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I heard my first cricket chirp of the season last night. I love this sound, but I always feel a pang of sadness as well, because it signals the beginning of the end of summer. Here in Minnesota, the chirping usually starts in mid-August, but is a bit early this year, perhaps because of the unusually warm weather. Hearing crickets early does not necessarily signal an early winter, because warm weather can speed up the life cycle of these insects.
|Adult male field cricket|
(courtesy of OrganicGardeningInfo.com)
When they hatch from their eggs in spring, the tiny hatchlings already look like crickets, but do not yet have their wings. As they grow, they shed their skins several times until they get wings in the last, adult stage.
And it is the wings that the male cricket rubs together to make his chirps. (Common folklore has him rubbing his legs together, but that is not correct.) You can get an approximation of the temperature in Fahrenheit by counting the number of chirps in 15 seconds, then add 40. The reason this works is because crickets, being cold-blooded creatures, are more active on warm nights than chilly ones.
The adult female cricket also has wings, but they are smooth and do not have the ridges that the male rubs to make the chirp, so she does not sing. This is one way you can tell an adult male from a female. You can also tell a female by the long stiff ovipositor extending from the tip of her abdomen, which she uses to lay her eggs in the ground in late summer or fall. The adult crickets die off with the coming of winter, and the eggs hatch in the spring to produce a new generation.
In China and other Asian countries, crickets are considered good luck, and are often kept for pets in specially-designed cages. Some European traditions hold that a cricket chirping in the house is a sign of future prosperity. (I sure wish this one were true!) When I was a child, I kept crickets in a terrarium in my room and enjoyed hearing them sing at night. They ate vegetable trimmings (especially cukes and tomatoes) and often lived through the winter (which would not happen in the wild here. Crickets die with the frost and their offspring winter over as eggs.) Some of the modern "bug cages" now available would probably work just as well. Just be sure to take good care of your crickets, the same as you would with any other companion animal.