I was just idly wondering where grasshoppers and crickets went for the winter and got to thinking, do I actually know the difference between them anyway?
The first part of my query was easily resolved – I discovered they both only live for about a year, so they don’t dig in anywhere for the colder months, and each new generation of both are born as eggs.
They both belong to the species Orthoptera (meaning ‘straight wings’), and they look a little bit alike. Crickets belong to the Ensifera suborder, and there are more than 900 varieties of crickets. Grasshoppers are members of the Caeliferans suborder, and there are more than 11,000 kinds of grasshoppers.
Let’s take a look at them separately, starting with Crickets. They start life as eggs underground, with a female laying 100 eggs a day and up to 3000 in her lifetime. (I can’t resist saying it – Jiminy Cricket – that’s a lot of crickets!) Crickets are nocturnal and are either pale green or more commonly brown, enabling them to hide better from predators at night. They grow to about 2” in length, and have long antennae, and only field or house crickets have wings, with which they make their distinctive ‘chirp’. They use a process called stridulation, and there’s a special structure on the tops of their wings, called a scraper. Generally, only male crickets make the noise, as it’s a calling song - to attract females and repel other males, and it is pretty loud! They say some species of crickets are so attuned to the temperature that you can tell whether it’s warmer or cooler outside by their chirping. Apparently, if you count their chirps for 15 seconds and then add 40, you can approximate the temperature in Fahrenheit.
Because crickets are omnivores, they not only eat plants but also larvae, aphids, other insects, and insect eggs.
Grasshoppers are also laid as eggs in the soil. The female lays around 30 at a time, laying up to 100 eggs between summer and autumn, and she surrounds the eggs with a frothy liquid that hardens to form a protective structure or ‘pod’. They are quite big - twice the size of crickets, are diurnal, and are bright green, blending in well with grasses and plants. Their antennae are short, and males will make the singing sound by rubbing a hind leg against one of their hard forewings. The rough leg causes the wing to vibrate and make a sound, almost like a bow playing a cello.
As herbivores, grasshoppers eat only grass and plants.
Two more creatures are from the same family, one I had never heard of – katydids (more commonly known as bush crickets, and named katydids for the sound they make apparently) – and locusts, which everyone has heard of, who decimate crops while in their swarming phase, when conditions are right after a drought followed by rapid vegetation growth.
Whether crickets or grasshoppers are considered pests varies. Grasshoppers usually stay outside but their populations can get large and decimate gardens. Crickets, because they eat dead insects, are generally viewed more favourably. However, they’re far more inclined to enter homes. They are voracious eaters, and will eat almost anything, including fabrics, paper, rubber – and your foods. They are attracted to warm, moist environments and enter homes through various cracks or openings in window and door frames, as well as masonry. Once crickets get into your home, they can be hard to get rid of without professional help.
In Asian countries in times gone by, having a cricket on the hearth or in the kitchen was supposed to be good luck, as they were considered a ‘watchdog’ - as when danger approached, the cricket’s chirping would stop. And bug superstitions suggest that it is bad luck to kill a cricket, even by accident, so if you get any in your home, instead of killing them, maybe just gently show them the door and tell them to hop off!
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.