Giant Bug: The Jerusalem Cricket

While Lorie and I were out for a walk yesterday, here in Bridger, Montana, I spotted an interesting creature scurrying off the side of the dirt road. At first I thought it was a particularly large spider, but on closer inspection, it seemed to be some sort of very large cricket. I don’t know if it was particularly big by global bug-size standards– it wasn’t the size of my palm or anything, but it was about four centimeters long, and very… well, “corpulent”. This was no big slender bug, like a grasshopper. This was a big walking fruit-bug, and looked like it would be a nice juicy score for something that liked to eat bugs, assuming that it wasn’t poisonous or otherwise unpalatable. Maybe if cooked over a fire, it could be “land shrimp” or something, but I didn’t partake.

Anyway, I had never seen anything like it: as I said, it was big, and the body was primarily pale-colored, but with some darker segmentation on the abdomen that gave the appearance of striping. Its head, though, was like a big red-orange helmet. It indulged me a bit as I took a few photos, and then it carried on its way, and Lorie and I continued our trek to the Post Office.

Then, this morning, Lorie’s Mom found another one in the garden. Two big freaky crickets in as many days! This one seemed a little smaller than yesterday’s, and also in poorer health. It was just sort of laying there, with a slightly cocked body position, legs moving weakly every once in a while, as though it had been somehow injured. I took some more pictures, and did some research.

Initially, I thought that maybe it was a Mormon cricket, since those were the only sort of giant crickets I had heard about in North America. Looking at the pictures, though, it clearly wasn’t: Mormon crickets look pretty much like field crickets, but bigger, with the big jumping legs in the back like a grasshopper. The red-helmet cricket’s rear legs were its largest set, but they didn’t look like they were made for jumping. It’s heavy body and thick legs seemed more reminiscent of an AT-TE from Star Wars than the typical field cricket. Looking for “giant montana cricket” actually was helpful: it took me to this page about Jerusalem crickets, and that seemed to fit the bill. It seems there are many specific species of Jerusalem cricket, but away from a more specific taxonomic resource at the moment, I’m not sure which of the eight listed species these two might belong to– if any, since the wikipedia entry also indicates that there are about 30 unnamed species.

Anyway, the wikipedia page indicates that there is nothing particularly worrisome about them: they might bite if “handled roughy”, but there’s nothing venomous or fatal about it, and they eat mostly “dead organic material”, and also “other insects”. Evidently they’re primarily nocturnal, and they don’t chirp like field crickets, but drum their abdomens against the ground to attract a mate. Presumably, this isn’t terribly loud to human hears, so it probably doesn’t carry across the night, but wikipedia does have a recording, if you’re interested.

This first specimen I saw yesterday seemed pretty healthy, but today’s was a little more… weird. As I mentioned, it had an unusual posture and seemed to be moving a little more spastically than what is presumed to be usual behavior, making me wonder if it was injured or sick (it had no outwardly visible signs of injury, aside from unusual movement). Since they apparently eat other insects and decomposing material, I was speculating if perhaps it had munched on either one of the dead wasps or one of the rotting apples that Lorie’s Mom had sprayed with wasp spray, which was only a few inches away from it. It was also still relatively cool in the morning, so perhaps it was feeling a bit of cold air torpor too. Regardless, I didn’t have great expectations for it to get on very well. Ultimately, it surprised me. As I was taking pictures of it, it seemed to gradually recover, until finally it got fed up with me, and went trundling off into the garden to dig around under some leaves, seemingly no worse for wear from whatever had happened to it this morning.

I also made a little video of the cricket while it was being so complacent for me– you can see it right here (though if you’re reading via RSS, I’m not sure if it will embed, so check the main site to be sure). It gives you a good sense of the size of the bug when you notice the little ants milling around it, and then you get to see it in action as it tears around the ground a little bit.

Jerusalem Cricket: A Basic Taxonomy, with improvised translation

Kingdom: Animalia(you know… animals)

Phylum: Arthropoda
(animals with lots of legs, jointed legs specifically, I think)

Class: Insecta
(Insects, I suppose- the dictionary indicates
it derives from a Latin term meaning “segmented animal”)

Order: Orthoptera
(straight wing)

Family: Stenopelmatidae(narrow bottom of foot, I think?)

Genus & SpeciesStenopelmatus sp. (narrow bottom-of-the-foot species?)

Helpful References

    The Jerusalem cricket entry at wikipedia: [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_Cricket][3]

    The Encyclopedia of Life: [http://www.eol.org/pages/45798/overview][4]

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