WHAT’S IN YOUR BASEMENT?
By Arthur V. Evans
While moving some bags of potting soil on the front porch a few years back, I discovered a gathering of variously sized leggy and very nervous creatures. Their pale bodies, not quite reaching an inch in length, appeared to be brown banded, supported by long legs mottled with patches of gray and rust. Their long, hair-like antennae waved nervously about as I knelt down for a closer look. At first glance, they looked decidedly spidery in appearance. They scampered easily up, over, and around vertical surfaces of concrete, brick, and paneling and quickly disappeared into the nearby shrubbery. I had stumbled upon a congregation of camel crickets popularly known as greenhouse stone crickets, Diestrammena asynamora.
Greenhouse stone crickets are distinguished from other camel crickets in eastern North America by their decided preference for urban surroundings and a pair of small, closely set horns located between the bases of the antennae. Their long antennae—which may exceed three-times the body length—combined with long legs, may fool some people into thinking that they are spiders. In fact, some people call them “spider crickets.”
Their powerful jumping legs can launch them up to four feet in the air. Mature females have a long, swordlike egg-laying tube, or ovipositor that they use to deposit several hundred eggs in the soil in spring. The eggs take about two or three months to hatch. The young, wingless crickets strongly resemble the adults but are smaller in size. Once mature, the adults live for about a year. Greenhouse stone crickets overwinter as either nymphs or adults.
Greenhouse stone crickets belong to the family Rhaphidophoridae. Raphidophorids are commonly known as camel crickets because of their hump-backed appearance. They are also called cave crickets because they are often found living in and around the entrances of caves. However, they are equally at home in crevices, hollow trees, and basements, or under logs and stones. Strictly nocturnal, greenhouse stone crickets venture out during the day only when disturbed. Without wings or other sound-producing structures, these crickets never contribute to the evening chorus. However, some camel crickets are thought to drum their abdomens on the substrate in an effort to attract mates.
Some of the 200 or so species of camel and cave crickets known to occur in North America originally hail from other parts of the world. An immigrant from China, the greenhouse stone cricket first became established in the warm, moist greenhouses throughout much of Europe and North America, and is now cosmopolitan.
During heavy rains, or hot, dry days, greenhouse stone crickets will invade garages, sheds, and basements, often assembling by the dozens or hundreds. Indoors, the crickets are attracted to dark, humid spaces, such as those afforded by bathrooms and laundry rooms. Clothing and linens stored in these areas may be damaged if persistent populations of these crickets cannot find suitable plant food nearby.
Outdoors, they are commonly found on the ground, beneath stones and logs, or in piles of firewood. Areas overgrown with ivy and other ground covers provide excellent hiding places for them. Greenhouse stone crickets feed on living plants and small insects. In greenhouses, these crickets will eagerly consume seedling, flowers, seeds, or young leaves, but they seldom cause serious damage to plants. They will also scavenge other plant and animal materials.
As you read this, you can take comfort in the fact that right now, somewhere in the bowels of your basement or elsewhere on your property, these sociable creatures are quietly taking refuge. Whether we like it or not, our steady supplies of food and water, served up in artificially warmed environments, have made it possible for these curious creatures to become a regular part of our lives.
©2010, A.V. Evans