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What the bejeebers are cave crickets?

Entomologists estimate there to be around a quintillion individual insects on the planet–and that’s just insects. Bugs are everywhere, but how much do we really know about them? Jeff Lockwood to the rescue! Professor Lockwood is answering all your bug questions–one at a time, that is. Send your question to him care of blog@oup.com and he’ll do his best to find you the answer.

Q: Cave Crickets! What the bejeebers are they, and how can I get them to move out of the basement?

Well, to start they’re crickets—sort of.  The cave crickets belong to the Family Rhaphidophoridae (they were a subfamily of the Gryllacrididae or wingless long-horned grasshoppers when I was in graduate school, but somewhere along the line they got a promotion to being their own family).  Technically they’re not “true” crickets (like house and field crickets), but they’re close enough.  In fact, they’re truer crickets than beasts like the Mormon cricket (which are presumably not Mormon and assuredly not crickets, being more closely related to katydids).

As for their scientific name, I dug through various sources and it seems that “rhaphid” means a spine or needle.  And “phorid” might mean humped (at least that’s my guess, given that the humpbacked flies are the Phoridae).  So I’d infer (with the caveat that I’m no Latin scholar and would be delighted if one corrected me) that Rhaphidophoridae describes something like a “spiny hump.”  This seems plausible given that the insect does have long, spindly legs and a hunched profile.

Cave crickets also called “camel crickets” (I presume because they have a hump-backed appearance and the coloration of a camel—most probably the former) and lots of other things such as “Oh my God, what the hell is that?!”  They’re actually quite elegant creatures, being spindly and delicate.  And it’s not like they’ll keep you awake with incessant chirping or eat your wooden joists or anything like that.  They are primarily detritivores, meaning they eat the yucky organic stuff around your baseboards that you wouldn’t consider eating yourself.

So, my first suggestion is to enjoy your insect visitors.  They are quite fascinating little beings and they’re not doing anything reprehensible.  But if you’re dead-set on expunging your basement fauna, you could catch them—they don’t bite or stink or anything like that—and move them to a nice outdoor home (like under some leaves).  They’d probably just as soon be outside, anyway.  I’m guessing you might not be keen on handling these insects, so let’s consider Plan B.

The next best approach is the one you use with other house guests that have overstayed a visit.  You should cut-off their kitchen privileges and make their living conditions inhospitable.  As for the former, that means doing a really good cleaning job in the basement (I’m not suggesting that you’re a less-than-fastidious housekeeper but a good scrubbing wouldn’t hurt—and seal-up any cracks and crevices while you’re at it).  As for the latter, do what you can to keep the basement dry and, well, less cave-like.  After all, they are cave crickets.  I’d guess that your basement is probably on the dark and damp side.

So that you don’t think I’m picking on you or your basement, I had cave crickets in my house a few years ago.  My wife was rather unaccommodating of my little pals, so I had to take action.  In this case, it was a matter of doing a really good job of drying out the flooring around the hot tub (a great habitat for cave crickets—the pump housing was warm, dark, and moist).  This worked quite well, but then I live in Wyoming where keeping things dry isn’t a great challenge.

The bottom-line: If you can’t enjoy them, then do what you’d do for your least favorite relative.  That is, change the locks (i.e., seal the cracks and crevices), empty the fridge (clean up any bits of leaves or other gunk), and lower the thermostat and turn off the humidifier (nobody likes a cold, dry house).

Jeffrey Lockwood was hired as an insect ecologist at the University of Wyoming in 1986.  But over the course of 20 years he metamorphosed into a Professor of Natural Sciences & Humanities, with a joint appointment between the Department of Philosophy and in the MFA program in Creative Writing.  He teaches courses in natural resource ethics, environmental justice and the philosophy of ecology, along with creative non-fiction writing workshops. He is the author of Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War.

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