Natural Predators of Mole Crickets: An Insightful Exploration

Mole crickets can be quite a problem for many homeowners and gardeners. These unique insects spend most of their time underground, tunneling through soil with their specialized front legs. As they search for food, they can cause significant damage to turfgrass, pastures, and vegetable seedlings, making them a common pest across Florida and the southeastern United States.

But what eats mole crickets? Thankfully, various natural predators help keep their populations in check. Birds, for instance, enjoy feasting on these insects and are often observed digging into infested lawns in search of their next meal. Additionally, various species of predatory beetles, such as the mole cricket hunter (Larra bicolor), actively hunt mole crickets and play a crucial role in controlling their populations.

Besides these common predators, other organisms, like nematodes, can be used as part of an integrated pest management strategy. Understanding the various predators can help homeowners and gardeners better protect their outdoor spaces from these potentially damaging insects.

Understanding Mole Crickets

Physical Features

Mole crickets are unique insects that belong to the family Gryllotalpidae. They have adapted to a mostly subterranean lifestyle, with modified “hands” or front legs that help them tunnel through soil. These features give them a mole-like appearance, hence the name “mole cricket.” Some characteristics of mole crickets include:

  • Elongated bodies
  • Wide, flat front legs for digging
  • Hind legs for jumping
  • Antennae for sensing

Species of Mole Crickets

There are several different species of mole crickets, each with its own specific characteristics. Here, we’ll focus on three common species found in the United States:

  • Tawny Mole Cricket (Scapteriscus vicinus) – This species prefers sandy soils and is primarily a pest due to its tunneling behavior. It feeds on grass roots, causing damage to turfgrass and other plants.
  • Southern Mole Cricket (Scapteriscus borellii) – Like the tawny mole cricket, the southern mole cricket also causes damage to turfgrass through its tunneling. However, it mostly feeds on small creatures living in the soil, making it more of a predator.
  • Short-winged Mole Cricket (Neocurtilla hexadactyla) – Less damaging compared to the tawny and southern mole crickets, the short-winged mole cricket occurs throughout many regions. It primarily feeds on roots and other small soil-dwelling organisms.
Species Diet Damage to Turfgrass Habitat
Tawny Mole Cricket Grass roots Yes Sandy soils
Southern Mole Cricket Small creatures Yes Various soils
Short-winged Mole Cricket Roots & organisms Less Various soils

By understanding the physical features and species of mole crickets, you’ll have a better idea of their behavior and impact on the environment. This information can help in managing their populations effectively and protecting your plants and turfgrass.

Lifecycle of Mole Crickets

Egg Stage

Mole crickets begin their life cycle as eggs. Female mole crickets lay their eggs in soil chambers, often in groups of 25-60 eggs. The eggs take about two to three weeks to hatch, depending on the conditions and species of mole cricket.

Nymph Stage

Once hatched, mole crickets become nymphs. Nymphs look similar to adult mole crickets, but smaller and without wings. During this stage, they molt several times, gradually growing larger and developing wings before reaching adulthood. Nymphs feed on plant roots and organic matter in the soil, which can cause damage to turfgrass and other plants.

Some key features of mole cricket nymphs include:

  • Resemblance to adult mole crickets, but smaller and wingless
  • Undergo several molts throughout their development
  • Feed on plant roots and organic matter in the soil

Adult Stage

After the final molt, mole crickets become adults. They are typically about 1.5 inches long, light brown, and have enlarged forelegs used for digging in the soil. Mole crickets are nocturnal and can be heard at night as they produce distinctive songs to attract mates.

In the adult stage, their lifespan is influenced by factors like predators, diseases, and environmental conditions. Generally, mole crickets have a single generation per year, but in warmer climates, there may be overlapping generations.

Comparison table of mole cricket development stages:

Development Stage Key Characteristics
Egg Stage Laid in soil chambers, hatch in 2-3 weeks
Nymph Stage Resemble adult mole crickets, molt several times
Adult Stage Fully developed wings, reproduce, nocturnal

Throughout the lifecycle of mole crickets, they can have a substantial impact on turfgrass and gardens, making management and pest control essential for maintaining the health of your plants and landscape.

