Thursday, July 26, 2012

Crickets chirping: That sweet, sad sound of summer's end

NOTE (added July 22, 2015):  My blog stats show that people keep getting here by searching for pages about crickets chirping in spring.  Crickets do not not chirp then, because they do not yet have their wings to make the sound.  So if you are hearing high-pitched chirpy sounds at night, it is most likely you are hearing Spring Peeper frogs or some similar species.  These make one of the first night sounds in early spring.  Read below about how and when crickets do chirp.

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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
Of course, crickets don't really know in a conscious way that fall is coming.  The reason they don't chirp earlier is that they don't yet have the proper equipment to make the sound.   Crickets go through a life cycle called direct development:  egg, immature stage, adult.

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.


Yonassan Gershom said...

I have noticed in my search stats for this blog that people are looking for a way to tell when winter is coming by counting cricket chirps. As far as I know, there isn't any way to predict winter - crickets live until the first hard frost, whenever that is in your area.

Anonymous said...

Was just wondering about crickets and enjoyed your writing. Thanks!
Robin/Rhode Island

Nancy said...

I live in Northem California. It is Jan 26th & I am surrounded by such lovely cricket chirping in a country setting. Is it possible they hatch & mature eatlier here in CA?

Anonymous said...

Live on Long Island New York and using cricket 'chirps' reference in a poem. thanks for the info.

Yonassan Gershom said...

Are you sure you are hearing crickets & not spring peeper frogs?

Yonassan Gershom said...

You are welcome. I'm really surprised at how popular this post is. A lot of people are interested in these interesting insects.

Unknown said...
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wyatt bridger said...

I go out for my run before the sun comes up, and I just noticed a cricket - near Toronto - and wondered if it had to do with seasons. Good thing I found my way here. Very interesting blog.

mexicanpat said...

i tried to sign up for your blog by clicking on the subscribe to at the bottom and got a page of machine language.

Anonymous said...

I loved this write-up! I'm very sad that the winter is coming here on Long Island (NY) because that means I won't go to sleep with the sound of my crickets chirping away just outside my windows (which will obviously be closed. boo). I love waiting to hear the first chirp of the season and this year the music was deafening! I'm seriously considering keeping some as pets so I can enjoy their melodies while waiting for the spring thaw :)

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