Garden Detective

Garden Detective: Scary-looking cricket has her concerned

Lindsay Langford caught this scary insect in her Sacramento backyard. It’s a sand cricket.
Lindsay Langford caught this scary insect in her Sacramento backyard. It’s a sand cricket.

Q: Can you tell me about this bug? I found it in our backyard and tried to identify it on the Internet. The closest I could find was a grasshopper native to Southeast Asia. It’s 2 inches long.

Lindsay Langford, Sacramento

A: There’s nothing like a scary critter to get gardeners in the Halloween spirit. But this insect is local and not a foreign invader, although its nickname sounds like a world traveler.

Retired state entomologist and longtime Orangevale bug man Baldo Villegas immediately recognized it as a Jerusalem or sand cricket.

“They have chewing mouthparts just like grasshoppers and crickets for feeding on plant tissue,” Villegas explained. “They generally live under protected materials like boards, pots, rocks, tree trunks, etc. in the wild or in urban gardens. They are very strong and have sharp spines on the legs that they use for digging into the soil where they feed on roots of adjacent plants near their hiding areas.”

Some species of sand crickets are considered pests, Villegas noted.

“But I tend to doubt this as I have never seen plants dying near areas where they’re protected,” he said. “I usually do not take any action in squishing or killing them when I see them. They do look ugly to some people, but to me they are cute!

“My suggestion is to let the crickets go either in your yard or at a local wild area near hiding places such as loose boards, rocks or downed tree trunks.”

Villegas also offered some trivia about sand crickets and a warning – be careful how you pick them up.

“In Mexico, these insects are known as ‘Ninos de la tierra’ – Children of the Earth – because, to some people, they look like little babies,” he said. “They are also supposedly very poisonous! This is, of course, not true.

“They do not have poisonous glands anywhere in their bodies,” Villegas explained. “They do have the sharp spines on the legs that they use very effectively in trying to escape if something or somebody grabs them. I assume that they could break the skin and an infection could set, but this would be rare.

“I have grabbed them numerous times down in Mexico in order to show my friends and family that these insects do not inject any poisons into our bodies,” he said. “From such collection experiences, these insects’ mandibles or spines have never broken my skin and I am still alive.”

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