Behavior of Mole Crickets

Feeding Habits

Mole crickets are unique creatures with interesting feeding habits. They spend a majority of their time underground, feeding on small creatures and plant roots. You may notice southern mole crickets primarily being predators, while tawny mole crickets have an omnivorous diet1. As nocturnal insects, they are active at night2.

Mating Habits

Mating habits of mole crickets involve males producing distinct songs to attract females3. The song of the southern mole cricket is different from the tawny mole cricket, with variations in frequency and pulses per second. Their hearing organs are located on the front legs, making it easier for them to detect these mating signals4.

Tunneling

Tunneling is a crucial behavior of mole crickets. Their modified front legs are designed for digging1. As they tunnel through the soil, you may observe visible damage on the surface. These tunnel systems can be intricate and extensive, with long tunnels for both food searching and escape1.

Here are some key features of mole cricket tunneling:

  • Primarily nocturnal activity5
  • Modified front legs for digging1
  • Long, complex tunnel systems1

In short, mole crickets exhibit interesting behaviors, such as feeding habits, mating rituals, and tunneling, that are essential for their survival.

Habitat and Distribution

Mole crickets are commonly found in the southeastern United States, especially in warm areas such as southern and North Carolina. They prefer residing in areas with loose, well-drained soil.

Your yard or garden may become an ideal habitat as they can easily burrow through the soil. Mole crickets are more prevalent in the southern and southeastern U.S compared to the northern regions where temperatures are colder.

Here are some features of mole cricket habitat:

  • Soil: They inhabit loose, well-drained soil that allows for easy burrowing.
  • Temperature: Warm regions, such as the southeastern United States, are more favorable for their survival.
  • Moisture: Mole crickets also prefer moist environments for laying eggs and feeding on plant roots.

If you are looking to identify mole cricket damage, here are some characteristics to watch for:

  • Tunnels or raised ridges on the surface of your lawn or garden
  • Damaged or dying grass due to root feeding
  • Presence of mole cricket adults or nymphs in the affected area

Remember that it’s essential to take prompt action against these invasive pests, as they can damage your turfgrass, pastures, and vegetable seedlings.

Mole Cricket Infestations

Identifying Damage

Mole cricket infestations can cause significant damage to your lawn. Signs of mole cricket damage include uneven, dying grass and disrupted soil. Typically, you’ll notice the grass becoming thin and eventually dying in patches. Mole crickets are known to attack various turfgrass species, including bahiagrass and bermudagrass.

To confirm a mole cricket infestation, try using a soapy water drench in the affected area. Mix 1.5 tablespoons of liquid dishwashing soap with 1 gallon of water and evenly pour it onto a 2 ft. x 2 ft. area of suspected damage. Monitor the area for 3 minutes, and you should see mole crickets emerge if they are present.

Hotspots and High-Risk Zones

Mole crickets prefer moist soil, making areas of your lawn with excess water more susceptible to infestations. To identify high-risk zones, look for areas in your yard with:

  • Poor drainage
  • Over-watered grass
  • Shady spots that retain moisture

Frequent monitoring of these hotspots can help you catch mole cricket infestations early, enabling you to take appropriate control measures and prevent further damage to your lawn. Remember to keep your lawn healthy by properly managing water use and maintaining the right balance of sunlight and shade for your chosen turfgrass species.

Natural Predators of Mole Crickets

Bird Species

Many bird species enjoy feasting on mole crickets, helping control their population. Some examples of these birds include owls and egrets. However, the birds’ feeding habits can cause further damage to your lawn or garden, as they dig up the turf to find their cricket prey.

Insect Species

In addition to birds, other insects play a crucial role in controlling mole cricket populations. One example is the Larra bicolor wasp, a parasitoid known for attacking mole crickets. This wasp lays its eggs on the cricket, and once hatched, the larva then feeds on the mole cricket, eventually killing its host.

Other insects, like assassin bugs and ground beetles, actively prey on mole crickets that venture to the soil surface. These predators help maintain a balance in the ecosystem and prevent mole cricket populations from becoming unmanageable pests to humans.

