This portion of Bug of the Week is dedicated to an insect that is near and dear to my heart- the mole cricket. Or as friends back home would say, “The MIGHTY mole cricket”! This particular bug belongs to the order Orthoptera which includes grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets and is a proud member of the family Gryllotalpidae. I remember my first encounter with the mighty mole cricket… A fellow entomologist and I were working for a professor of entomology during the summer (before we had committed ourselves to this field). While looking at all the different insects we had caught we noticed the weirdest looking creature. It was an insect, but it had paws… Alien-like to say the least, but incredible nonetheless. Later we learned that it was the common, yet unnoticed mole cricket and since then, this particular insect took on role as our intramural sports mascot as well as one of my all-time favorite insects.
The adult mole cricket is a strange, strange critter to look at… The first thing you notice, before anything else, is the large paws that are incredibly similar to what you would see on a mole.
***For those of you that don’t know, entomologists aren’t the most clever of folks and we tend to call things the way we see it: “Mole-like paws on a cricket??? EUREKA! From this day one, we shall call this a ‘Mole Cricket’…” And that’s how insects are named!
These “paws” are actually the dactyls. Dactyls are attached to the foreleg and assist the mole cricket in tunneling through various soil types as well as maiming prey. There’s an excellent picture below from www.ncse.com that compares a spade, mole paw, human hand, and dactyl… Very interesting!!!
Species of mole crickets can be distinguished by examining the formation of the dactyls. Adults can exceed 2” and have orange-brown bodies with heavily sclerotized head, limbs, and thorax. Both sexes have elongated cerci at the end of the abdomen and antennae that are less than the overall body length of the cricket.
Eggs can be found adjacent to the burrow in a chamber of their own. The eggs are small, bean shaped, brown eggs. Typically they are found in loose clusters of 30-60.
Nymphs are smaller, darker versions of the adults.
WHY BUG OF THE WEEK?
Now many of you may be thinking that I chose the mole cricket to be Bug of Week because of its rather unusual appearance, but I actually chose it because they are skilled musicians and craftsmen! The male mole crickets in an effort to seduce a female take a similar approach to what many college guys do… However, instead of picking up a guitar and playing Wonderwall by Oasis or some sort of John Mayer song, they shape their underground burrow into a horn. By sculpting their home into a large horn, the males are able to amplify their mating song so that females flying overhead will hear. From there the females follow the song back to burrow like a bunch of teenage groupies chasing Justin Bieber back to his trailer. Below is a depiction of what this megaphone type burrow looks like (compliments of Nickerson et al. 1979. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 72(3):438-440).
GREAT IT’S BUG OF THE WEEK! BUT HOW DO I GET RID OF IT???
Sadly, the mole cricket is considered a pest in some social circles. Not every golfer or homeowner stops to appreciate the mole cricket’s uniqueness as we all do and therefore I must explain how to manage mole cricket populations. There are several options to achieve successful management of these critters such as planting larger plants that are more than just seedlings, biological control via birds, raccoons, mice, or nematodes, and lastly chemicals. I would strongly recommend that you try other options before applying a chemical management strategy.
AGAIN PLEASE NOTE THAT I DO NOT TAKE CREDIT FOR ANY OF THE IMAGES USED ABOVE! Once I have my photos all compiled and edited I will start using my own 🙂