In the insect world, there’s usually a reason behind every odd appearance. Such is the case with camel crickets (also called cave crickets, spider crickets, or sprickets), a group known for having a frightful yet practical biological design.
Camel crickets are nocturnal creatures that seek dark habitats. They find food, water, and fellow bugs using tactile and chemical cues from their extraordinarily long antennae, which allow them to “see” in the dark. They lack wings and therefore the ability to chirp like other crickets. Their legs are enlarged, the rear ones being especially big so they can propel themselves long distances by their preferred mode of transit: jumping. Adding to their strange looks is their habit of jumping directly at threats--for example, people.
While camel crickets typically reside outside in woodpiles, animal burrows, and other dark, damp places, they sometimes move indoors to escape from either excessively wet or excessively dry weather. Once inside, they seek out the continuously dark and moist conditions of basements, garages, or bathrooms. They can be found indoors year-round, eating decaying organic matter, including dead bugs, improperly stored foods, paper, and even natural fabrics, occasionally taking time to creep us out with their unsettling looks and behaviors.
Like other unwelcome home invaders, however, camel crickets are easily deterred by sealing gaps and crevices along the foundation and near doors, dryer vents, pipes, and basement windows. Reducing humidity and eliminating refuges created by boxes stacked on the floor or against walls will also force crickets outside in search of water. Any stragglers remaining indoors can be readily controlled with sticky traps, a vacuum cleaner, or their natural enemy, the house centipede.
Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine, December/January 2014
Illustration by Jack Unruh