Gryllidae (true crickets) in the order Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, katydids)
These familiar black, brown, or tan crickets are celebrated singers. There are several species in North America, and many are hard to tell apart. They share in common large heads, hind legs adapted for jumping, and stout, unmovable spines on the hind legs. Adult females have a needlelike (but harmless) ovipositor extending outward from the abdomen; all have a pair of circi extending from the abdomen (each cercus functions like an antenna).
Members of the genus Gryllus are usually shiny black, and the different species are often best separated by singing pattern. The house cricket, Acheta domesticus, is light brown or tannish overall; the tan head has three dark crossbands; the wings of adults extend beyond the tip of the abdomen.
Length: usually ½-1 inch (not counting appendages; varies with species).
Habitat and conservation:
Field and house crickets are common and can be found in many habitats, especially grassy areas such as lawns, fields, pastures, prairies, roadsides, but also in woods. They sometimes enter houses and other buildings. They are nocturnal; the sound of their chirping signifies “nighttime” to us. House crickets (A. domesticus) are probably native to Eurasia but are found nearly worldwide, having traveled the globe with people. They are commonly sold for fish bait and as a live pet food.
Field and house crickets are omnivores, nibbling at a wide variety of plant and animal matter, including leaves, fruits, grain, other insects, meat, and much more. Sometimes field crickets damage crops, or chew on clothing when they enter homes. Their broad diet and ability to sing has made them popular pets at different times in various cultures, as they can subsist on a variety of foods.
Distribution in Missouri:
Most species overwinter as eggs, hatch in spring, and begin eating and growing. Like other insects, crickets molt several times as they grow. Their final molt gives them wings, and they are sexually mature. Males chirp, rubbing rough portions of their wings together; by raising the wings at an angle, they form a resonating chamber sort of like a violin body. The calls attract females that are ready to mate and also warn off rival males. Females deposit eggs under soil using their ovipositor.
Crickets have economic impacts as agricultural and household pests, but also as fish bait and pet food. Their chirping sets the mood for a quiet autumn evening, and beautiful evenings inspire camping and tourism. Crickets have inspired folklore, myths, cartoon characters, and children’s stories.
As omnivores crickets recycle decaying organic materials, graze on plants, and eat insects. They are preyed on by many animals, from insects (even other crickets) to birds to mammals to even people, in some countries. They are also attacked by parasitic insects that need hosts for their survival.