A sound of late summer customarily starts at dusk and continues through the night hours. And the sound emanates from a source not often seen unless flushed from a hiding place in flower beds, high grasses, under rocks or under trash cans.
What we speak of are crickets. The little black (or brown) crawlers that some anglers use as bait when fishing for bass. Others enjoy hearing their constant chirping when their home windows are open at night. Others wished they’d go away as their constant chirping irritates them and prevents them from sleeping.
Did you know crickets are distantly related to grasshoppers, another good bass fishing bait? And scientists have identified more than 900 species of them. They can be found from lower Alaska to the end of South America.
In some cultures, crickets are a sign of good luck, folklore and literature. Probably the most famous fictional cricket is Jiminy Cricket, featured in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio.
Crickets are often prey for birds to bears. And pet owners feed them to their lizards and spiders. Then there’s folks in Southeast Asia who deep fry them and eat them as a snack food.
Crickets are commonly attracted to properties for food, shelter and light. The latter, scientists say, is that nighttime light is a big attractant. Outdoor lights or bright lights visible through windows will likely attract them. This is probably why the one we had in front of our kitchen window, where we customarily have a ceiling light on, has been chirping. And they are wary. Make a noise they can hear and they’ll stop chirping. Get close to their hiding place and that will stop them. I suspected ours was hiding in a bunch of marigolds beneath the window.
And in case you didn’t remember from your high school biology classes, crickets chirp to announce their intentions of mating. Others chirp to celebrate after mating.
To make their chirping sound, males scrape their wings together in a method called stridulation. As the two rub together, comb-like serrations on the wings generate the chirp. It’s a sound that is magnified by another part of the wing. And crickets will chirp at a greater pace depending on the temperature.
Like some insects, crickets are not picky eaters. They’ll eat plant and animal matter and will act as scavengers eating decaying animals (like turkey vultures) and rotting vegetation. When they get desperate, they’ll eat other crickets, targeting injured or weakened ones.
Female cricket’s lay their eggs in loose soil found in garden beds and flowerbeds. After overwintering as eggs, the eggs hatch in spring and as nymphs, they begin eating and start to grow and molt several times until they reach adulthood, say scientists. With their final juvenile molt, crickets begin growing their wings, a stage that signifies their sexual maturity. Throughout spring and summer, several generations will have developed. After that, most crickets will live from spring through fall and die as temperatures cool. And the ones that manage to sneak into your home or garage, will die after a short time.
Until then, try to enjoy the last sounds of summer as snow season isn’t far off. A time when you would probably rather listen to crickets chirping, instead of shoveling snow.
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Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.