I have only known about the existence of mole crickets since last spring, when my roommate convinced me and one of our friends to join her on a Plastic Ocean Project cleanup near the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. After picking up some garbage near where we’d received our gear, I was speed walking to catch my friends when I noticed an elongated cricket wriggling around in the dirt. Apparently caring more about a cute insect than getting left behind and lost in the city (I was actually fine, they were like ten yards away in broad daylight), I knelt down and used the Seek app on my phone to identify the little creature. Low and behold, I had stumbled upon my first mole cricket.
Although common on almost every continent, mole crickets are hardly ever seen due to their nocturnal, underground lifestyle. Unfortunately, the burrows and eating habits of invasive mole crickets especially are a pain to agricultural fields and front lawns alike: mole cricket burrows can disrupt the roots of grasses, and the crickets themselves may eat the roots of grasses and other small plants, sometimes dragging the whole plant underground and consuming it. Although obviously considered a pest, mole crickets are relatively docile and are not likely to bite unless you try to grab them.
The forelimbs of a mole cricket bear a striking resemblance to the front paws of, well, moles. These clawed shovels make the mole cricket an excellent digger and also contain the insect’s tympana, or ear drums. Mole crickets can also use their shovel-hands like paddles to swim to shore if they somehow find themselves in a body of water, and the thick layer of setae (arthropod hair) covering their body traps in air and helps to keep them afloat. Some species can even jump from the water using fancy paddle-feet and the water’s surface tension! As if conquering soil and water wasn’t enough, mole crickets can also take to the skies on admittedly clumsy but functional wings for short flights. Is there anything mole crickets can’t do?
Well, besides avoid fluorescent lights at fast-food restaurants and gas stations, I mean. Despite living in the dirt and being nocturnal, mole crickets are for some reason attracted to bright lights. Which means we can add bug zappers to the list of mole cricket predators, I suppose.
Hold on a second – why do those even exist? Apparently people use bug zappers in hopes of killing mosquitoes, but those little pests are attracted to blood and carbon dioxide and, well, humans, not shiny things they can’t bite. To the few of you still using these things, please stop hurting the poor little moths and mole crickets and turn off your electric death boxes.
Thank you. Now, back to mole crickets:
Mole cricket burrows are called galleries when they’re shallow (often making a noticeable bulge in the ground and annoying the mess out of golfers) and tunnels when they extend deeper underground. Female mole crickets also add nurseries called egg chambers to their burrows. When mating season arrives, male mole crickets will widen the entrances to their galleries to act like a speaker before professing their love through song to attract females. Mole crickets make their music by strumming the stridulatory file of one wing across the scraper of the other, much like how one would strum a guitar with a pick.
If it weren’t for the agricultural damage, I’d say mole crickets are just short of perfect. Between their cute little faces and impressive adaptability, I’m kind of surprised that they aren’t more popular. Who cares if they aren’t colorful, mole crickets deserve to be just as well known and beloved as butterflies and ladybugs! Maybe they’re just shy, and that’s why they hide in the dirt all the time where no one can get to know them for the magnificent creatures they are.
Just you wait, folks. As soon as the world gets a little more familiar with mole crickets, they’re gonna knock those snobby butterflies right off their pedestal and become everyone’s new favorite insect.