Crickets – Pets, Pests, and Singing Warriors 2 Sep 2015

It’s almost fall, and cricket time. Common house crickets eat holes in a wide range of fabrics. Their droppings can stain drapes, furniture, and stored clothing. However, some varieties are not vegetarians. They attack and eat other insects, and even their own relatives.

For many people in North America, the incessant chirping of crickets is nerve-wracking. But in the Orient, crickets have long been considered good luck, and their songs treasured as a pleasant melody. Vendors market them to customers who make their selection based on each little singer’s song.

They have three types of “songs.” One attracts females, another woos ‘em, and a third warns off trespassers and competitive suitors. Their entire repertoire is produced by rubbing a rough part of one wing “scraper” against a “file” on the other.

Crickets are valued not just as musicians. “Watch-crickets” in the Orient were often kept to warn of intruders. Unlike watchdogs, they don’t bark or attack prowlers, they just suddenly stop singing when disturbed, and the silence serves as a warning. They’d be a lot cheaper than electronic home alarm systems. But you’d have to stay up all night to notice that they had gone silent.

In China, Japan, and other Oriental countries, fighting crickets are highly prized. Unlike the many varieties kept for their pleasant music, these are smaller, and the best fighters are generally from a few counties in northeastern Shandong Province, and seldom over an inch long. Aficionados of cricket gladiators look for large heads, well developed jaws, and the right attitude. It’s a little like cock fighting, but doesn’t seem to alienate animal rights groups.

Bian Wenhua and Yang Ping, two experts from Shanghai, have written “An Illustrated Guide to Crickets.” In it they contend that there are three fighting styles used by these insect warriors: “creep like a tiger, fight like a snake,” “charges like the wind, valiantly forging straight ahead,” and “listen for sound, look for the enemy.” According to an article by Erik Eckholm in the Beijing Journal, matches set up by friends were once the rule, sometimes involving casual betting, but nowadays, serious gamblers have entered the picture, and “hooligans” are dominating the sport. In October of each year, national cricket matches are held.

In the Orient, crickets have been kept as pets for more than a thousand years, and there is evidence that the ancient Greeks also valued pet crickets. They’re small, and don’t eat much. Compare their food bill with that of a mastiff, Labrador retriever, cocker spaniel, or even a Chihuahua. Plus, they are unlikely to bite your neighbor or kill their cat. Elaborate cricket cages of bamboo, ivory, and exotic wood are used, even today, to provide housing for pet or fighting crickets.

Then there’s Walt Disney’s Jiminy Cricket who didn’t just chirp. He had an extensive English vocabulary and could carry on deep, philosophical conversations with some people, and similarly gifted wooden puppets.

Since these little animals are cold-blooded, their body’s activity is controlled by air temperature. The cooler it gets, the slower they move and chirp. If you count the number of cricket chirps in 15 seconds and add 39, you’ll know the air temperature within a degree. For example, 31 chirps + 39 = 70 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s your homework assignment. Let me know what you find.

In Cambodia, and many other countries, crickets are fried and eaten. Although they are high in protein and fat, I’ve tried them and wasn’t impressed. Kind of muddy tasting. There are numerous web sites filled with recipe ideas. I’ll bet you can hardly wait to get a few dozen at the local bait store to make cricket a l’orange, crickets in wine sauce, and the like.

But, whether you hate them, listen to them, keep them for pets, or fight them, crickets are another interesting part of the field and forests that we share with myriad living creatures.

Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.