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Anna B. Comstock

The Black Cricket


A pair of dusky lovers.

Drawing by Ida Baker.

The Black Crickets

Of the insect musicians the cricket is easily the most popular. Long associated with man, as a companion of the hearth and the field, his song touches ever the chords of human experience. Although we, in America, do not have the house-cricket which English poets praise, yet our field-crickets have a liking for warm corners, and will, if encouraged, take up their abode among our hearthstones. The greatest tribute to the music of the cricket is the wide range of human emotion which it expresses. "As merry as a cricket" is a very old saying and is evidence that the cricket's fiddling has ever chimed with the gay moods of dancers and merrymakers. Again, the cricket's song is made an emblem of peace; and again we hear that the cricket's "plaintive cry" is taken as the harbinger of the sere and dying year. From happiness to utter loneliness is the gamut covered by this sympathetic song. Leigh Hunt found him glad and thus addresses him:

"And you, little housekeeper who class

With those who think the candles come too soon,

Loving the fire, and with your tricksome tune

Nick the glad, silent moments as they pass."

Ways of the Six-footed.

Teacher's Story

dropcap image F we wish to become acquainted with these charming little troubadours of the field, we should have a cricket cage with a pair of them within it. They are most companionable, and it is interesting to note how quickly they respond to a musical sound. I had a pair in my room at one time, when I lived very near a cathedral. Almost every time that the bells rang during the night, my cricket would respond with a most vivacious and sympathetic chirping.


The wing of male cricket, enlarged.

a. file   b. scraper.

The patent leather finish to this cricket's clothes is of great use; for, although the cricket is an efficient jumper, it is after all, mostly by running between grass blades that it escapes its enemies. If we try to catch one, we realize how slippery it is, and how efficiently it is thus able to slide through the fingers.


A section of the file, enlarged.

The haunts of the cricket are usually sunny; it digs a little cave beneath a stone or clod in some field, where it can have the whole benefit of all the sunshine, when it issues from its door. These crickets cannot fly, since they have no wings under their wing-covers, as do the grasshoppers. The hind legs have a strong femur, and a short but strong tibia with downward slanting spines along the hind edge, which undoubtedly help the insect in scrambling through the grass. At the end of the tibia, next to the foot, is a rosette of five spines, the two longer ones slanting to meet the foot; these spines give the insect a firm hold, when making ready for its spring. When walking, the cricket places the whole hind foot flat on the ground, but rests only upon the claw and the segment next to it, of the front pairs of feet. The claws have no pads like those of the katydid or grasshopper; the segment of the tarsus next the claw has long spines on the hind feet and shorter spines on the middle and front feet, thus showing that the feet are not made for climbing, but for scrambling along the ground. When getting ready to jump, the cricket crouches so that the tibia and femur of the hind legs are shut together and almost on the ground. The dynamics of the cricket's leap are well worth studying.


The front leg of a cricket, enlarged, showing ear at  a.

The cricket's features are not so easily made out, because the head is polished and black; the eyes are not so polished as the head, and the simple eyes are present but are discerned with difficulty. The antennæ are longer than the body and very active; there is a globular segment where they join the face. I have not discovered that the crickets are so fastidious about keeping generally clean as are some other insects, but they are always cleaning their antennæ. I have seen a cricket play his wing mandolin lustily and at the same time carefully clean his antennæ; he polished these by putting up a foot and bending the antenna down so that his mouth reached it near the base; he then pulled the antenna through his jaws with great deliberation, nibbling it clean to the very end. The lens reveals to us that the flexibility of the antennæ is due to the fact that they are many jointed. The palpi are easily seen, a large pair above and a smaller pair beneath the "chin." The palpi are used to test food and prove if it be palatable. The crickets are fond of melon or other sweet, juicy fruits, and by putting such food into the cage we can see them bite out pieces with their sidewise working jaws, chewing the toothsome morsel with gusto. They take hold of the substance they are eating with the front feet as if to make sure of it.

The wing-covers of the cricket are bent down at the sides at right angles, like a box cover. The wing-covers are much shorter than the abdomen and beneath them are vestiges of wings, which are never used. The male has larger wing-covers than the female, and they are veined in a peculiar scroll pattern. This veining seems to be a framework for the purpose of making a sounding board of the wing membrane, by stretching it out as a drum-head is stretched. Near the base of the wing-cover, there is a heavy cross-vein covered with transverse ridges, which is called the file; on the inner edge of the same wing, near the base, is a hardened portion called the scraper. When he makes his cry, the cricket lifts his wing-covers at an angle of forty-five degrees and draws the scraper of the under wing against the file of the overlapping one; lest his musical apparatus become worn out, he can change by putting the other wing-cover above. The wing-covers are excellent sounding boards and they quiver as the note is made, setting the air in vibration, and sending the sound a long distance. The female cricket's wing-covers are more normal in venation; and she may always be distinguished from her spouse by the long sword-like ovipositor at the end of her body; this she thrusts into the ground when she lays her eggs, thus placing them where they will remain safely protected during the winter. Both sexes have a pair of "tail feathers," as the children call them, which are known as the cerci (sing. cerca)  and are fleshy prongs at the end of the abdomen.


