THE FIELD CRICKET

  • This field cricket can be identified as a female because of the long, needle-shaped ovipositor protruding from her posterior. A male would have larger wings and no ovipositor. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BILL DANIELSON

For the Recorder
Published: 9/8/2020 9:14:25 AM

Happy Labor Day. You may have heard this simple wish many times during the course of your life, but it feels like we all need a little happiness in our lives this year. Things have changed so profoundly in the past months and the need for even greater change looms large on the horizon. There is no denying the fatigue that has settled over all of us. Happiness may seem a bit elusive these days.

Labor Day was a time of tremendous happiness during my childhood. Every year my entire family would head for the Adirondacks to enjoy a solid week of carefree “roughing it” in nature. Meals were prepared on camp stoves and eaten together as a family, afternoon naps were enforced and almost one hundred percent of our waking hours were spent playing and working outdoors. The larger human world was simply ignored for one glorious week.

It was also a different time. In 1978, when I was 10 years old, there was no such thing as a cell phone and computers were of limited ability and were not portable. There were only three channels on the television and if you didn’t like anything that was on you simply didn’t watch. The only truly important moment of the week came at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning when Bugs Bunny cartoons would start. The cartoons were so good that my father would sometimes get up early and watch with us. Thinking of those times makes me feel happy and warm inside.

And that is the feeling that I want to cultivate with you today. I want you to be able to relax and feel the calming effects of something universally soothing. I wasn’t initially sure what that might be, but as I sat at my desk in the darkness of 3 a.m. (far too early for cartoons) I realized that the special something that I was searching for was a sound that drifted in through the open window of my office — the songs of crickets.

The fall field cricket (Gryllus pennsylvanicus) is a cheery little insect that provides a surprisingly powerful background noise in the landscape. Starting sometime in early August, the songs of male field crickets grow in number and volume until they can be heard at almost any time of day.  In fact, the sound is so consistent that it may actually go unnoticed at times, like the tick-tock of an antique clock that your ears stop paying attention to.

Growing to a full size of just under an inch, fall field crickets are shiny black insects that are really quite beautiful. They live in grassy areas and take shelter under leaves, rocks and logs. Field crickets are also quite happy in the sorts of conditions that we humans maintain around our homes and, occasionally, a little wanderer will find itself in a garage or a basement. The only place that you are unlikely to hear many field crickets is in the forest.

That soothing “chirp … chirp … chirp” song is sung by the male field cricket. As with many insects, crickets are equipped with wings, but field crickets have “decided” that their wings are best used for “singing” rather than for flight. Males rub their wings together in such a way that a surprising amount of noise is generated. Different species of crickets and katydids produce different songs with wings of different sizes and shapes.

Female field crickets find the songs of the males to be quite pleasing and they respond to the “best” song that they can hear. Males usually set up shop between 20 and 30 feet apart from one another, which gives a female a small number of choices when you consider that she has to walk to the male she finds most appealing. After mating with her favorite male, a female will use her ovipositor (a needle-like tube on her posterior) to lay eggs in the soil. These eggs are those precious items that keep the species going from one year to the next because all of the adult crickets will eventually die when cold weather arrives.

The human world is ever-changing and sometimes it feels like the pace of that change is just too fast. Nature can provide an element of calm because it often stays consistent over long periods of time. The field crickets you hear in your yard are the same as the crickets you heard as a child. They are the same crickets that I heard in 1978, that John Burroughs heard in 1878 and the same that Betsy Ross heard in 1778. 

So give yourself permission to sit back and listen to the crickets. Whether it is in the morning with a cup of coffee, in the afternoon with a cool beer, or in the evening with a glass of wine, just sit back and actually give the crickets your full attention. In the process, you may feel the tension melt away as your own thoughts drift back to the halcyon days of your childhood and you will feel happy. All you have to do is try.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 23 years and he actually remembers a time when TV was in black-and-white.  He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Massachusetts State Parks and currently teaches high school biology and physics.  Visit www.speakingofnature.com for more information, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2020 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy