How Big Are Jerusalem Crickets? Discover Their Fascinating Size Variations

Jerusalem crickets are fascinating insects known for their bizarre appearance and large size. They belong to the Stenopelmatidae family and can be found in North America. Among the largest crickets in the continent, Jerusalem crickets are a sight to behold for enthusiasts and casual observers alike.

These crickets’ body length ranges from 1.5 to 3 inches, making them quite prominent in the insect world. Sporting a human-like head with large mandibles, these wingless creatures exhibit an amber coloration with dark stripes on their abdomen, giving them a striking appearance that’s hard to miss.

Native to regions such as the western United States and Mexico, Jerusalem crickets are nocturnal and spend their time predominantly underground. Though they do not possess the ability to chirp like other cricket species, they still manage to communicate through drumming on the ground, adding to the repertoire of unique characteristics that set them apart.

Understanding Jerusalem Crickets

Physical Appearance

Jerusalem crickets (Stenopelmatus species) are one of the largest cricket species in North America, measuring around 1.5 to 2 inches in length1. They have:

  • A large, round head
  • A segmented, striped abdomen
  • Spindly, long legs
  • Strong jaws for chewing

Species and Distribution

There are multiple species of Jerusalem crickets, including:

  • Stenopelmatus with 33 named entities
  • Ammopelmatus with 2 described species
  • Viscainopelmatus with 1 described species
  • Stenopelmatopterus with 3 described species2

Distribution

Jerusalem crickets can be found throughout the western United States, from Canada to Mexico, and as far east as Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and parts of Texas and Oklahoma3.

Here’s a comparison of Jerusalem crickets and the closely related Mormon crickets:

Feature Jerusalem Cricket Mormon Cricket
Size 1.5 to 2 inches in length1 Slightly larger than Jerusalem crickets4
Diet Insects, plant roots, tubers, decaying plant and animal material3 Forbs, grasses, shrubs, and cultivated forage crops4
Native Region Western United States (Canada to Mexico) Also native to the western United States4
Pest Status Generally not considered pests Can be pests due to soil erosion and poor water quality4
Related Insects Grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids1 Similar insect group as Jerusalem crickets4

Habitat and Behavior

Burrowing and Nocturnal Habits

Jerusalem crickets, also known as niño de la tierra or stone crickets, are unique insects found in the western United States. They mostly live underground, creating burrows in sandy soils and can be found hiding beneath rocks, logs, and other debris1. These crickets are mostly nocturnal, venturing out at night in search of food, such as plant roots, and to mate2.

  • Color: brownish or reddish in color
  • Size: large, 1.5 to 2 inches in length
  • Environment: sandy soils, beneath rocks, logs, and other debris

An interesting trait of these insects is their ability to burrow, creating tunnels underground that provide them protection from their environment1. Their strong hind legs are adapted for digging while their body shape helps them move easily through the soil1.

Communication and Mating

Jerusalem crickets use a range of communication methods, including chirping, hissing, and creating drumming sounds by banging their abdomens against the ground3. This drumming sound, along with their wingless and nocturnal nature, makes them somewhat different from other cricket species3.

  • Communication: chirping, hissing, drumming sounds
  • Reproduction: mating occurs on the surface at night

In the springtime, Jerusalem crickets come out during the day to find mates2. After mating, females lay their eggs underground in moist soil, often near the roots of plants1. Their reproduction rates are relatively low, and they can take 2 to 5 years to reach adulthood3.

Comparison Table

Characteristic Jerusalem Cricket Common Cricket
Nocturnal Yes3 Yes
Communication Chirping, hissing, drumming3 Chirping
Wings None3 Present
Mating Location Surface at night2

Diet and Predators

Feeding Habits

Jerusalem crickets, also known as the “potato bug,” are commonly found in the western United States and Mexico. They are known for their strong mandibles and large size, which can be up to 3 inches in length.

These insects mostly feed on organic matter, including the roots and tubers of plants. They can sometimes cause damage to gardens by munching on root systems.

