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Late summer and fall are the times of the year that homeowners and gardeners may notice an abundance of small (3/8 inch long) crickets. These runts of the cricket world are called ground crickets or pygmy field crickets. Ground crickets are a separate taxonomic group from the typical (and larger) black field crickets, and are not as well-known as the field crickets (probably because of their size). They are not just smaller individuals or immature of the usual field crickets. When you look closely you see these are fully-grown adults with wings (and as you recall, only adult insects have wings!).
As with other insects, crickets vary greatly from year to year and place to place. Large numbers of ground crickets ("outbreaks") are not reported very often, or maybe ground crickets usually go unnoticed.
Ground crickets look like "regular" crickets except for the very small size. Ground crickets may be dark brown or black and are less than one-half inch long. They have large compound eyes, long thread-like antennae, enlarged hind femurs, and spiny tibias typical of most crickets. See the BugGuide website for photos of ground crickets.
Damage & Management
Ground crickets are scavengers and feed on a wide variety of plants and other insects. Ground crickets are generally not pests of crops, gardens or landscapes. Control in the lawn and garden is not usually warranted.
As with the black field crickets, ground crickets are attracted to lights and very large numbers may be present on the pavement under street lights and store lights in the early night. They can be annoying under lights and may wander indoors as accidental invaders, though they are not as consistently a pest as are the larger, better known (and noisier) field crickets. Large numbers of ground crickets inside the house could result in damage to fabrics, paper and other household materials. Sealing cracks and gaps to exclude accidental invaders is recommended as are perimeter sprays of residual insecticide (applied outdoors to sills, thresholds and potential entry points).
Ground crickets and their relatives such as field crickets, grasshoppers and katydids have a simple life cycle of three stages, egg, nymph, and adult. Most spend the winter as eggs in the soil with nymphs appearing by late spring to feed on tender plant tissue, debris and other insects. Adults mate and lay eggs in the late summer and fall. Ground crickets are more cold-tolerant than most insects and will be one of the last insects to sing in late fall. The song of male ground crickets is produced by rubbing the wings together (stridulation) and is a high-pitched trill rather than a chirp as produced by male field crickets. Because of the loud sound that seems to be out of proportion to the size of the body, ground crickets are heard more often than they are seen.
Click on the Music of Nature website for a recording of the male ground cricket song.
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