Friday, May 13, 2011

Jiminy Cricket! by Elaine Lockey

If you are one of the many of us who are torn between the childhood image of the adorable Walt Disney character of Jiminy Cricket and the not so handsome black bug sitting next to your toilet, you are not alone.  I’ve suffered from trying to reconcile these two images for years now.  I just can’t bring myself to harm crickets, I don’t care where they might be in my house.  

Field crickets that are commonly found in homes don’t really want to be hanging out in our bathroom.  But, they got lost somewhere along the way and would love to be escorted outside as they might have come in through a small crack due to bad weather or in search of food and can’t get back out. There are two main kinds commonly found to our dismay in our house that are both black and very similar but with different life cycles.  Both are the genus Gryllus spp. and both sing. 

You can impress your family with your identification skills, “Wow look at that Gryllus pennsylvanicus in the bathtub!” Whitney Cranshaw, CSU Extension Entomologist, differentiates these two by the time of year they predominate – G. veletis in spring and over-wintering as an adult and G. pennsylvanicus is our late summer species. Both species are approximately 22mm (.87 inch), males being black with dark brown or black appendages, females have more reddish legs.

Jiminy Cricket had his singing technique all wrong.  He rubbed his legs together but in actuality crickets make the familiar noise by rubbing together veins on their wings that are specific for this purpose.  Only male crickets can do this, females are mute.  The cricket songs are used to attract sexually responsive mates.  Female crickets are only responsive to songs of their own species.  

 Lefties are not common in the cricket world. 95% of crickets are “right winged” with the file used to produce sound on their right wing.  The file is an enlarged vein with many tiny raised points.  The other wing runs a scraper over the file which produces sound. The female hears the appealing call with her ears on her front legs - seems perfectly normal to me.  

wing of male cricket
Jim Mason of the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita, Kansas helps us distinguish what the different calls mean, “Crickets make several different chirps.  The loud monotonous one we hear outside in the evening serves to attract a female.  Another is made when a male knows a female is near and is softer and quicker.  Yet another is made when two males encounter each other.  There is even a ‘Look out!’ chirp that warns all the others to be quiet because danger is nearby.  The careful listener can pick out these individual dramas by listening for the different songs.”

Crickets are omnivores eating decaying plant matter, fungi, small seedlings, other insects both dead and alive. They are generally considered beneficial in that they help break down organic matter contributing to decomposition similar to creatures like earthworms. They are also an important food source for other animals. They like to live under logs or damp places. 

On nights when I have insomnia I always thought it would be comforting to have a cricket around singing his song.  Since I don’t really want Jiminy Cricket hanging out with me, I found the next best thing, a phone app (there’s one for everything) that you can purchase to hear the cheerful song of crickets from all over the world.  The app’s description is a bit concerning however: “It’s also pretty useful in awkward situations or awkward silences.” I suppose that Jiminy Cricket would be proud to know that he’s a comfort to those in difficult social situations. 
Cartoon image of Jiminy Cricket courtesy of

Photo of cricket courtesy of
Photo of cricket wing courtesy of