For example, Jerusalem crickets can feed on:

  • Decaying plant material
  • Roots of various plants
  • Tubers, such as potatoes

Natural Enemies

Jerusalem crickets have several predators, ranging from animals to insects like wasps. Some animals that can prey on these cricket-like insects include bats, birds, and lizards.

A comparison of some natural enemies of the Jerusalem cricket is as follows:

Predator Type of animal or insect Common Locations
Bats Mammal Pacific Coast
Birds Flying animals California
Lizards Reptile Mexico
Wasps Insect Various

Jerusalem crickets may hiss when threatened; however, this hissing sound is caused by their winglessness and not as a defense mechanism.

Interaction with Humans

Pest and Crop Control

Jerusalem crickets, also known as potato bugs or cara de niño, are nocturnal insects that mainly stay in the ground and don’t usually cause harm to crops or plants. They feed on other insects, decaying plants, and roots, which makes them beneficial for pest and crop control.

However, in some cases, they can be considered pests when their numbers increase and they damage gardens or crops by feeding on roots. Some agricultural methods employed include encouraging natural predators like birds and reptiles, or using habitat management techniques to reduce their population.

Bite and Venom Misconceptions

Contrary to some myths, Jerusalem crickets do not possess venom or a stinging apparatus. Though known for their painful bite, the pain results from their strong mandibles, which can draw blood when threatened. Here is a list of their features related to their interaction with humans:

  • Strong mandibles
  • No venom
  • No sting
  • Painful, but not dangerous

For a better understanding, here is a table comparing Jerusalem crickets to common venomous creatures:

Creature Venom Sting Painful Bite Dangerous
Jerusalem cricket No No Yes No
Ant Yes Yes Yes No (except for some species)

Overall, Jerusalem crickets are harmless creatures that play a significant role in pest and crop control. They do not pose any extreme threat to human beings or cause any severe damage, as their bites are painful but not venomous. Proper handling and understanding of these insects can ensure a peaceful coexistence between them and humans.

Cultural Significance

Spanish and Native American Names

Jerusalem crickets are also known by various names in different cultures. In Spanish, they are called niña de la tierra, which translates to child of the earth, reflecting the insect’s burrowing habits. Native American cultures have their own names for this insect, such as chaco, which comes from the Hopi people.

Features of Jerusalem crickets:

  • Large, human-like head
  • Strong jaws for chewing
  • Amber-colored body
  • Dark stripes on abdomen
  • Long, massive legs for burrowing

Portrayal in Literature and Media

Jerusalem crickets have been portrayed in various forms of literature and media, often as creatures of intrigue or subjects of folklore. Examples include stories about encounters with these insects and their possible cultural or spiritual significance. With their unique appearance, Jerusalem crickets can inspire creativity and imagination.

Comparing Jerusalem cricket to Colorado potato beetle:

Feature Jerusalem cricket Colorado potato beetle
Appearance Large, human-like head; Small, oval-shaped body;
amber-colored body with yellow-orange with black
dark stripes on abdomen stripes on wing covers;
Size 1.5 to 2 inches 1/3 inch
Distribution Western United States United States, Europe
Habitat Soil, under rocks Potato fields

In conclusion, the cultural significance of Jerusalem crickets can be seen through their various names in different languages and their portrayals in literature and media. While they might seem intimidating or bizarre, these insects play an integral part in our natural world and continue to fascinate people across cultures.

Footnotes

  1. The University of Arizona 2 3 4 5 6 7
  2. PubMed 2 3 4
  3. Colorado State University 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
  4. Extension at the University of Nevada, Reno 2 3 4 5

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Potato Bug

 

Looks like a bumblebee crossed with a lobster
Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 9:02 PM
Bugman,
My husband found this bug outside our sliding glass door tonight. We live in the San Francisco Bay Area. We get a lot of wildlife in our yard, and I’ve seen quite a few interesting bugs, including black widows, wolf spiders, and lots of bees. In fact, at first I thought that this bug was a bumblebee, but then I noticed the head, which looks completely different. The bug is about 3 inches long and appears not to have any wings. I couldn’t find any pictures online to identify it. Any idea what it is? Thanks!
ER
Northern California – San Francisco Bay Area

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Hi ER,
Potato Bugs or Jerusalem Crickets like the one in your photo are one of our most frequently requested identifications, so much so that we only post a fraction of the letters we receive.  We get so many requests that along with House Centipedes, Potato Bugs are at the top of the Top Ten list.  We really like your description, and your photo is quite good, so we thought it was time to have a new photo of a Potato Bug on our Homepage, especially since they are frequently seen after rains in the Western part of the country.

