Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

August 21, 2007

To Kill a Cricket

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:20 pm

There is nothing as potentially soothing as the sound of a male field cricket chirping away on a late August morning. Such a sound speaks of the fullness of summer and beckons the approach of the harvest season.  Joined by hundreds of his fellow crickets in song, the merry chorus harkens the females out from under bark & stone. To them it is the song of love and to us music for the soul.

  At this very moment, however, the call of a particular field cricket is eliciting the complete opposite reaction in this human soul. He is driving me over the cliff and into the realm of insanity. From behind the Pepsi machine in the large hollow lobby outside my office, this overzealous insect is making a bid for the record books.  “Most non-stop, annoying, repetitious calls by a Field Cricket,” would be the category.  I am approaching my own record of “most futile attempts by a higher vertebrate to silence a lowly loquacious arthropod.” 

  The Don Juan crooner cricket is firmly ensconced under or behind the behemoth soda machine.  He is deep within his cave like space and out of flashlight sight, so I can’t reach him. Yelling “shut up” has no effect.  Yelling “Please, shut up” is equally ineffective. A repeated bang on the machine only increases his tempo. Banging, shaking and kicking the machine while screaming “shut the heck up” only convinces him to skip a few beats.

  I am not going to throw my back out trying to tip the Pepsi Provider. One of those safety warning stickers on the side panel graphically warns potential offenders of the consequences of such an action. It shows a red circle, with a line through it, over a depiction of a stick man falling back and a silhouette of a pop machine coming down to crush him. There is another detail on this label that I never noticed until today. It shows a tiny stick cricket figure jumping away from the overturned machine. There is another more intimidating label under that cartoon death label. It clearly states that any tampering with this machine is a felony punishable by death.  Short of entering the legal or the health care system, there must be some way to stop the racket issuing from below.

  To be fair about it, the offender belongs outside – he is a Field Cricket after all – and he’s just doing what he’s wired to do. Fall Field Crickets, those big black shiny ones, are born in the spring and don’t start calling until mid-summer. They then call until the autumn frosts put an end to their lives – like a one ton pop machine falling from above. He’s only got three months to live, so it’s time to party like its 1999. 

  According to the books, the average call rate for this species is about once a second. They emit their symphony at about a 5 kHz range – that’s kilohertz (as in Kill–O–Hurts). My tormentor is currently calling at a rate of 48 chirps per 15 seconds. That’s about three chirps per second and a call to my inner psyche to kill and hurt the guilty party. Think about it, that’s 192 chirps per minute or approximately 17,280 calls over the last hour and a half.  At this rate, the killing frost will be here the day after tomorrow.  I will not wait for the killing frost to do the duty. I’m thinking about just pulling off a leg or something.

  According to the good book, “God made everything that creepeth upon the earth,” and both the cricket and I qualify under that rule. I’m thinking that it might be alright for me to act as an agent of God and smite him -just this once. 

  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love crickets.  I have two captive individuals at home as I write.  Take a moment to look at them. The first is a female (see here). You can tell by the long spear-like thing coming out of her abdomen.  This is the long needle, called an ovipositor, which she uses for injecting her eggs deep into the ground. Before you switch over to the next picture, note that her wings are fairly short and rather plain looking. Yes, that is a leash attached to her – I use this technique when doing nature programs (it allows me to take her out of the jar and hop her around). Now take a look at the other cricket.  He is a male.  Like all guys he has a big head, lacks the ovipositor, and probably doesn’t cry at movies.  Take a good close look at his wings and note how wrinkled they are. These are the instruments of cricket song.

  My home cricket calls on occasion, but not to excess.  His tonal qualities are soothing.  The Pepsi cricket is using these same instruments as torture devices. Even though I can’t see him do it, I know he is holding up his wings at a 45 degree angle and rubbing one against the other. There is a file-like rasp on one wing which is rubbed by a scraper, or plectrum, on the other. As the scraper and rasp are engaged, their vibrations are amplified by the adjacent portions of the wing called the mirror and harp (you can see these large amplifiers as the large smoother parts of the wing).

  All of this is going on so fast that the scraper is engaging 4,000 “file” teeth per second.  Another thing that I can be sure of is that the unseen cricket is right handed – or right winged, if you were.  Only 5% of Field Crickets have left wing tendencies.  I am referring to the overlap of the wing and not liberal or conservative political views. The right wing nearly always overlaps the left. So, all I have to do is pull off one of his wings to silence him forever.  Shall it be the right or the left? I realize that all of this is moot because I can’t get at him – period.

  There is only one more thing to do: let physiology take its course and get ear plugs.

    O.K., I guess I need to explain something else here. The metabolism of cold blooded critters, like crickets, increases with the ambient air temperature.  The warmer it gets, the warmer they get.  If they are calling insects, like crickets, the warmer they get the faster they call.  This Pepsi cricket has inadvertently stumbled into a situation where the ambient temperature is far above normal. Our air conditioning is out and the inside temperature is hovering at 80 degrees. Plus, the pop machine compressor motor is generating copious amounts of heat in order to keep things cold. So, deep within his man cave, Mr. Cricket is probably subjected to temperatures approaching 100 degrees or more.  He’s like the fat guy on a treadmill accidentally set at sprint speed. He’ll blow up soon. The question is- will I blow up before he does?

  After two solid hours, God did steppeth in and silence the beast and his physiology. I know he didn’t smite it, but the offender was quiet the rest of the day and I was able to return to my sanity. Tomorrow is another day.

1 Comment »

  1. Crickets are the coming of the apocalypse. Their noise is maddening to the intelligent and soothing to the idiots. Crickets, and the people that enjoy them, should be wiped off the planet and allow homeowners to enjoy their million dollar homes in peace. Humans that enjoy this intrusive noise should focus on their training and career instead of “zoning out” and being unproductive. There’s a reason drugs are illegal.

    Comment by Tommy — March 29, 2008 @ 12:17 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress