This flightless cricket is about an inch long, up to nearly two inches, and has a large head with small black eyes. The body is light orange and the abdomen has black bands on the segments. The fore and hind legs of this cricket have spines that enable it to burrow into the soil efficiently. They are found in dry, sandy soils and are normally nocturnal, occurring from Texas up through the Great Plains to Montana and westward to the Pacific coast, as well as down into Mexico. In spite of their common name, Jerusalem crickets are native to North America.
In the fall females dig a hole into which they lay their eggs. The eggs overwinter in the underground nest and hatch in the spring. The young are able to fend for themselves after birth. Development proceeds through a succession of larval stages called instars, reaching maturity in late summer. After mating females are known to sometimes eat their mates. Both sexes only live a couple of months and die after reproducing the next generation.
They enjoy a rather omnivorous diet, consuming plant roots and rotting plant tissues, as well as other insects. Their attraction to potatoes, in particular, results in the common name of potato bug being sometimes used to describe them.
Jerusalem crickets are able to produce a raspy, hissing noise by rubbing their hind legs together. The sound is thought to possibly deter predators, as these crickets do not have hearing organs. While they probably don’t communicate with other crickets through auditory means, as do ordinary house crickets, Jerusalem crickets may sense the vibrations produced by another individual and be attracted to it in that way. While related at the order level, Jerusalem crickets are in a different family than house crickets, a taxonomic distinction on the same level as the difference between mammal families Canidae (dogs, wolves) and Felidae (cats).
These crickets have large jaws and are able to administer a bite when molested. Being primarily nocturnal burrowing insects, they aren’t normally seen on the surface during the day. I was fortunate to find one crossing a trail at the Albuquerque Open space reserve at Oak Flats on Sept. 18, pictured here. Ecologically, Jerusalem crickets are a productive member of the soil community. They consume insects that may damage crops. They help aerate the soil through their burrowing activities. And they serve as a food source for other wildlife, such as bats, foxes, rodents and other mammals, birds, and reptiles.