One morning, as I stepped into the bathroom, a cricket ricocheting around the shower greeted me. This dromedary of the insect world was a camel cricket so named for its humpbacked appearance. In addition to extraordinary legs, camel crickets have exceptionally long antennae. These sense organs enable camel crickets detect food and avoid predators in dark, damp habitats such as the woodlands and caves in which they evolved. Another name for camel crickets is cave crickets, and some species that inhabit lightless, subterranean realms are sightless. Camel crickets eat decaying organic matter such as leaves, roots, and fruits. They also consume rotting remains of other insects including their kin. Indoors they are occasional pests because they nibble stored fabrics. Their annual home invasion begins in the late summer and early autumn from damp woodpiles, dense vegetation, and refuges beneath rocks.
Basements, garages, and crawl spaces are favored habitats because of high humidity and low light levels. Like other invaders, portals include cracks in the foundation, voids around basement windows, spaces beneath basement doors, and holes where plumbing and electrical utilities exit and enter. Little ones go unnoticed but as they scavenge food and grow in size, they become more noticeable. Though wingless, they have remarkable powers of locomotion. Long, powerful legs provide an uncanny ability to jump. Cats find them quite amusing and some agile humans delight in a spirited chase of these saltatory critters. As I pursued my six-legged visitor around the shower stall, it easily cleared the edge of the tub - a leap ten times its own height. Finally, I corralled the cricket with my hand. On the floor a detached leg flexed in what appeared to be a macabre search for the rest of the cricket’s body.
The strange behavior of discarding an appendage when attacked by a predator is not uncommon for many insects such as crickets and walking sticks. A special muscle allows a leg or antenna to snap off at the insect’s will under the right circumstances. This phenomenon, known as autotomy, allows the insect to lose a leg and save its life by distracting a hungry predator. When the predator stops to examine or eat the severed limb, the bug makes its getaway. In many cases the insect regenerates the missing part. In addition to bugs, reptiles, birds, and mammals use this clever ploy. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the cricket’s leg reminded me of a turkey drumstick. I could not help but ponder the disappointment of some poor predator when its camel cricket feast had one leg instead of two. Here are some helpful tricks to keep these curious crickets out of your home. Remove woodpiles and vegetation near the foundation. These provide refuge for camel crickets that could enter your home. Caulk and seal all openings to the outdoors around the foundation. Replace and repair door sweeps and reduce levels of humidity in the basement. If you find crickets inside, attack with a powerful vacuum. Sticky traps such as those used for snaring roaches and mice can be placed along the basement floor where it meets the wall to catch the crickets as they hop about. Bug of the Week wishes you and your insects a very happy Thanksgiving.
We give a special thanks to Kojo Nnamdi who was the inspiration for this Bug of the Week. To learn how Kojo enjoys camel crickets around his home, please listen to the following broadcast at WAMU:http://wamu.org/programs/kn/08/10/20.php. Two great references used in preparing this Bug of the Week were the article entitled “Autotomy in a walking stick (Insecta: Phasmida)” by Tara Lynn MaGinnis and “The Insects: An outline of Entomology” by P.J. Gullan and P.J. Cranston. To learn more about camel crickets, visit the following web sites.