Letter 2 – Potato Bug

 

I have never seen a bug like this.
Location: Burbank, CA
October 31, 2010 1:02 am
Hi
It was about 9pm at night and we looked out the back patio door and saw this guy. He was huge in the dark! It is Oct 30th and we are in the Verdugo Hills in Burbank – Right up against the mountain. What is this? I thought some sort of queen bee or something. There was a group of us an no one ever saw anything like it . He disappeared as quickly as he came.
Thanks for any info –
Signature: Dave

Giant wingless bee
Location: Burbank, southern Ca
October 31, 2010 1:32 am
Hi
I just posted a picture from Burbank CA and it appears like a giant wingless bee – I forgot to mention that it was about 1.5 to 2 inches.
Signature: Dave

Potato Bug

Hi Dave,
This is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, and it is probably one of our top 10 identification requests, especially from Southern California.

Letter 3 – Potato Bug

 

Beetle? Not sure…
Location: Coastal San Diego, CA
March 27, 2011 3:06 pm
Dear bugman, thank you for helping us out. My 2 1/2 year old son found this bug when we were clearing a space to set up a vegetable garden in my back yard. It burrows in the dirt. Is at least an inch long. It is spring in San Diego. Any help would be appreciated – my 2 sons are very curious, and so am I!
Signature: Thank you for your help, a curious mom

Potato Bug

Dear curious mom,
You have encountered a real Southern California icon, the Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, a subterranean relative of crickets and grasshoppers from the order Orthoptera.  Potato Bugs are generally encountered during the winter months, often after the rains.

Thank you. Do you mean potato bug as in grey rolly polly?

We have never heard of a Roly Poly being called a Potato Bug, but that is the problem with using common names.  Roly Poly is another common name for Pillbugs or Wood Lice in the family Armadillidiidae while Potato Bugs are Orthopterans in the genus Stenopelmatus.

Letter 4 – Potato Bug

 

what is this bug?
Recently, my family and I went for a walk and saw this creepy crawly cross our path (see attachment). It was approx. the size of a mouse and moved at about the same speed. I have tried to figure out what it could be but can’t seem to make any progress. It appears to be a very large type of ant but it’s hind legs look like a spider’s. Also, it was about 3" long. Please advise. Please accept my apologies for the quality of the photo as I took it with my cell phone. I sharpened the image a bit in photoshop. Thank you,
Marv Peters

Hi Marv,
Our homepage is never without a photo of a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, so we can’t understand how you missed it.

Letter 5 – Potato Bug

 

What’s THIS bug???
Last night, late I stepped out to let the dog out and saw a big critter on the patio. I got out my flashlight and saw this enormous bug. I scooped him into a glass to take a few pics. He was nearly two inches long! I returned him to the wild, out of my curious dog’s reach. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. I live in Southern California. Is he dangerous? He sort of looks that way. He has three stinger type things on his tail. Looking forward to learn more, if you can help!
Scott Cuzzo

Hi Scott,
We are thrilled that you wrote back that you identified your Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket from our site. The photo is truly gorgeous.

Letter 6 – Potato Bug

 

Potato Bug
Hi Bugman,
On 7/11/2006, you posted a picture of the potato bug, a.k.a., the Jerusalem Cricket (which isn’t really a cricket, and isn’t really from Jerusalem, unless there’s a Jerusalem, California.) I wanted to provide you with a few clear pictures for your site. I have more if you like. These were found in my boss’ office in Simi Valley, CA.
Sean

Hi Sean,
Thanks for your submission. We always try to keep an image of a Potato Bug on our homepage. Technically, in the list of things they are not, they are not Bugs either. Jerusalem Crickets are in the family Stenopelmatidae in the order Orthoptera. Orthoptera does include crickets, grasshoppers and katydids.

