Jerusalem Cricket – biggest letdown in the animal kingdom?

Fear Me

“The most universally feared, hated and disgusting creatures on the planet.” –

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. –

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!

dramatic PB photo

Jerusalem Cricket (Potato Bug) Links:

Ninas de la Tierra (my original Jerusalem Cricket post.)

Dr. Bug


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Filed under america, bugs, family, humor, refe's posts

40 responses to “Jerusalem Cricket – biggest letdown in the animal kingdom?

  1. Kristyn

    I just caught one of these on my patio here at my house in Albuquerque. I actually feel kinda bad for these guys…they get such a bad rap!

  2. Paul

    I live just outside Albuquerque, NM and I have seen quite a few of them. Thank you for all the info, I had only known them as “Jerusalem Crickets”, and thought that they were “very” dangerous.

  3. Thank you for the information provided. The best content I’ve seen in this niche.

  4. Marylee

    I had as a child heard all the bad things about these poor critters.
    When I was a leader of a girl scout troop we would find the head and legs of them on one of the girls cots.
    The ranger told us that her cot must be a bats dining area..and that the bats love the bodies..Good thing we found this all out when we were waiting for the bus to leave camp..and of couse we had moved the girl to another cot..

  5. julia

    i live in california, ive only seen 1 and it was dead so i put it in a water bottle, my parents and grandma would always call the Niños de la Tierra, they would always scare me about how poisonous they are, as id haveing black widows wasnt enough to scare me, but atleast now i know they arent really poisonous

  6. America

    i just found one of these things in my back yard and i live in southern Cali.
    i killed fearing for my life, but i feel bad now that i know it’s harmless…

  7. Adrienne

    My son saved a Jerusalem Cricket summer of ’09 at a friends property. It was drowned in a ditch filled with water. We put it in a clear plastic cup, and brought it down the mountain heading home. My son was watching it while it sat in the cup holder .. then said it was moving. I of course said this was not possible, with it being dead … well, I screamed my head off as I watched it’s front pincher twitch! So we brought it home, made a habitat in a large plastic jar filled with dirt .. had I thought about it, I should have partially buried this jar, so that it could stay cooler underground .. it died probably due to the summer heat (at times in excess of 100 degrees). We still have it’s well preserved corpse, along with my son’s scorpion (from the same property) corpse. Both are fascinating bugs for an 8-year-old boy.

  8. Casey

    I don’t care how harmless they are. They make my skin crawl and I hate them with a passion. Thank goodness they wander inside only by accident and prefer outdoors…underground where they belong.

    • Laurie

      I hear that! I’m usually in acceptance of most bugs, animals and birds, but these things are the creepeiest and they do make a cry like a baby. I just cannot stand the fact that they are abundant here in ABQ area, as I just moved here and was planning on planting a big garden soon. My experiences with them in Northern CA were so creepy that it affected me for days!

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