28 Nov

Big and Ugly Monster

Cricket

Navajo Indians called them Skull Insects or bone neck beetles. Other Native Americans called it Old Bald-Headed Man. Its head looks like a blood red skull and is nearly the size of your index finger. It is so bizarre in appearance, that if you saw one crawling around your backyard, you might run for a shovel. The Jerusalem Cricket is big and ugly. If you see one, don’t be surprised if fear is the first emotion you experience. Most people are terrified when they see a Jerusalem Cricket for the first time.

Is the fear founded, or is it false?
When an insect is so big, it is easy to feel trepidation. The Jerusalem Cricket is more of a threat to its own kind that it is to you. Despite popular belief, Jerusalem Crickets are not poisonous. If you built up enough courage to touch one, the cricket will try to hide. If you persist in disturbing the massive creature, it might bite you. Jerusalem Crickets are equipped with powerful mandibles used to shear through tubers, root vegetables and rotting meat. Their bite is painful, yet far from debilitating. If you ever went to school and forgot to wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day, then you already understand the feeling of a Jerusalem Cricket bite. It feels like a well-aimed, painful pinch. The cricket’s size might induce fear, but the fear is unfounded.

Where in the world is Cricket, maybe San Diego?
If you live in the western United States, you live in Jerusalem Cricket territory. At least 60 different species live in California alone. If you want to see the “Skull Insect”, the best time to go looking is at night. When the sun is up, they spend their time underground in burrows eating roots, decaying insects and vegetation. Another one of their nicknames is the potato bug (not to be confused with roly poly’s); they have been known to chew on potatoes. Field workers will find the occasional Jerusalem Cricket during potato harvests when the soil has been tilled.

Mom! Can I keep him?
Jerusalem Crickets make a great pet. You can place one in a terrarium or sour cream container with about four inches of damp sand. This will give them areas to burrow and find shelter. Remember that Jerusalem Crickets can be their own worst enemy. If you place more than one in the same container… they will eat each other (Jerusalem Crickets don’t have many friends). Instead, place a few rocks, grass and pieces of wood inside for hiding spots and you have got a perfect Jerusalem Cricket cage. Since they eat just about anything, you will be able to keep your new pet alive with table scraps. They eat vegetables, fruit and meat. Finally, you have a place to put all that wasted broccoli.

The Jerusalem Cricket might be big and ugly, yet there is no reason for you to be afraid. Next time you see a big ugly cricket, instead of running for the shovel, grab your camera.

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