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Jerusalem Cricket

Summary: Jerusalem crickets, also called Potato bugs, are large insects native to western North America and parts of Mexico. Neither a cricket nor a true bug, the Jerusalem cricket belongs to the stenopelmatus family, and is more closely related to the many species of weta found in southern hemisphere.

Unlike true crickets, grasshoppers and katydids, the Jerusalem cricket's "song" is produced by tapping their abdomen on the ground. Where crickets produce their sounds with their winds, and have tymphonic membranes beneath their knees, Jerusalem crickets lack wings, and also the organs with which to hear, instead responding to vibrations.

Jerusalem crickets are nocturnal and flightless, and they feed mainly on decaying vegetable matter. They borrow to feed on decaying root plants and tubers, although as omnivores they will occasionally prey on other insects. In their turn, they provide a valuable source of protein for many animals, from barn owls, small hawks, and bats to skunks, rodents and even some scorpions.

Due to their burrowing habit, and their preference for earth beneath rocks or boards, they may inadvertently wander into homes. Houses in the foothills, canyons and mountains may be prone to problems with Jerusalem crickets, however indoor invasions are uncommon.

Despite some of their more dramatic alternative names, such as Ninas de la Tierra, (children of the earth,) skull insect and bone neck beetle, and their frightening appearance, being described as the face of a baby on the body of a giant wasp, Jerusalem crickets are basically harmless. Their sharp pincers may be able to give a nasty nip, but they don't spit poisonous venom, and they can't cause anaphylactic shock. They do not, as commonly believed "cry with the voice of a child," in fact about the worst thing about them is that they can emit a foul smell when threatened.

If you do happen upon a Jerusalem cricket when gardening, or inside your house, don't panic, there is no need for aggressive control methods. The simplest method of removal is to trap it beneath an upturned cup or jar, sliding paper underneath it, then turning the container back the right way up. It can then be released at a distance from the house.

If you want to trap multiple individuals, sticky board insect traps consisting of plywood coated with plant resin, vegetable oil, or petroleum jelly placed around the walls in areas where the Jerusalem crickets are will trap them, and they can be easily removed.

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