The Jerusalem Cricket: It's Really Just a Potato Bug

Updated on September 14, 2017
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Although Mike's interest in insects is mainly in photographing them, Dorothy loves sharing with readers her in-depth research on them.

The Jerusalem Cricket Won't Bite (Usually) and Is Not Poisonous

The Jerusalem cricket is not poisonous and it won't bite unless it gets pestered or highly provoked.  It will almost always just turn and run away when approached, although it's powerful jaws might pinch a finger if you get too close.
The Jerusalem cricket is not poisonous and it won't bite unless it gets pestered or highly provoked. It will almost always just turn and run away when approached, although it's powerful jaws might pinch a finger if you get too close.

It's Not a True Cricket and It's Not Native to Jerusalem

The Jerusalem cricket is native to the western United States and Mexico, and it is actually not a cricket at all, although it does resemble one. Luckily, it doesn't make that annoying sound that can keep you up all night (unless you like the sound of crickets rubbing their legs together, in which case it can help you fall asleep).

If you want to go looking for a Jerusalem cricket, you may not have much luck, as they live most of their life underground, coming out when it gets dark. You may, however, find them under a rock or other dark places. If you are a farmer and plow your field, you might literally "turn up" a few of them from time to time.

If you are a potato farmer, you might be slightly more familiar with them because they are also known as potato bugs. They love to dig beneath the dirt and feed on the roots and tubers of potato plants. People often confuse this bug with the potato beetle, which feeds on potatoes that are above ground, but there are many differences. At the end of this article is a photograph of a potato beetle, which is also called a potato bug.

This is what a Jerusalem cricket looks like in vivid detail from top to bottom.  The scientific name is Stenopelmatus fuscus.
This is what a Jerusalem cricket looks like in vivid detail from top to bottom. The scientific name is Stenopelmatus fuscus. | Source

The Bizarre-Looking Creature and How It Got It's Name

The native Americans called this cricket Woh-tzi-Neh (old bald-headed man). It is called “Nina de la Tierra” in Spanish (child of the earth). At one time, the Southwestern Indians once feared it, referring to it as the “child of the desert,” and although no one really knows for certain how it got its name, most agree that it was due to a confusing translation of Navajo terminology by Franciscan missionaries in the western North American territories.

The missionaries had a strong connection with the Navajos and may have heard them speak of wó see ts'inii (Navajo for skull insect). They mistakenly took this as a reference to Calvary outside Jerusalem near the place where Jesus was crucified because Calvary is also called skull hill.

The Jerusalem Cricket Has Several Predators

Nighttime predators like coyotes, badgers and fox prey on the Jerusalem cricket, which also comes out usually after dark. Owls have also been known to consider them prey.

Rare Instance of Jerusalem Cricket Coming to the Surface

The Jerusalem cricket spends most of its time underground, so you may never have the chance to see one.  The photographer caught this one emerging from the hole he had burrowed in the ground. They usually come out when it's dark.
The Jerusalem cricket spends most of its time underground, so you may never have the chance to see one. The photographer caught this one emerging from the hole he had burrowed in the ground. They usually come out when it's dark. | Source

They Are Not Found in Jerusalem

Jerusalem crickets are found west of the Rocky Mountains, with most occurring along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to Mexico.

But, Can You Keep One as a Pet?

The animals you keep inside a terrarium may not be technically called "pets," but you could keep a Jerusalem cricket in one if you choose, especially if your goal is to keep it out of harm's way (yes, they do have predators). To be successful, however, you have to mimic its natural habitat as closely as possible, and to do so, we are providing some valuable pointers for you:

  • Put several inches of a light, loamy or sandy soil in the bottom of the terrarium so they can burrow (this will also provide a chamber for your female insects to lay eggs). Don't get excited about having lots more adult insects because the average time to become an adult from egg is around two years.
  • Provide plenty of hiding places, including boards, rocks, clumps of grass, etc.
  • They need plenty of fresh water and food (they are very partial to meat and a slice of potato and other vegetables, but also like bread, grass roots, some fruits and smaller insects).

If you keep a Jerusalem cricket in a terrarium, make sure it reminds him of his native habitat and include clumps of grass, leaves, etc., like you see in both these photographs.
If you keep a Jerusalem cricket in a terrarium, make sure it reminds him of his native habitat and include clumps of grass, leaves, etc., like you see in both these photographs.
This Jerusalem cricket appears to be right at home, and happy to be there, making terrariums a suitable place to keep them out of harm's way and away from predators.
This Jerusalem cricket appears to be right at home, and happy to be there, making terrariums a suitable place to keep them out of harm's way and away from predators.

The Jerusalem Cricket Is Large, as You Can See

Their Size and Appearance

According to a fact sheet published by the University of Reno (Nevada) and its Cooperative Extension Division, the Jerusalem cricket is described as being about two inches in length, with very unusual features - "especially the disproportionally large, bald, shiny, humanoid head" - all of which make this a bizarre-looking creature. The fact sheet further describes them as this:

"The head, thorax and legs are usually amber-yellow. Occasionally the head may be rust to brown colored. Two dark, beady eyes are widely set just below long, slender antennae. Large, heavy mandibles or mouthparts (for chewing)...The shining abdomen is ringed tan to amber-brown against a brown to black background. Its stout spiny legs are well adapted for digging in the soil, but not jumping like other cricket relatives."

This is not a potato bug.  It is a potato beetle, but is often called the same thing as a Jerusalem cricket.  These beetles are true pests, as they destroy thousands of potato plants annually.
This is not a potato bug. It is a potato beetle, but is often called the same thing as a Jerusalem cricket. These beetles are true pests, as they destroy thousands of potato plants annually.

© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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      Tamara Moore 4 months ago

      Thank you, again :-) Smiles! Eeew, they are still wretched- looking... lol. Ha haha

    • Casey White profile image
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      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 4 months ago from United States

      I was going to send you a message but was waiting for HubPages to approve it. I guess they did! Thanks goes to you!

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      Tamara Moore 4 months ago

      Eew, you wrote it! Ha hahaha... I had asked you about writing a post about Jerusalem Crickets some time ago, and you did :-) They are scary-looking... But, you have got excellent information here. Fascinating!

      Thank you sooooo much!

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