“The most universally feared, hated and disgusting creatures on the planet.” – Potatobug.com
Ninas de la Tierra. Children of the Earth. Skull insect. Bone Neck Beetle. Jerusalem Cricket. Potato Bug. Chacos. Wo see t’sinii… Are you scared yet?
You should be. These names strike fear into the hearts of millions each day. Imagine if you will, a bug with the face of a human baby, the body of an engorged wasp, and long, translucent legs like those of a giant ant specter. This is the Jerusalem Cricket, known by every name listed above, but most commonly called the Potato Bug – a terrifying, deadly creature that can grow to a length of 3 inches and fierce, razor sharp pincers that spit poisonous venom powerful enough to send a grown man into anaphylactic shock. Nocturnal, the Jerusalem cricket can often be heard crying with the voice of a child, to lure unsuspecting victims to its underground lair…
Or at least, that’s what countless poor souls seem to believe. You may never have heard of these little creatures, but the Jerusalem Cricket is easily the most frequently discussed pest on the internet. Why?
I first stumbled upon this phenomenon when I wrote a post called Ninas de la Tierra (July 9, 2007). A week or two after we moved to Albuquerque, NM, my new boss gave me a dire warning concerning something called the Children of the Earth (known also in Spanish as the Ninas de la Tierra, hence the title of the post). She described it in much the same language I used above. The subject intrigued me, so I did some light research and wrote a post about it. I found out that the bug’s proper name is the Jerusalem Cricket, and a few other interesting facts, and that’s about it. I never could have expected the huge interest it would create.
Within days, this humble blog began receiving five or six hits per day from people typing various permutations of ‘Children of the Earth bug,’ or, ‘dangerous New Mexico spider children’ into search engines across the internet. I thought at first, how many people could possibly care about this little bug? But the hits continued. Day after day, search engine after search engine. Who are these people?
As it turns out, folks are genuinely afraid of these things. Dr. Bug says that it is his most requested pet identification request, “In winter, I get 1-10 requests per day!” Here’s one such post on e-Bug, a pest control forum: “Help; we have these scary looking bugs that look like they have little faces… My children are scared. This is not a joke. How do I get rid of them?”
So great is the public fear of the bug, several human beings have gone so far as to devote their time and money to developing an entire website dedicated “to the fabrication and perpetuation of fear, hate and disgust for the Potato Bug.”
The question is, however, is this little (well, not so little) bug worth all the hullabaloo?
The short answer, no. In reality, the Jerusalem Cricket falls disappointingly short of the hype. First of all, I’ve never even seen one of the little buggers. They are apparently quite shy, and nocturnal. You’ve really got to be looking for a Jerusalem Cricket to actually find a Jerusalem Cricket.
Unless you are like this guy:
I believe these insects would be a serious threat to civilization if they weren’t the least lucky of earth’s creatures. I have never seen a potato bug that wasn’t either dead or mortally wounded. I’ve found them dead in the drain of the outdoor sink (plugging the drain). There was one, dead in my gardening shoe in the garage, it could have died anywhere but my shoe proved most suitable. I’ve accidentally killed one while replacing a fence post. I’ve found them dead in the pond. Killed by the cat-the list is endless- always dead or dying. The natural scientists among us would say that for everyone I find dead there are ten, I never see, that live their entire lives without dying horribly(and inconveniently) for me to find.
But for some unfathomable reason, it is the purpose of this benighted species to grow to maturity for the express purpose crawling to the most inexplicably bizarre situation they could possibly find and then die, providing an inescapable metaphor to human life. – dracoverdi.net
That’s really all the human race needs, isn’t it? Another metaphor describing the futility of life. Spoken obviously by a person without a living hope in Jesus, but I digress.
Secondly, even if one was to have an honest to goodness encounter with a real live Jerusalem Cricket, would it really be something worth writing home about? Dr. Bug describes them as such: “They live underground and eat roots. They are not pests. They have no stinger. They are not poisonous.” Not even a pest! Wikipedia adds: “They also do not cry like children.” So much for “the most universally feared, hated and disgusting creatures on the planet.”
According to Wikipedia, the worst the Jerusalem Cricket has to offer is that “they can emit a foul smell and are capable of inflicting a painful bite – but neither is lethal, as some of the tales would suggest.” Hm. So they’re stinky. Now, to be fair, I wouldn’t want to get bitten by one, but it certainly won’t send a grown man into anaphylactic shock.
I think this little urban legend has been sufficiently debunked. Its a shame really; the Jerusalem Cricket had so much potential. I was even considering making him the whatisatuma? mascot. Oh well. The moral of the story – you don’t have to be afraid to visit us in Albuquerque after all!
Jerusalem Cricket (Potato Bug) Links:
Ninas de la Tierra (my original Jerusalem Cricket post.)