BUG OF THE MONTH SUPPLEMENT
A Novice Raises Crickets
Order Orthoptera, Family Gryllidae
Copyright © 1998 by Vickie Galloway
This article originally appeared in Scarabogram, January 1998, New Series No. 213, pp. 2-3.
Learning about insects and their impact on the environment was a natural extension of my passion for gardening. The more I learned, the more I appreciated these wonderful creatures. Pretty soon I had my own insect pets. I started by raising several varieties of stick insects. Before long I had a small tarantula, then crickets and a praying mantis. Getting "up close and personal" with my bugs makes them less scary and infinitely more interesting.
|Left to right: Nemobius fasciatus female; N.
fasciatus male; Gryllus sp. female; Acheta domesticus
Nemobius are found in western Washington but only in rare special habitats.
Gryllus are common in eastern and southern Washington but largely absent from the Seattle area.
Acheta, far right, is the house cricket raised by Vickie.
It's always summer in my kitchen because of the crickets chirping merrily night and day. I love the sound they make though for some it may be an acquired taste.
Male crickets chirp to attract a mate and to keep away competition. They make sounds with pitch while grasshoppers make sounds that are pitchless and mechanical. Each species has a different song and lives in a particular environment. Each species times its call for a specific time of day or night. Crickets produce their chirps by rubbing a series of ridges on one wing against a scraper on the opposite wing.
Besides being an unusual pet, crickets are a good protein source for other arthropods, birds, amphibians, and fish. They are readily available in large numbers at local pet shops.
Unfortunately there is very little information available on raising insects and so a lot of trial and error has gone into my crickets. I made many mistakes along the way. I hope this information will make it easy for you to have crickets in your home.
I keep my crickets in a 10 gallon aquarium so they can have room to run around. Plastic plants add some interest and provide climbing areas. Fiber egg cartons turned upside down make great dark places to hide. Be sure to use a tightly fitting screen to keep the crickets inside. Scarab Dave Pehling uses panty hose for this purpose. Stretch the waistband around the edge and make a big knot in the middle with the legs. I'll bet Martha Stewart hasn't thought of that recycling project.
Female crickets need a place to lay their eggs and potting soil or sand is a perfect medium. They need at least an inch in the bottom of the container.
Heat is the most important element in raising crickets. They must have warmth to be happy and reproduce. I use a plug-in heated rock made for reptiles but a heating coil or mat will work as well. The surface temperature of my heated rock is around 91 degrees. Just keeping them in a sunny window is not enough because they need the heat at night too. A friend suggested putting the heated rock on top of a T-piece of PVC pipe in order to provide more heated area and a place to hide. This works very well. I also put a few long skinny twigs on top of the rock so they have a rough surface to cling to and places to climb. The twig area seems to be the favorite place to "hang out."
The crickets will crawl up the cord of the hot rock and hang from the screen. Be sure to close any gaps around the cord where it emerges from the screen. It is possible that they might eventually chew through the panty hose screen and escape so I keep the cord coated with petroleum jelly to prevent climbing. [Yr editor has had native black crickets, Gryllus sp., chew through window screening!]
Should you have an accident and the crickets get loose in the house...don't worry. Recapture them by putting the hot rock (plugged in) and some food in a large can turned on its side. Place it in a dark corner of the room and by morning the crickets will be in the can. They will go where it is warm and a midnight snack is being served. Catching them by hand is not easy. They can hide in tight places, they're fast and they jump when you get close.
Crickets are scavengers and will eat a variety of vegetables, fruits and grains. I have tried apples, potatoes, carrots, oatmeal, and cornmeal. They seem to really enjoy cooked corncobs. I also use cheap fish food flakes and commercially available cricket food. The commercial food contains extra calcium which is needed if you are feeding your crickets to amphibians. Cricket are also cannibals and frequently graze on their dead compatriots.
Providing water is also essential. I put a shallow plastic lid filled with a wet sponge or cotton balls on top of the soil and keep it moist. This method seems to work the best because the small crickets will drown in even a shallow dish of water. I also spray the aquarium once a day with tepid water to keep the humidity high and provide a water source for the newly hatched crickets.
Crickets love to hide and hang out in dark places. The T-piece of PVC pipe provides a warm and cozy place to be. Egg carton sections turned upside down make additional hiding space. My crickets sing during the day but really "step up to the mike" when the lights go off. The noise at night while you are trying to sleep may be a deciding factor in keeping crickets. It took a few days to get used to the chirping both day and night. Now, it seems unnatural when they are quiet.
Spotting the difference between the boys and the girls is easy. The females are larger and have a long ovipositor. The females deposit their eggs in the potting soil in the bottom of the aquarium. They deposit a lot of eggs! After the crickets were in the tank for about 6 months I scooped a spoonful of soil and examined it with a hand lens. It was teeming with life! Cricket nymphs take sixty to ninety days to mature and undergo eight to twelve molts. Unfortunately once they reach adulthood they have a short shelf life, about 25 days. Occasionally there is a gap between mature generations and therefore no chirping. To fix this I visit the pet store and buy some adults to fill in until the next generation matures.
I have a second generation albino cricket at the moment. I don't know if albinism is a frequent occurrence in crickets but it is neat to have something different.
If anyone has any further tips on raising crickets I would love to hear them. Have fun!
[A few editorial notes: The native crickets that are readily found in eastern Washington in the spring, are easy to keep captive too (if you use stronger screening!), although I never tried to do multiple generations. It's not unlikely that they have but one generation a year, as is the case with some eastern American species. I found that they especially enjoyed peanut butter. Give the males something like a piece of curved bark to hide under if you expect them to sing. The songs are substantially more, shall I say, "robust" than a house cricket song. Very important note for beginners: as noted by Vickie, crickets sing with their wings. Therefore, do not expect wingless crickets (such as camel crickets) to be anything but mute! See the next article for more on crickets. --editor]