Letter 7 – Potato Bug

 


Hello. I keep finding this wierd bug in my garage. I live in San Diego. The garage has books, tools, random things, and some dog food in a plastic, sealed container. I attached a picture. In case the picture doesn’t come out. It is about an inch and a half long, shiny, with six legs and tan and brown stripes on the back. Any help would be great because it kind of is giving me the heebie jeebies. I have found 3 or 4 of them. Thank you!!!!
rs

Hi RS,
The Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket or Nino de la Tierra is one of our most common identification requests from the American Southwest. It is perfectly harmless, and is generally found underground. The rainy season drives them above ground when they are most commonly encountered.

Letter 8 – Potato Bug

 


My friend found this 4" bug in California. He says: "Here’s the bug. Found at Switzer Falls in the Angeles National Forest, San Gabriel Mountains. I’m sure there will be a website somewhere that can tell you which nightmare insects live in the ANF. This thing is about four inches long. No joke. Sketchy. Any ideas?
SK

Hi SK,
There is a website with information about just about everything, though some of them have misinformation. This is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, the subject of numerous queries to our site.

Letter 9 – Potato Bug

 

whats this bug?
Hi, me and my dad were hunting in northern nevada and we were walking along the trail and came across this bug. We have never seen anything like it before in our life, so we were just wondering what it was?
Do you know? Thanks.
Jessica

Hi Jessica,
We always have a photo of a Potato Bug on our homepage, and your image will replace the one that has been posted since early September. Potato Bugs are also called Jerusalem Crickets.

Letter 10 – Potato Bug

 

What’s this?
Here is a picture of a large insect I found in Miles City, MT. It’s about an inch and half long and kind of looks like a giant wingless bee. I can’t seem to figure out what it is. Any Ideas

Reports of Potato Bugs or Jerusalem Crickets from the American Northwest are not as common as they are in the Southwest, so we presume the insects themselves are not quite as wellknown there. Thanks for sending in your photograph.

Letter 11 – Potato Bug

 

This thing is NASTY!
Please help me Identify this thing! I found it inside my house on the floor. Im thinking that it might have come in with a bunch of fireworks I had recently purchased! I appreciate your time and your help! Thanks!
Tyson Johnson
Salt Lake City, UT

Hi Tyson,
We are compelled to come to the defense of your Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, and inform readers that they are not nasty. They are shy nocturnal underground dwellers that often appear inside homes and garages after a rain. They are normally one of our most common identification requests from the Western states, especially California. Our last posting was in January and we suspect the record low rainfall in California last year is responsible for low sightings recently.  Potato Bugs are also known as Ninos de la Tierra or Children of the Earth in Spanish and they are in the family Stenopelmatidae.  Potato Bugs do have strong mandibles and will bite, but they are not poisonous and in most cases will not even break the skin.

Letter 12 – Potato Bug

 

Potato Bug
We wanted to add our Potato Bug to your file. We found this one in Brea, California. As you can see he his quite big. He is making a noise, like a hissing sound. Is this my imagination?
Betsy

Hi Betsy,
Certain insects are able to make a hissing sound by rubbing portions of their body together, a method known as stridulation.

Letter 13 – Potato Bug

 

Insect Question
Hi,
I live in Carlsbad, California and have been trying to figure out what type of insect this is. I found one in my kitchen a couple months ago and saw another one tonight on my doorstep – I’ve only seen it at night. It looks like a giant ant (about the length of my thumb) with some roach characteristics. Any idea what it is? I’ve attached a picture. If you could solve this mystery for me I would REALLY appreciate it. Thanks so much!!
Cecilia

Hi Cecilia,
We are posting your image and letter along with the other recent Potato Bug photos in our featured Bug of the Month for January section.

Letter 14 – Potato Bug

 

thanks!!
Hi Bugman!Thanks for the wonderful site which provided the answer to my questions of WTB!! Here are 3 pictures I took of a potato bug in my yard, hopefully you’ll find them useful…

Thanks for sending us another photo of the Bug of the Month for January 2007.

Letter 15 – Potato Bug

 

Please tell me what It is.
Hi Bugman,
I hope you could tell me what this is too. I found this in Los Angeles, California near DownTown Los Angeles on December 14, 2006. It didn’t move even if I threw a quarter or a penny. It’s more than 2"x1"x1". I believe it doesn’t have any wings and the shape might look like a bee w/o wings, or a giant ant. Hope to hear from you soon. Best Regards,
Tak S.

Hi Tak,
This is probably our most common insect query subject from southern California. This is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket. They are subterranean dwellers that are often discovered in gardens, especially in the winter and spring during rainy season.

Letter 16 – Potato Bug

 

Termite?
Hi,
This bug sounded so loud rooting around in our trash can we thought it was a mouse! Pretty big, looks like a termite, but not sure, can you identify it for us? We found it in our basement in Oakland, CA. Thanks,
Celeste and Steve

Hi Celeste and Steve,
Armed with the information that this is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, you should be able to find enough information on our site and elsewhere online to write a term paper.

Letter 17 – Potato Bug

 

What is this bug?
I live in pasadena,ca and found this guy on my driveway. any idea what it is?
thanks,
Rod, April and Makenna Hicks
Pasadena, CA

Hi Hicks Family,
The Potato Bug, along with the House Centipede, are our most frequent query subjects, which is why there is always a photo of each on our homepage.

Letter 18 – Potato Bug

 

need help, what is this weird bug
Dear Bugman,
See attached picture of this bug we found in my garage. It is at least 2 inches long. We live in Santa Monica California. Any idea? Is it dangerous? What should I do with it? Thank you very much for the information. Regards,
Neil Morley and Rachel Bennahum

Hi Neil and Rachel,
The Potato Bug has several other common names including Jerusalem Cricket, Sand Puppy, and in Spanish, Ni

Letter 19 – Potato Bug

 

oily bug
Sat, Nov 8, 2008 at 6:18 PM
It was pretty big, maybe like half the size of a dollar bill. It was in the mountains in southeastern Utah. This was in early August. It was sluggish when we poked at it.
That’s about it.
Thanks
Big Utah Goober
La Sal Mountain, Utah

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear Big Utah Goober,
This is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket.  This is one of our most frequent identification requests.

Letter 20 – Potato Bug

 

Horrible monster in our driveway
Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 9:55 PM
Dear Bugman,
My boyfriend stumbled upon this palm-sized insect (2.5 or 3 inches?) today at our house in Los Angeles, CA. He was crawling around in circles and scared my boyfriend half to death. The pictures should be self explanatory. We’d like to know as much as possible about this creature. If our dog sniffed it would she get stung or pinched? It looks diabolical.
Shaken in California
Los Angeles, CA

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear Shaken,
Now that you know this is a Potato Bug or a Jerusalem Cricket, you will be able to find way more information posted online than you have time to read.  On our own web site, we have a specific section devoted to Potato Bugs, and we also have them in our Top Ten category as this is one of our most frequent identification requests from the American Southwest.  Though they can bite, Potato Bugs are harmless.

Letter 21 – Potato Bug

 

Huge creepy alien like bug
Sat, May 9, 2009 at 10:15 PM
This is the second time we found this bug in our yard. Last year the one we saw was more opague/and albino like than this one. We live in the hills of Los Angelels. Our zip code is 90065. We think that whatever it is it must be the queen of it’s species, if not, we would hate to see the dominant version. We hope that it is not poisonous (we have kids and dogs) and that it does not travel in large numbers and/or breed often. Any info you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
Heebie Jeebie Having Goring Family
on our patio in Los Angeles, CA

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear HJH Goring Family,
The Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket is one of our top 10 identification requests, and it may be number 1 in Southern California.  This subterranean dweller usually comes to the surface after a heavy rain, so its appearance right now is a tad bit uncharacteristic.  The Potato Bug is not poisonous, nor does it travel in packs.  It does have strong jaws and it is possible that a bite might draw blood in a thin skinned individual.

Letter 22 – Potato Bug

 

Sand Puppy?
September 7, 2009
We saw this out in the desert this past weekend at Five Mile Pass in Utah and would like to know what it is.
?
Desert

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear ?,
This is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket in the genus Stenopelmatus.  There needs to be a thorough study of the genus in order to identify the different species. BugGuide indicates:  “Capinera (1) states the genus needs revision, with 14 species currently described in the family, but more than 60 North American species likely–most presumably in this genus.
”  Potato Bugs have many colorful common names.  At one point, we believed Sand Puppy was one of them, but now we believe that the creatures known as Sand Puppies are actually Solpugids.

Letter 23 – Potato Bug

 

Giant Termite?
November 5, 2009
Dear Experts,
we found this creature in a sink in our house in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles. It is much bigger than any giant termite described on your website or in wikipedia, but looks similar in shape.
You can see on the picture that its head is only a little smaller than the dime.
When we tried to catch it, it disappeared into the drain, and lived in the water for several days, but kept coming up (for air?).
We tried to tease it out with a pipe cleaner to catch it, but it attacked the pipe cleaner, biting it, and pulling it from our hands.
This is a very strong and energetic bug.
It is sensitive to light and sound. When we caught it, it was a pale beige in color, probably from being under water. But within 30 minutes or so, it regained its black-and-brown-stripe pattern.
We would love to know what this is. And also, what it eats, as my kids would like to keep for a few days.
Curious Angeleno
Los Angeles, CA

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear Curious Angeleno,
We have received so many identification requests for Potato Bugs or Jerusalem Crickets in the past few day that we decided to post the one with the best letter and photo, and that is your query.  Originally we just wrote back to you that this was a Potato Bug and didn’t provide more.  This typically subterranean insect is found in the Western United States, typically in arid regions.  There is much information available online and it is one of our Top 10 identification requests.  Good luck with keeping it as a pet for a few days, and we hope you will release it afterward.  Try feeding it root vegetables like carrots and potatoes.  Despite its common name, it is not really a pest that consumes potatoes.  Though they are harmless, Potato Bugs do have strong jaws and will bite if provoked.  Again, other than a nip, the Potato Bug is harmless.

Letter 24 – Potato Bug

 

Never seen before!
December 6, 2009
My cat brought this unusual looking bug to my dog door late at night and was making a ruckus. I wouldn’t have been so inquisitive, except I couldn’t believe the size of this thing. Approximately the size of a business card. Can you please identify?
Jus Jeff
Mission Viejo, Califonia

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Hi Jus Jeff,
There have been a flurry of ID requests for Potato Bugs or Jerusalem Crickets from California in the past few days, so despite having countless letters and photos on our site, we figured it was time to post a new one.  Your photo was among the best.

Letter 25 – Potato Bug

 

Unsual bug in the garden
December 11, 2009
I was tying back some plants in preparation for rain…soon after that I saw a large bug (quarter sized) that looks like a mutation of a grasshopper, an ant, and a bee. Not sure what this could be…Is it a beneficiary garden bug or a pest? Thanks!
Calie
Southern California

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Hi Calie,
This has to be one of our favorite images of a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket ever.  The Navajo name for this amazing creature translates to Skull Insect and the Spanish name translates to Child of the Earth, both of which refer to the almost human characteristics.  Your photo reminds us a bit of a naughty puppy trying to dig its way under the fence.  Potato Bugs are subterranean dwellers that feed on roots and they are generally sighted in the winter.  Rains often force them to the surface.  We don’t consider them to be harmful, but they do have powerful jaws and they will not hesitate to give a painful pinch if carelessly handled.

Letter 26 – Potato Bug

 

Huge Ant?
April 12, 2010
Friends and I were hiking the Solstice Canyon trail two weeks ago in the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California and happend across this bug. I wish I would have photographed it with something for size reference, but it was about 2 inches long and roughly the circumference of my thumb.
Dominic
Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

Potato Bug

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