Mole crickets are invasive pests that can cause significant damage to lawns, pastures, forage crops, and even vegetable gardens. They live primarily underground and have a unique set of characteristics that distinguish them from other cricket species. Eradicating these pests is crucial for maintaining a healthy, vibrant landscape.
There are several proven methods for dealing with mole crickets, ranging from soapy water drenches to insecticide applications. It’s essential to accurately identify the presence of mole crickets and the extent of the damage before selecting the most appropriate treatment option. Homeowners and gardeners can benefit from understanding the different strategies available to effectively address mole cricket infestations.
Understanding Mole Crickets
Mole crickets, which belong to the family Gryllotalpidae, have unique physical features that set them apart from other insects. Their front legs are adapted for digging, resembling those of a mole, hence their name. Here are some of their key physical attributes:
- Cylindrical, dark brown to black body
- Size varies from 1 to 1.6 inches in length
- Adults have well-developed wings
- Front legs are broad and adapted for digging
The life cycle of mole crickets consists of three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Here’s a quick overview of each stage:
- Eggs: Laid in underground chambers, with each female laying up to 300 eggs.
- Nymph: Hatches from the egg resembling a smaller version of the adult, but without wings. they go through a series of molts before becoming adults.
- Adult: Fully winged and sexually mature, mole crickets live for approximately one year.
Species and Range
There are several species of mole crickets, each with their own specific range and habitat preferences:
- Tawny mole cricket (Scapteriscus vicinus): An invasive species that prefers sandy areas and can cause damage to turfgrass and vegetation.
- Southern mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus borellii): Another invasive species known for causing major damage to grasslands, pastures, and crops.
- Northern mole cricket (Neocurtilla hexadactyla): A native species to the United States that prefers damp locations like ponds or streams and causes little damage to lawns.
- Short-winged mole cricket (Gryllotalpa brachyptera): A native species with limited distribution, causing relatively minor damage.
|Species||Range||Damage to Lawns/Plants||Native/Invasive|
|Tawny mole cricket||Southeastern United States, including Florida||High||Invasive|
|Southern mole cricket||Southeastern United States, with a range similar to the tawny mole cricket||High||Invasive|
|Northern mole cricket||Eastern United States, extending as far north as southern Canada||Low||Native|
|Short-winged mole cricket||Limited to localized areas in the United States||Minor||Native|
In conclusion, understanding the physical characteristics, life cycle, and various species of mole crickets can help in identifying and managing their presence. This knowledge can be incredibly useful for effective mole cricket control and keeping your lawn healthy and intact.
Mole Cricket Damage and Signs
Mole crickets are known for damaging lawns by feeding on grass roots and tunneling through the soil. Their feeding can lead to ugly brown patches of dying or dead grass that are often replaced by weeds1. Examples of grasses commonly affected by mole crickets include:
- Bermuda grass
- Centipede grass
- St. Augustine grass
Tunneling and Mounds
Mole crickets create tunnels just below the soil surface as they search for food and shelter2. These tunnels can cause:
- Distorted and uneven soil surface
- Small mounds of soil
Tunneling not only damages the grass roots but also makes it easier for other pests to invade your lawn.
It is essential to monitor your lawn for signs of mole cricket infestation. Common indications of their presence include:
- Dying grass patches
- Raised soil tunnels
- Increased activity of predators (e.g., raccoons, armadillos, and birds) that feed on mole crickets
Mole cricket mating usually occurs in the spring and fall, which is when you may notice an increased number of these pests. The table below compares the characteristics of two common mole cricket species:
|Species||Native/Introduced||Tunneling Activity||Damage Level|
|Tawny Mole Cricket||Introduced||High||High|
|Southern Mole Cricket||Introduced||Moderate||Moderate|
Monitoring for these signs of infestation will help you take timely action against mole crickets.
Preventing and Controlling Mole Crickets
Chemical insecticides can effectively control mole crickets, especially during late summer and early fall when they are in their nymph stage. Some popular chemical treatments are:
- Carbaryl: A broad-spectrum insecticide that treats various insects.
- Imidacloprid: A systemic insecticide known for its effectiveness against mole crickets.
- Bifenthrin: A synthetic pyrethroid insecticide that also targets mole crickets.
Here are the pros and cons of chemical treatments:
- Fast action against mole crickets.
- Effective control of various insect pests.
- Potential harm to beneficial insects.
- Possible negative environmental effects.
There are alternative, natural ways to manage mole cricket populations:
- Soapy water drench: Soap and water can bring mole crickets to the surface, making it easier to eliminate them. Simply mix dish soap with water and apply it to the affected area.
- Parasitic nematodes: Steinernema scapterisci is a natural parasite of mole crickets and can help control their populations^[1^].
- Beneficial insects: Encourage natural predators, such as ants and spiders, to help manage mole cricket infestations.
Monitoring and Preventive Measures
It is essential to monitor your lawn for signs of mole cricket damage. Look for small mounds, dead grass patches, or burrowing patterns. Prevention can be crucial in reducing mole cricket populations:
- Proper lawn maintenance: Mow and water your lawn consistently to create unfavorable conditions for mole cricket survival.
- Mole cricket bait: Choose bait products specifically designed for mole crickets and apply it to your lawn in late August to October.
- Exterior lights: Reduce exterior lighting, as it attracts adult mole crickets during their mating flights.
Remember to always follow product label directions and local regulations when using chemical treatments.
^[1^]: Steinernema scapterisci – mole cricket nematode
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 – Mole Cricket
Subject: What is this bug?
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
October 19, 2012 7:33 am
Found this in our backyard in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska. It was in mid-September. I don’t think it is an earwig, because the pointy things on the rear are not curved like pincers. I have a 30-second video I can send, if that would be helpful.
Signature: Tim in Nebraska
Earwigs are much smaller than this Mole Crickets, a family of subterranean crickets that are found around the world. They comprise one of our most common identification requests we receive and our armed forces in the Middle East often enlist our assistance when they are encountered. We have also gotten identification requests from Australia, Slovenia, France and New Jersey.
Letter 2 – Mole Cricket
I found this but this evening and can’t identify it. Can you help? It looks like an earwig but it would have to be a really big one as the body is over 1.5" long. It looks like it has some small wings growing on its back which I haven’t seen in any pictures on the web.
This is a Mole Cricket and they live underground.
Letter 3 – Mole Cricket
Subject: Strange Florida Bug?
Location: Kissimmee, FL
February 25, 2013 7:28 pm
We were sitting outside of Outback Steakhouse and seen this bug running around. It was very fast and then eventually took flight. We were kind of freaked out at first thinking it was a cockroach running around on the ground. Closer look, it doesn’t appear to be on. Would love help identifying this bug as no one else seems to know what it is!
Signature: Matt & Jerri
Dear Matt & Jerry,
This is a Mole Cricket, and though they are subterranean dwellers, as you noticed, they can take flight.
Letter 4 – Mole Cricket
Subject: Student Submission
Location: Chandler, Indiana
August 18, 2013 6:50 am
One of my third graders brought this deceased insect in to ask me what it was. I have never seen anything like it. Though it’s missing some of its middle and read legs, its giant front legs look almost like a mole’s. Its modified wings are interesting, too. Can you help us figure out what it is so we can label it properly for our classroom display? Thanks!
Signature: Mr. R.
I immediately figured out that it was a mole cricket after I sent this request. I know you get hundreds, so feel free to skip this one. Mystery solved.
Dear Mr. R.,
If you just used some of your key words from your description, you should easily find the identity of this Mole Cricket using a search engine. We typed in “insect mole wings” and were quickly led to the Mole Cricket page of the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension website. You will find that Mole Crickets are subterranean dwellers that use their front legs to dig like a mole. Winged species are also capable of flying and they are often attracted to lights. We get submissions of Mole Crickets from many parts of the world, including Australia, the Middle East, Europe and many locations in North America.
P.S. We just realized you self-identified.
Letter 5 – Mole Cricket
Subject: Wierd BUG ! Huge claws earwig like tail
Location: charlotte nc
October 4, 2013 8:26 pm
Hello we just found this bug walking across our deck in Charlotte NC it is like 2” long and crazy long claw like hands
This is a marvelous photo of a Mole Cricket, a subterranean insect that digs very effectively with its front legs.
Letter 6 – Mole Cricket
Subject: Big flying bugs
Location: Cary, NC
October 7, 2013 6:38 am
Every September these things are flying in my garage. Can you tell me what they are?
This is a Mole Cricket, a subterranean insect that is also capable of flight.
Letter 7 – Mole Cricket
December 4, 2013 1:48 pm
Please identify this bug
Signature: Broc Mann
Dear Broc Mann,
This appears to be a Mole Cricket on its back. We hope it righted itself and walked away from your encounter.
Letter 8 – Mole Cricket
Location: Homosassa FL (mid Gulf coast)
March 9, 2014 1:04 pm
You have helped me a couple of times in the past. I recently relocated to Florida, and the weird bugs just keep showing up! This one was about 1.5 inches long, outside on the deck around 10pm March 5, temperature about 55 F. Photo was taken by my housemate Jackie Dunnegan who said “It looked like one kind of animal in the front, and another kind in the back!” It didn’t fly, just walked away.
Signature: Suzanne Niles (aka Frogshooter)
Mole Crickets, like the one in your image, are among our most common identification request submissions, and we have received examples of Mole Crickets from most parts of the world. Mole Crickets are subterranean dwellers, and some species are capable of flight.
Thanks for the quick reply!
As always, I get going browsing on your site and find it hard to stop looking!
Letter 9 – Mole Cricket from Saudi Arabia
Subject: Saudi Arabian bug
Location: Tabuk, Saudi Arabia
April 6, 2014 8:33 pm
I’m currently living in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia and am amazed at the wide variety of fauna around the compound. Recently I have seen lots of these critters crawling around on the ground at night. I’m curious as to what they are, please help!
This is a Mole Cricket, and we get identification requests from all over the world. Mole Cricket identification are among our most frequent identification requests. Mole Crickets are subterranean dwellers and many species are capable of flight.
Thanks so much for the swift response. I just heard that they’re edible, do you have any recipes? Only joking, it’s a fascinating time of the year here in Saudi, just last night I saw a praying mantis, very convincing stick insect, numerous locusts and grass hoppers and many species of moths. My best finds so far are a camel spider and the mole crickets, amazing!
Letter 10 – Mole Cricket
Subject: Head of a crawfish body of a cricket
Location: Norfolk VA
September 13, 2014 6:09 am
My cousin in Norfolk had this thing crawling on his porch what is it lol
We knew immediately upon reading your subject line that you were inquiring about a Mole Cricket, and this is not the first time we have received an identification request comparing a Mole Cricket to a Crayfish.