The lowdown on crickets -- 9-15-14

(This is the fall field cricket, also known as Gryllus Pennsylvanicus. To see an enlarged view, please click on the picture.)


Cricket is a sport that (somewhat) resembles American baseball, an expression that means that something -- a game or business deal – is not being played according to the rules (something's not cricket) and a nickname, used mostly by women, as actress Connie Stevens did playing “Cricket” in the early 1960s TV show “Hawaiian Eye.”

And, having a cricket chirping on the hearth has long been a symbol of good luck, in part because tradition holds that if danger approaches, the cricket will stop its song.

There is no shortage of crickets in my neighborhood. In the past, when I mowed the property with a grass sweeper attached, after I emptied it, there were usually several crickets still clinging to the bottom of the holder that I swept out before resuming mowing.

As close as I came then, for me crickets have been like a next door neighbor I waved to for years without really knowing much about him. For more and better facts, I turned to University of Maryland entomologist Mike Raupp, whose Web site,, provides a wealth of information about the small beings that are all around us. (He's a good photographer, too.)

In his article on the fall field cricket, also known as Gryllus Pennsylvanicus, Raupp reveals that, contrary to what many people think, crickets do not produce their songs – they have several – by rubbing their back legs together.

On the cricket's forewings there are two structures, called a file and scraper. To make his music, the cricket rubs the file against the scraper. His first song warns other males to stay out of his territory, the second attracts potential mates and the third is meant to convince a female who has been attracted to mate with him. The male also does a dance to attract a female and her choice of mates is based on his song-and-dance ability. The female listens to the song through eardrums on her front legs.

Once her choice has been made, the female lays eggs in the fall, pressing them into the soil with a body part called an ovipositor. Her young, called nymphs, emerge in May and begin to eat and molt, which Raupp says happens up to eight times.

After all that molting, the nymphs become winged adults. Raupp says they feed on decaying fruit, seeds, some plants and even other crickets. The University of Minnesota Extension Service also warns that if they get inside, crickets can do other damage.

“House crickets can feed on fabrics, such as silk and wool, and can cause severe damage, especially if they are numerous.” the article notes.

Outside, crickets can damage field crops, although the varieties cited most for crop damage in the literature I read were the camel cricket and the mole cricket. Crickets can also be beneficial, says the Minnesota site, eating grasshoppers and flea beetles and crabgrass and pigweed.

Unless you can really tie crop damage in your garden to crickets, my recommendation is to leave them alone. In addition to the pleasant sounds they make, they're preyed upon by the Northern cardinal, among other beneficial creatures. The University of Arizona Extension site notes that they also play a role in breaking down the soil by eating rotten fruit and decaying plants. Like the songbirds, they're one more player in the symphony nature provides for us every day.


The leaves of the black walnuts in my yard are falling now, prior to the final drop of the nuts. The question of whether those leaves can be composted was answered by the Ohio State University Extension site, which noted that the roots of black walnuts and related species, such as butternut, produce a toxin known as juglone (5-hydroxy-alphanapthaquinone) that can affect plants far outside the tree's “drip line.” But, the site says the toxin can be rendered harmless by composting them for four weeks. Not so black walnut sawdust or small branches trimmed from the trees. That takes longer and some sources suggest composting all black walnut material separately. To see a list of tree, shrubs and vegetables that are affected by juglone, visit

If you'd like to learn more about compost, consider attending the Penn State Master Gardeners compost workshop on Saturday, Sept. 27, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Rieber House, located at the entrance to the Frey Farm Landfill, 3049 River Road, Conestoga, Pa. Those who attend will learn how to build their own bin to compost kitchen, garden and yard waste. There is no cost, but pre-registration is suggested, by calling 717-397-9968 or by e-mailing

Conestoga, Pa., is two hours from Smithsburg, according to Mapquest.


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