In 1688 the Italian scientist and poet Francisco Redi demonstrated that new life, flies to be precise, does not arise mysteriously from decaying meat, thereby helping to debunk the widely held notion of spontaneous generation. However, the mystical appearance of field crickets in my basement each autumn makes me wonder if Redi might have missed something. Where did these crickets come from and what are they doing there? One of the first and most common of our autumnal household invaders is the field cricket, Gryllus pennsylvanicus.
The annual life story of the field cricket began in the spring when young crickets, called nymphs, emerged from eggs laid by the female cricket the previous fall. These eggs rested underground until May, when the youngsters hatched. The nymphs spend the spring and summer feeding on plants, decaying fruit, seeds, and, sometimes, other insects, including their kin. After molting eight or more times, the nymphs complete their development and become winged adults.
The male field cricket has remarkable structures at the base of his forewings called the file and scraper. By rubbing the scraper of one wing against the file of the other, the characteristic chirping sound is produced. The male field cricket has several songs, one to warn other males to stay off his turf, one to attract a potential mate, and one to convince an interested babe that he should be the father of her nymphs. The female field cricket is fantastic in her own way. Not only will she select a mate on the basis of how well he sings, but she will also see how well he can dance - and dance he does. She hears his song with eardrums on her front legs. Now, that's some kind of wonderful!
During the steamy days of August, field crickets are commonly found in woodpiles, garden vegetation, and tool sheds outdoors. However, as the weather begins to cool these stealthy intruders may enter homes under door sweeps, through spaces around basement doors and windows, and via openings in the foundation where dryer vents, wires, or pipes pass though. One way to prevent field crickets and other unwanted guests from entering is to keep doors and windows in good repair and use caulk or foam to seal openings to the outside. Also, do not keep cricket refuges such as firewood, lumber, or beds of ivy near the house. If you are fortunate enough to have one of these six-leggers arrive for a visit, sit back, relax and enjoy the serenade. Somewhere in your basement an ever-hopeful troubadour is putting on the performance of his life.
For more information on the biology and management of field crickets, please visit the following web sites: