Potato Bug vs Jerusalem Cricket: Uncovering the Differences

The potato bug and Jerusalem cricket are two insects that are often confused with each other, but they possess distinct characteristics making them unique in their own ways. While both insects can be found in gardens and have somewhat similar appearances, they have differences in their behaviors, diets, and impacts on plants.

Potato bugs, also known as Colorado potato beetles, are known to be serious pests of potatoes, causing significant damage to potato plants and other related crops. These beetles have a yellow and black-striped appearance and are dangerous to plants, as both the adult and larva feed on potato leaves, reducing yield and even killing the plants. On the other hand, Jerusalem crickets, often called “potato bugs,” are large, flightless insects with a striped abdomen and a unique head resembling a human face. They primarily feed on roots and decaying plant material, contributing to natural decomposition processes.

In summary, the potato bug and Jerusalem cricket are two distinct insects, with the former being a notorious pest of potato crops while the latter plays a beneficial role in breaking down organic material. Understanding their differences can help in proper identification and pest management in gardens and agricultural settings.

Identification of Potato Bug and Jerusalem Cricket

Appearance

  • Potato Bug: The potato bug, also known as the Colorado potato beetle, is an insect with alternating black and white stripes on its wing covers. The beetle’s body has an oval shape.
  • Jerusalem Cricket: This insect, belonging to the Stenopelmatus genus, has a large, round head and a cylindrical body with striped, banded legs.

Size

  • Potato Bug: Typically around 0.4 inches (10mm) in length.
  • Jerusalem Cricket: Can grow up to 2.75 inches (70mm) long.

Color

  • Potato Bug: Black and yellow-striped pattern on the wing covers, while the body is orange-yellow.
  • Jerusalem Cricket: Their body is a mix of yellow-brown and black with contrasting bands on legs and body.

Regions

  • Potato Bug: Common in North America, particularly areas like the United States where potatoes are grown.
  • Jerusalem Cricket: Native to the western United States and parts of Mexico.
Feature Potato Bug Jerusalem Cricket
Size 0.4 inches (10mm) Up to 2.75 inches (70mm)
Color Black and yellow stripes Yellow-brown and black bands
Regions North America, United States Western United States, Mexico
Typical Appearance Oval shape with striped wing covers Large round head, cylindrical body

Habitats and Behaviors

Nocturnal Activity

Both potato bugs and Jerusalem crickets are nocturnal insects, meaning they are active during the night. This behavior helps them avoid predators, as well as conserve moisture in their environments. For example, in the hot, arid regions of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico where Jerusalem crickets are found, nighttime activity is essential for their survival.

Burrowing and Soil Interactions

Potato bugs and Jerusalem crickets share similarities in their burrowing habits and their interactions with soil:

  • Potato bugs (Colorado potato beetles) are known for their ability to burrow underground to overwinter. They are commonly found in garden beds and compost piles where they can find a supply of rotting plant matter.
  • Jerusalem crickets live primarily in the soil and are well-adapted for digging. They have powerful legs and strong jaws, which aid them in creating tunnels or burrows in soil, rocks, and logs.

Feeding Habits

The two insects differ in their feeding preferences:

  • Potato bugs feed primarily on plant leaves, especially those of potato and other solanaceous plants. Infestations can lead to significant crop damage.
  • Jerusalem crickets have a diverse diet that includes roots, tubers, and other plant material, as well as small insects like spiders. They typically don’t cause much damage to garden plants.
Potato Bug (Colorado Potato Beetle) Jerusalem Cricket
Primary Diet Plant leaves Roots and other insects
Impact on Crops Significant damage Minimal damage

Mating and Reproduction

Potato bugs and Jerusalem crickets have distinct mating and reproductive habits:

  • Potato bugs mate in the spring, with females laying clusters of eggs on the undersides of leaves. Each female can lay up to 350 eggs in her lifetime.
  • Jerusalem crickets mate through drumming communications, where they tap their abdomens on the ground. Females lay eggs in moist soil, where they will develop for several months before hatching.

Interaction With Humans and Environment

Potato Bug vs Jerusalem Cricket Bites

Potato bugs, also known as Colorado potato beetles, do not bite humans, while Jerusalem crickets can deliver a painful bite if handled or threatened. Here’s a comparison table:

Feature Potato Bug (Colorado Potato Beetle) Jerusalem Cricket
Bite humans No Yes
Painful N/A Yes
Venomous/Posionous No No
Bite warning signs N/A Hissing noise

Potential Harm and Infestations

Potato bugs can cause a significant damage to potato plants and reduce their yield. Jerusalem crickets, or niño de la tierra, are generally not considered as harmful garden pests, but they can cause damage to plant roots if present in large numbers.

Garden Pests and Treatment Techniques

Here are some techniques to deal with these insects in your garden:

  • Potato bugs
    • Remove them manually if infestation is minimal
    • Use insecticides, like neem oil or spinosad, to control infestation in potato fields
  • Jerusalem crickets
    • Remove debris, dead roots, and compost piles to discourage their presence
    • Keep your garden and flower beds well-watered to discourage nesting

Remember, it is crucial to follow proper gardening practices and avoid using harmful pesticides that can affect the environment and other beneficial organisms.

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

 

Subject: Bee? Beetle?
Location: Nevada
July 13, 2016 10:09 pm
Ok so like we say this bug outside of our home and it’s like an inch long it’s ready big and we have never seen anything like it before!
Signature: Karina

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear Karina,
Neither.  This iconic insect is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket.

Letter 2 – Potato Bug

 

what is this huge antlike thing? found in northern CA
Hi. We live in Lucas Valley 25 mins north of San Francisco. We found so far 3 of this bug – first one was almost translucent like it hadn’t had enough light, 2nd was the one on the picture both found in the kitchen. 3rd found today about 3 weeks later in the hallway (other end of house) what is this thing? the house is on slab and has no attics, only way in are from an open door or thru the washer/dryer area where there looks to be a hole in the wall. Are they dangerous? They look harmless but freaky, like ants that had too much food. Our garden has a nice rose garden and has been very well tended to – there was a compost pile but was removed and I just started a new one a few weeks ago so not related I don’t think.. We bought the house in December btw… Thanks for any light you can shed on this guy!
Susanne

Hi Susanne,
We always keep a photo of a Potato Bug on our homepage because we get so many questions about them. They are also known as Jerusalem Crickets and are harmless, but they do have strong jaws and can nip. They generally live underground but are fond of wandering into homes.

Letter 3 – Potato Bug

 

Big Bug
Please help us figure out what in the world this is. We saw one first at Yuba lake, In central Utah. It is a very sandy lake. We ran across this picture and were so excited to show everyone we weren’t crazy. This bug is at least 5 inches long and very heavy. We can’t wait to hear from you.
Ellie & Becky

Dear Ellie and Becky,
This is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket. Usually they are between 2 and 3 inches. Your specimen must be on steroids.

Letter 4 – Potato Bug

 

Potato Bug Invasion
Isn’t the Internet fantastic. Search and you shall find. I found this bug in my apartment building. I left my apartment to do my laundry and when the elevator door opened this huge bug was in front of the elevator. I ran back up stairs to have my friend come get it. It appeared as though it had died. Taking the necessary precautions, cup and envelope in hand, he scooped him up and placed him in the sun. We watched as the warmth gave him life again. It became very active thereafter. We are still puzzled how the bug gained entry into the highly secured building. LOL I believe it was around 2 1⁄2 to 2 5/8 in length.
Tracy
Playa del Rey , California

Hi Tracy,
Our best guess is that somebody leaked the security code to the crafty Potato Bug. Barring that, perhaps the critter just hitched a ride in on something that had been stored outside, even a potted plant.

Letter 5 – Potato Bug

 

Subject: we don’t know what this is?
Location: La Mesa CA.
October 4, 2014 4:21 pm
hey can you pleases tell us what this is?
Signature: Thanks Bob

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Hi Bob,
The Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket in your image is a common Southern California insect, and it is one of our most common identification requests.  We hope you enjoy this account of a “Mountain of Potato Bugs” from our archives.

Letter 6 – Potato Bug

 

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Subject: What kind of insect is this?
Location: Valley center California
October 13, 2014 11:08 am
Hello I live in San Diego California and I seen this insect in my driveway it had a moist look to it I want to know if you are able to identify it.
Signature: Markel buie

Dear Markel buie,
We just finished posting another image of a Potato Bug from San Diego earlier today.

Letter 7 – Potato Bug

 

Subject: what bug is this?
Location: chino, california
December 9, 2014 8:08 am
I saw this on the floor twitching like it was about to die, you can’t really tell in the photo but the bug also has pinchers
Signature: ?

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear ?,
This is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, a common Southern California insect that often appears with the first heavy rains of the season. 

Letter 8 – Potato Bug

 

Subject: Please identify
Location: Orange County, Ca
March 13, 2015 7:01 pm
I live in Orange County, CA and I found this insect in my back yard. It looks like a termite but it is big, about the size of my thumb 2.5″ to 3 ” inches. Can you identify it?
Signature: Chris A.

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear Chris,
The Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket is a common southern California insect that spends its time underground.  Potato Bugs tend to emerge from their subterranean burrows with the rains, and that is the time they are most frequently encountered by humans.

Letter 9 – Potato Bug

 

Subject: Large unidentified insect
Location: California, Santa Maria
November 2, 2015 3:55 am
Found at night on sidewalk. It had 2 pinchers on its mouth.
Signature: Steven Cook

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear Steven,
The Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket is one of our most common Southern California identification requests, especially when rains cause them to emerge from their subterranean burrows.

Letter 10 – Potato Bug

 

Subject: Strange looking bug
Location: San Diego
January 21, 2016 4:32 pm
Do you have any idea what this is?? I saw it on a trail I was on today….
Signature: Cloudy

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear Cloudy,
The Potato Bug is one of our most common Southern California identification requests during the winter months.

Letter 11 – Potato Bug

 

Subject: What type of bug is this?
Location: SF Bay Area
November 10, 2016 5:06 pm
Hello,
I saw this type of bug in my backyard. What kind is it? It looks real nasty.
Signature: Anonymous

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Dear Anonymous,
The Potato Bug is a common California sighting, with most of our reports occurring shortly after a rain because these typically subterranean dwellers come to the surface at that time.

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

Letter 12 – Potato Bug

 

Subject: What this bug is
Location: LA
December 10, 2016 5:16 pm
Does anybody know what this giant bug is?
Signature: bug id

Potato Bug
Potato Bug

The Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket is one of the most iconic southern California insects.  Most sightings occur in the fall and winter, and sightings usually coincide with rain.

Letter 13 – Potato Bug

 

Subject: Bug ID
Location: California
June 23, 2017 8:52 pm
Found in California. Very unusual to see something like this in California.
Signature: Joan C.

Potato Bug

Dear Joan,
We beg to differ with you.  The Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket is a Southern California icon, and it is one of the most frequent identification requests we receive.  Potato Bugs are subterranean dwellers that use their front legs to quickly dig through the earth like a mole.

Potato Bug

Letter 14 – Potato Bug

 

Subject:  Found insect
Geographic location of the bug:  San Luis Obispo, CA
Date: 02/24/2018
Time: 03:41 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I saw this insect while hiking in late February, and I am just curious what it is. Thanks.
How you want your letter signed:  Angie V.

Potato Bug

Dear Angie,
The insect in your attached image is commonly called a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, and it is one of our most common Southern California sightings.

Letter 15 – Potato Bug

 

Subject:  Huge Bug Identification
Geographic location of the bug:  Southern California
Date: 11/27/2018
Time: 01:28 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This bug was found in the garage. It is about 2 inches long.
How you want your letter signed:  Amy

Potato Bug

Dear Amy,
This is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, one of our most common Southern California submissions.  They are often sighted after a rain.

Letter 16 – Potato Bug

 

Subject:  What is this?
Geographic location of the bug:  Greater Los Angeles
Date: 12/15/2018
Time: 12:23 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Can you please help me identify this cool looking guy?
How you want your letter signed:  The Panthaky Family

Potato Bug

Dear Panthaky Family,
This is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, one of our most common Southern California identification requests.  These subterranean dwellers are often sighted shortly after a significant rainstorm when they dig to the surface.

 

Letter 17 – Potato Bug

 

Subject:  Large red ant-like bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Topanga State Park, LA county, USA
Date: 01/05/2019
Time: 01:54 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello,
This very large, red, ant-like insect crossed the trail right in front of us yesterday. We were hiking near Eagle Rock in Topanga State Park in Southern California (LA county).
The insect was about 3 inches long with a large round red head and a black and brown abdomen.
We photographed it (see attached), and looked online to try and identify it. Our search has not turned up anything.
Can you help us identify it?
Thanks!
How you want your letter signed:  Casual Hiker

Potato Bug

Dear Casual Hiker,
Commonly called a Potato Bug or a Jerusalem Cricket, this distinctive insect is a common southern California native that spends most of its life underground.  Fall and winter rains bring them to the surface so most sightings are made shortly after a good rain.

That’s it! Thank you so much!
François Baldassari

Letter 18 – Potato Bug

 

Subject:  Creepy camel spider look alike
Geographic location of the bug:  Hesperia California
Date: 08/02/2019
Time: 09:54 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  What is it is it dangerous to me my children or pets?
How you want your letter signed:  Danielle

Potato Bug

Dear Danielle,
The Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket is one of our most common Southern California identification requests, but those sightings usually occur during rainy season when this subterranean dweller comes to the surface.  A mid-summer sighting during dry weather is somewhat unusual.  Though Potato Bugs have very powerful mandibles that could deliver a painful nip, they have neither venom nor poison, so they are harmless to you, your children and your pets.  It was interesting that you compared its appearance to that of a Camel Spider, a common name for a Middle Eastern Solifugid, because we get far more requests from people who have sighted a Solifugid and compare its appearance to that of a Potato Bug.

Letter 19 – Potato Bug

 

Subject:  Crazy looking bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Aliso Viejo, CA, USA
Date: 12/05/2019
Time: 11:52 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello. Just found this bug laying by my front door. I didn’t harm it I promise. Seems that it died on its own.
How you want your letter signed:  Matthew S.

Potato Bug

Dear Matthew,
This is a Potato Bug or Jerusalem Cricket, an iconic Southern California insect that lives underground.  They are often driven to the surface after the first rains of the season.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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