Male and female of the common black cricket, showing differences in their wings. The male is below.

Photo by M. V. Slingerland.

There would be no use of the cricket's playing his mandolin if there were not an appreciative ear to listen to his music. This ear is placed most conveniently in the tibia of the front leg, so that the crickets literally hear with their elbows, as do the katydids and the meadow grasshoppers. The ear is easily seen with the naked eye as a little white, disklike spot.

The chirp of the cricket is, in literature, usually associated with the coming of autumn; but the careful listener may hear it in early summer, although the song is not then so insistent as later in the season. He usually commences singing in the afternoon and keeps it up periodically all night. I have always been an admirer of the manly, dignified methods of this little "minnesinger," who does not wander abroad to seek his lady love but stands sturdily at his own gate, playing his mandolin the best he is able; he has faith that his sable sweetheart is not far away, and that if she likes his song she will come to him of her own free will. The cricket is ever a lover of warmth and his mandolin gets out of tune soon after the evenings become frosty. He is a jealous musician. When he hears the note of a rival, he at once "bristles up," lifting his wings at a higher angle and giving off a sharp militant note. If the two rivals come in sight of each other, there is a fierce duel. They rush at each other with wide open jaws, and fight until one is conquered and retreats, often minus an antenna, cerca, or even a leg. The cricket's note has a wide range of expression. When waiting for his lady love, he keeps up a constant droning; if he hears his rival, the tone is sharp and defiant; but as the object of his affection approaches, the music changes to a seductive whispering, even having in it an uncertain quiver, as if his feelings were too strong for utterance.

References—Manual for Study of Insects, p. 115; Insect Musicians; Ways of the Six Footed, Comstock.


A cricket cage.


The Black Cricket

Leading thought—The crickets are among the most famous of the insect musicians. They live in the fields under stones and in burrows, and feed upon grass and clover. As with the song birds, the male only makes music; he has his wing-covers developed into a mandolin or violin, which he plays to attract his mate and also for his own pleasure.

Method—Make some cricket cages as follows: Take a small flower-pot and plant in it a root of fresh grass or clover. Place over this and press well into the soil a lantern or lamp chimney. Cover the top with mosquito netting. Place the pot in its saucer, so that it may be watered by keeping the saucer filled. Ask the pupils to collect some crickets. In each cage, place a male and one or more females, the latter being readily distinguished by the long ovipositors. Place the cages in a sunny window, where the pupils may observe them at recess, and ask for the following observations. In studying the cricket closely, it may be well to put one in a vial and pass it around. In observing the crickets eat, it is well to give them a piece of sweet apple or melon rind, as they are very fond of pulpy fruits.


1. Is the covering of the cricket shining, like black patent leather, or is it dull? What portions are dull? Of what use do you think it is to the cricket to be so smoothly polished?

2. Where did you find the crickets? When you tried to catch them, how did they act? Did they fly like grasshoppers or did they run and leap?

3. Look carefully at the cricket's legs. Which is the largest of the three pairs? Of what use are these strong legs? Look carefully at the tibia of the hind leg. Can you see the strong spines at the end, just behind the foot or tarsus? Watch the cricket jump and see if you can discover the use of these spines. How many joints in the tarsus? Has the cricket a pad like the grasshopper's between its claws? When the cricket walks or jumps does it walk on all the tarsus of each pair of legs?

4. Study the cricket's head. Can you see the eyes? Describe the antennæ—their color, length, and the way they are used. Watch the cricket clean its antennæ and describe the process. Can you see the little feelers, or palpi, connected with the mouth? How many are there? How does it use these feelers in tasting food before it eats? Watch the cricket eat, and see whether you can tell whether its mouth is made for biting or sucking.

5. Study the wings. Are the wings of the mother cricket the same size and shape as those of her mate? How do they differ? Does the cricket have any wings under these front wings, as the grasshopper does? Note the cricket when he is playing his wing mandolin to attract his mate. How does he make the noise? Can you see the wings vibrate? Ask your teacher to show you a picture of the musical wings of the cricket, or to show you the wings themselves under the microscope, so that you may see how the music is made.

6. Why does the mother cricket need such a long ovipositor? Where does she put her eggs in the fall to keep them safe until spring?

7. Look in the tibia, or elbow, of the front leg for a little white spot. What do you suppose this is? Are there any white spots like it on the other legs? Ask your teacher to tell you what this is.

8. Can you find the homes of the crickets in the fields? Do the black crickets chirp in the day-time or after dark? Do they chirp in cold or windy weather, or only when the sun shines?

Supplementary Reading—Grasshopper Land, Morley, Chapter XIX.



Welcome with thy clicking, cricket!

Clicking songs of sober mirth;

Autumn, stripping field and thicket,

Brings thee to my hearth,

Where thy clicking shrills and quickens,

While the mist of twilight thickens.

No annoy, good-humored cricket,

With thy trills is ever blent;

Spleen of mine, how dost thou trick it

To a calm content?

So, by thicket, hearth, or wicket,

Click thy little lifetime, cricket!

Bayard Taylor.