The Jerusalem cricket is among the largest insects. It grows up to 2 inches long. Its body features orange and black bands. This insect has a tan-colored, bald, shiny, large, almost humanlike head with a size that is disproportional to the rest of its body. Its head features strong jaws and mandibles, and small compound eyes. It begins life in the same manner as do many other insects: It hatches from an egg.
Drumming Begins Mating
Jerusalem crickets alter their communication habits during mating season. They abandon their usual "vibration" communication and take up drumming -- more accurately described as the beating of their abdomens on the ground -- when overtaken by the desire to procreate. Males and females participate in drumming, signaling each other when they are ready for action. It is one of the few times during the year that Jerusalem crickets spend much time aboveground: The bulk of the year, these insects live below the soil.
The female uses her vulva to tear the white sperm sac from the male and position it on herself. This sperm sac is carried on her body while egg fertilization occurs. This process of absorbing all the sperm into her body and subsequently the eggs is not instantaneous. It can take weeks. For the male, the act of reproduction is often a finale. Once she has what she wants reproductively, the female often eats the male, who is temporarily weakened by the act. Some males remain alert enough to ward off her deadly advances. The bulk of them do not.
Egg Laying and Development
Once fertilized, the female lays the eggs, which are approximately 1/8 inch long, in a massive nest 6 to 10 inches below the soil.The eggs are white-colored and oval-shaped. She has prepared the "nest" by lining it with a thick white binding-type substance she produces herself. The result resembles a bird's nest -- except it is under the ground and not in a tree. The eggs, laid in the fall, spend the winter in the soil alone without parental supervision.
Hatching And Juvenile Stage
The eggs of the Jerusalem cricket hatch in the spring. Scientists assume but do not know for certain if or how long the eggs are actually dormant in the winter. This is because they have not been able to get captive Jerusalem crickets to deposit eggs to observe in a controlled setting. What is known is that, once they hatch, the juveniles are immediately able to walk, run and jump. They begin eating other insects living in the soil as well as plant roots and decaying vegetation. The juveniles experience nine to 12 molts before becoming mature adults by fall.
As adults, Jerusalem crickets' life spans are quite short. Most live for only two to six months -- long enough to reproduce. They are not an aggressive species, biting only when they are provoked. However, due to extremely strong jaws capable of chewing through thick fibrous roots, their bite is abundantly painful to human skin. They do not live in large groups or clusters, making any pest control of them minor if at all necessary.
Not From Jerusalem
The Jerusalem cricket is not native to Israel. Its range extends along the west coast of the United States and Mexico. According to an essay in the American Entomologist, its moniker has two possible origins, both folk legends. The first is a combination of the Navajo belief system, the English meaning of its Spanish name and the indoctrination of native peoples with Christianity by Catholic priests as the West was settled. In Spanish, the bug's name is "nina de la tierra", or child of the earth or desert. The fact that Jesus -- the central saving figure of Christianity -- lived in the deserts of the Middle East was likened to the bug's humanlike head and face. The other folk explanation is that the word "Jerusalem" was shouted as a swear word depicting surprise in the 19th century. As this bug often causes alarm when first spotted, theory is that people swore, "Jerusalem," and the name became synonymous with the insect.
- Bug Guide: Family Stenopelmatidae - Jerusalem Crickets
- Colorado State University Extension: Jerusalem Crickets
- Pestnet: Jerusalem Cricket
- American Entomologist: JERUSALEM! CRICKET? Origins Of a Common Name
- University of Nevada Reno Cooperative Extension: The Jerusalem Cricket
- Pacific Discovery: Jerusalem Cricket
- San Diego Natural History Museum: Jerusalem Cricket
- Colorado State University: Colorado Insect Of Interest: Jerusalem Cricket
- Encyclopedia of Entomology; John L. Capinera
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Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.