Backyard Buddies

Photo: Arthur Chapman


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Crickets live all over Australia and you have probably heard them - but maybe not seen one.

The most common is the Black Field Cricket. Only the male of this species 'chirp' by rubbing their wings together. They do it to attract females, to woo them, and to warn off other male competitors.

Black Field Crickets are widespread in eastern and southern Australia. It's not hard to spot one jumping around as they grow to about 2.5 cm long. Their body and wings are brown, and their heads, long antennas and hind legs are all black. Adult crickets live for about three months.

It's quite tricky to sneak up on a cricket. Their chirps often sound like they are coming from somewhere else. But they will jump if surprised, so you may see where it lands if you disturb one.

How do you tell a female cricket from a male, if neither is chirping? The female has a long cylindrical tube at the rear of her body. This is her 'ovipositor' which she uses for laying 2 mm wide eggs about 1 cm into the soil where they will be safe.

Black Field Crickets lay their eggs around April. A female can lay up to 1,500 to 2,000 eggs and she lays them from late summer to late autumn. These eggs remain dormant over the winter and hatch in spring.

Young crickets, known as nymphs, grow slowly through 9 to 10 nymph stages as they gradually develop into adults. Juvenile Black Field Crickets are similar in appearance to adults but lack wings and have a distinctive white band around their middle. It is only in the later nymph stages that they develop wings and females also develop an ovipositor.

Black Field Crickets have only one generation a year, with some overlap with the early and late stage nymphs and the adult crickets. It is usually only the adults which are heard and seen, as the youngsters blend in extremely well with tufts of grass.

These crickets love heavy clay-like soils which crack when they dry out. Cracks provide safe places for the crickets to hide during the day, especially when it is hot or there are predators such as birds around. At night, Black Field Crickets emerge to feed on plants.

Normally, Black Field Crickets are mostly a ground living insect, but will take to the air when numbers are too great and food becomes scarce.

Crickets usually live outside but may come inside to get away from waterlogged ground after rains, or when the weather turns very cold.

Popular hang outs are corners, window sills, cabinets and couches. In the garden they eat insects, but once inside, the menu offers furniture fabrics, clothes, paper and kitchen scraps. Of particular attraction to crickets are wallpaper and its glue.

Normally, crickets feed on decaying plant material and insect remains, and are prey to birds, mice, frogs, possums and many other creatures. They are an important animal in the food chain.

You can tell a Short-Horned grasshopper from a cricket by the size of their antennae. Crickets have longer antennae than these grasshoppers. Most grasshoppers also feed on plant material, whereas crickets are omnivores. Also crickets are mainly nocturnal, whereas Short-Horned grasshoppers are active during the day. 

Black Field Crickets are good buddies to have in your garden as they will help aerate your soil, which helps water penetrate into it.

Did you know?

Crickets have 'ears' in their legs just below their knees. The ear drums, one on each foreleg, are sensitive membranes which act as receivers of differences in pressure and can help crickets find a mate, be forewarned about predators or locate prey.

The most common crickets in backyards are the House Cricket, Mole Cricket and Black Field Cricket. The King cricket is large and flightless and can devour funnel web spiders with its enormous, terrifying-looking mouth parts. It's usually only found in rainforests. You can recognise crickets and grasshoppers by their 'song' which they make by rubbing parts of each wing together. They have a hardened area on one wing which is scraped against ridges on the other, like a file.


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Photo: OEH