generally spend most of their lives in underground burrows, only coming to the surface at night to feed on plant matter and insects; however, they can also occasionally be found making their homes in warm, damp places, generally in a protected area like a wood or rock pile. After mating, the female will burrow 6”-10” underground, usually in a protected area like was just mentioned, and will created a nest there that will house their eggs.

    Jerusalem Crickets are rarely found Indoors, other than in a terrarium as a pet. Due to their preferred habitat and nesting site, they generally won’t be looking to make your home into their home, and most likely just wandered in while looking for food.

    Are Jerusalem Crickets Dangerous?

    Though they are an intimidating insect to suddenly find yourself faced with, they are not aggressive and are likely to simply try to escape if they encounter a threat rather than attempt to attack or defend. However, their strong, and sizeable, mandibles are known to deliver quite a painful bite should the Jerusalem cricket be cornered into a situation where it cannot flee and is forced to fight. Fortunately, they are not venomous or poisonous, so though the bite will hurt for a little, it won’t do any lasting damage.

    These bizarre insects aren’t even particularly dangerous to crops, though this is definitely where they have their greatest potential for threat and damage. Since their diet consists of a good deal of plant matter, and they live underground, there are many crops, especially things like potatoes (another nickname for the Jerusalem cricket is Potato bug after all), that they have the potential to negatively affect. However, they can only do significant damage in large numbers, and though they can live for 2-3 years, it also takes about 1-2 years for them to mature to adulthood, and they are known to have a low rate of reproduction, making it rare to find an infestation of these insects to the point of causing severe crop damage.

    How can you Prevent Jerusalem Crickets?

    There are two main things to consider when attempting to prevent Jerusalem crickets from becoming an issue in your home: 1) how could they get into your home and 2) are there any ideal burrowing/nesting conditions in your yard that you could reduce or eliminate?

    When considering how they could get into your home, be sure to look for any large gaps that may be present, especially at door sweeps or window seals, and make sure that any windows or doors that may be left open have a fully sealed screen over them. Since these aren’t a small pest like an ant, they will need a much more sizeable opening to enter your home, one that would be visible to the naked eye.

    When considering what could be done to make your yard less hospitable to the Jerusalem cricket, remember that they like warm, damp places, and often go for protected locations under rock or wood piles. Clearing any such piles and keeping your yard free of leaf/plant debris will go a long way toward making your yard a less ideal home for these giants. Additionally, keep a close eye on any fruit or vegetable gardens as these are a potential food source for these insects and could serve to draw them into your yard when they’re searching for a midnight snack.

    Finally, when it comes to eliminating potential food sources for the Jerusalem cricket, it’s always a good idea to keep your home as insect-free as possible. By getting on a pest control service plan with Mid-Cities Pest Control and having a certified technician maintain a pest barrier around your house you are far less likely to ever have to face a startling encounter with the Jerusalem cricket inside your home.

    How do you eliminate Jerusalem Crickets?

    If you find yourself facing a problem with Jerusalem crickets; whether it’s a lone insect that got inside and reminded you it’s time to get on a pest control service plan, or whether you’re facing an infestation, the best course of action is to call Mid-Cities Pest Control at 1-800-310-BUGS and have a certified pest control technician come out to evaluate your home and yard; they can provide you with service options to get the issue under control and maintain a pest barrier to keep your home from becoming a buffet for the Jerusalem cricket.

                This Christmas as you prepare to gather family and friends together to celebrate the joy and the wonder of the holiday, don’t worry about having to utter a “Bah, humbug” at any pests finding their way into your home, give Mid-Cities Pest Control a call and let our technicians help to make this a very Merry Christmas for all.

    Additional Resources:

    “Jerusalem Cricket” – Pestnet.

    “Wild Thing: Stranger Things” – Ben Hutchins – Texas Parks & Wildlife.

    “Potato Bug: AKA Jerusalem Cricket And Child Of The Earth” – Daniel Nelson – Science Trends.

    “Genus Stenopelmatus – Jerusalem Cricket” – Cotinis, Chuck Entz, & David Ferguson – BugGuide.

    “The Jerusalem Cricket” – Dr. Wayne S. Johnson & Jeff Knight – University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension.

    Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 10 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

    Christmas vector created by pikisuperstar

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