The summer song of crickets and grasshoppers provide many of us with a comforting reminder of childhood. If you are a gardener, your might hear those sounds with different ears.
Cousins to katydids and locusts, crickets (Gryllidae) and grasshoppers (Acrididae) are members of Orthoptera.
Both crickets and grasshoppers have a large head, long saltatorial* back legs, for jumping, a cylindrical body (pronotum), compound eyes, and a mouth able to bite and chew. They have two pairs of wings: the forewings (tegmina) and hindwings. Beyond those similarities, there are many differences:
Lifecycle of crickets and grasshoppers
Both species start out as eggs that were laid, in late summer and early fall, in the top 2 inches of soil, in clusters of 20 to over 100 eggs. In spring, these eggs hatch as nymphs, which begin feeding on nearby plants. When those food supplies are exhausted, they look for new places to feed, generally downhill from where they started. Grasshoppers will molt 5 or 6 times as they outgrow their exoskeletons, and crickets molt 8 or more times. There is no pupal stage, so these insects are said to go through incomplete metamorphosis.
There are house crickets and field crickets. Both are collective terms for several different cricket species. All of them feed on seeds and plants, along with grasshopper eggs, moth and butterfly pupae, flies, and spider sack lunches.
House crickets (Acheta domesticus), sold as lizard food, are usually brown or tan, and one inch long or less. Field crickets are slightly larger than house crickets and they are usually black.
While there are over 200 different types of grasshoppers in California, only two cause significant damage: the valley grasshopper (Oedaleonotus enigma) and the devastating grasshopper (Melanoplus devastator). Most grasshoppers can fly.
These parts are called the scraper and the file. Each species has a distinct stridulation and it is normally the males who do the singing. When males are courting, they have a song that is different from their normal hey-I’m-over-here song. When females sing, they do it very quietly. The vibrations caused by this action reminds us that it is summer, and announces to other crickets and grasshoppers an individual’s presence.
Cricket and grasshopper damage
If their song didn’t tell you these pests had arrived, chewed holes in leaves certainly will. Grasshoppers and crickets will often hide out in nearby weeds and brush, so keeping those areas mowed can reduce the likelihood of a visit. On the flip side, maintaining a lush, green border may provide all the feeding that is needed by a few individuals. In any case, a single cricket will not do significant damage, but a large number of them can decimate a row of seedlings in just one night. Grasshoppers prefer green plants, so your lettuce, onions, carrots, corn, beans. melons, squash, and some annual flowers are vulnerable. Grasshoppers may also feed on citrus, avocado, and beets. In years with especially wet springs, cricket and grasshopper populations can explode. In these years, food scarcity makes all plants vulnerable.
Grasshopper and cricket controls
If these insects are causing damage in your garden or landscape, floating row covers, screened boxes, and cones are your best bet. Just be sure there are not any individuals hiding out in the mulch around your plants, or you may create a virtual Club Med for the pest! Birds, robber flies, and blister beetles feed on crickets and grasshoppers, or their eggs, and many parasites, bacteria, and fungi attack these garden pests. You can hand pick them if you are quick enough. Chickens are excellent at catching them, and it’s a riot to watch.
* For you word game and vocabulary nerds, saltatorial is an adjective that describes the legs of jumping insects.
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