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The Primitive Monster Cricket

A tale of big bugs and small girls

By Jack Souther,

Whistler Naturalists

A shriek from the bathroom!

Stunned silence in the living room. Coffee cups suspended, motionless in the wake of truncated conversation. My granddaughter bursts into the room, "It’s huge!"

Having witnessed similar panic-attacks over the years I was pretty sure that "it" was a large wolf spider. These much maligned arthropods spend their summers as solitary hunters dispatching insect pests in our lawns and gardens, but this time of year, like us, they seek out warmer digs. The lint-trap in our clothes dryer was a favourite refuge and a place that none of my daughters learned to check before reaching in to remove the previous batch of lint. So the shriek on this occasion was not unfamiliar.

But when I checked the source of panic I found not a spider, but a cricket. Not your Jimminy Cricket kind of cricket but a very large specimen of Cyphoderris monstrosa struggling to right itself in the slippery confines of the bathroom sink. Almost 3 cm long, its soft plump body, weak legs, and sluggish movement bear no resemblance to those of Pinocchio's agile and sharp-witted alter ego.

Finally getting itself upright the cricket in the sink revealed a pair of useless vestigial hind wings, little more than fleshy pads partly covered by a short set of wing covers. Its bare, black, white and pink rump sports a pair of sharp spikes resembling the misplaced horns of a miniature Satan – an undeniably ugly bug, even among insects.

Commonly known as the "Hump-wing Cricket", C. monstrosa is among the most primitive of all insects – a "living fossil" that has survived with little evolutionary change since the age of dinosaurs. A common resident of our coastal forest, the trilling of the males can be heard on warm summer nights as they rub their fore wings together in competition for territory – the territory and its prospective mates going to the fellow with the most sustained trill. But courting a mate involves more than just trilling – much more! Approaching a prospective partner the male opens his wing covers and allows her to eat the vestigial hind wings right off his back – a bit of extra protein to help her develop healthy eggs.

The nocturnal life of C. monstrosa is not all singing and sex. Spotted owls, equipped with night-vision eyes, spice up their regular diet of flying squirrels with a generous sprinkling of crickets. And then there's the problem of finding a safe place to spend the winter. The fellow that blundered into our sink obviously chose to hole-up in my woodpile; came in on an armload of wood; and wandered off before accidentally ending up in the fire.

Was my granddaughter's panic justified? Not at all. He may be big and ugly and have spikes on his bum but he's a harmless wimp. I'm not sure whether adult crickets survive our Whistler winters. I'll check next spring – in the little box marked "cricket" behind my woodpile.

Upcoming Events

Saturday, Dec. 1 — Monthly Bird Walk . Meet at the base of Lorimer Road at 8 a.m. Contact Michael Thompson (932-5010) for details.

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