The summer songs of crickets and grasshoppers provide many of us with a comforting reminder of childhood. If you are a gardener, you might feel differently about those sounds.
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: forewings (tegmina) and hindwings. Beyond those similarities, there are many differences:
*For you word game and vocabulary enthusiasts, saltatorial is an adjective that describes the legs of jumping insects.
Lifecycle of crickets and grasshoppers
Both species start as eggs 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 feeding grounds, generally downhill from where they started. Grasshoppers will molt 5 or 6 times as they outgrow their exoskeletons. Crickets do it at least eight times. There is no pupal stage, so these insects are said to go through incomplete metamorphosis.
There are house crickets and field crickets, but both are collective terms for several cricket species. They all feed on seeds and plants, along with grasshopper eggs, moth and butterfly pupae, flies, and spiders.
House crickets (Acheta domesticus), often sold as lizard food, are usually brown or tan and one inch long or less. Field crickets tend to be black and slightly larger than house crickets.
While there are thousands of grasshopper species, two of the most common are 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 males do most of the singing. When males are courting, they have a unique song different from their regular hey-I’m-over-here song. When females sing, they do it very quietly. The vibrations caused by this action remind 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 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 needed by a few individuals. In any case, a single cricket will not do significant damage. Several crickets 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, making 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 aren't 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 handpick them if you are quick enough. Chickens are excellent at catching them, and it’s a riot to watch.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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