Here is a comparison table of the different predator types:

Predator Type Examples Characteristics
Birds Owls, Egrets Dig up turf to find mole cricket prey
Insects Wasps, Assassin bugs, Ground beetles Act as natural enemies to mole crickets to control populations

Remember, using natural predators can be an effective way to target mole crickets in a friendly and environmentally conscious manner. By attracting and introducing these predators to your lawn or garden, you can maintain a healthy ecosystem while managing pest populations.

Controlling Mole Crickets

Mole crickets can be a problem for various turfgrasses, pastures, and vegetable seedlings, so controlling them is essential. There are different methods to get rid of mole crickets, and in this section, we’ll discuss two main ones: using insecticides and using baits.

Using Insecticides

Insecticides can be an effective way to control mole cricket populations. Some common insecticides include:

  • Carbaryl
  • Imidacloprid

When applying insecticides, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Follow the label instructions for the correct application rates and timing.
  • Apply insecticides during the late afternoon or early evening when mole crickets are most active.
  • Use chemical treatments judiciously, as they can harm non-target organisms.

Pros:

  • Can be highly effective when applied correctly.
  • Targets a wide range of mole cricket species.

Cons:

  • Can negatively impact non-target organisms.
  • May require multiple applications for effective control.

Using Baits

Another method to control mole crickets is by using baits. Some baits contain pesticides, while others rely on non-toxic substances like dish soap to irritate mole crickets and force them to the surface. A simple bait can be made by mixing 1½ ounces of lemon-scented dish soap in two gallons of water.

To use this method:

  1. Pour the soapy mixture over an area of about four square feet.
  2. Wait for several minutes, and mole crickets should crawl to the surface.
  3. Collect and dispose of the mole crickets manually.

Pros:

  • Less harmful to non-target organisms.
  • Inexpensive and easy to make.

Cons:

  • Less effective than chemical treatments.
  • Can be labor-intensive.

By using insecticides or baits, you can help control mole cricket populations in your lawn or garden. Remember to use these methods responsibly, and always follow label instructions for any chemical treatments.

Mole Crickets and Humans

Impact on Lawns and Gardens

Mole crickets can be quite a nuisance for homeowners, as they damage lawns and gardens. They feed on plant roots and can tunnel through soil, causing significant harm to plants and grass roots. For example, mole crickets are known to eat away at your beautiful turf, leaving it with uneven patches that are less visually appealing.

If you’re looking to manage a mole cricket infestation, one of the things you can do is turn on your outdoor lights at night. This will attract the crickets and make it easier for you to spot and remove them.

Mole Crickets and Golf Courses

Mole crickets can also pose a significant threat to golf courses. As they feed on grass roots and tunnel through the soil, they can create uneven playing surfaces, which can be quite troublesome for both the golfers and course management. Some of the ways golf courses can deal with mole crickets include:

  • Regular inspection and monitoring of the turf
  • Use of insecticides to control the mole cricket population
  • Introducing natural predators like the Larra bicolor wasp to help keep mole crickets in check

Golf courses need to be particularly vigilant to maintain a healthy turf, free of mole crickets. By employing proper management techniques, they can help ensure that their grass is well-maintained and mole cricket damage is minimized. So, the next time you’re out on the course, remember the hard work that goes into keeping it in top-notch condition, free from these pesky insects.

Unique Aspects of Mole Crickets

Mole crickets are fascinating creatures with several unique characteristics. They have specialized front legs, allowing them to tunnel through soil just like a mole. This is where they get their name from. These insects are quite harmless, posing no real threat to humans as they don’t bite or sting.

Their antennae are quite long and can sense vibrations in the ground, helping them navigate and locate food sources. Interestingly, some species of mole crickets can fly, moving from one area to another in search of optimal habitat conditions. Their front legs are adapted to burrowing and are a distinctive feature of mole crickets.

  • Unique characteristics of mole crickets:
    • Modified front legs for digging
    • Long antennae for sensing vibrations
    • Some species can fly
    • Harmless to humans

Comparing mole crickets to common crickets, they have quite a few differences, such as:

Mole Crickets Common Crickets
Dig through soil Do not dig
Primarily live in soil Live in various habitats
No biting or stinging Some may bite
Can fly (some species) Can fly

In summary, mole crickets are unique and compelling insects with distinct front legs and other features. They serve as an excellent example of how nature has adapted to different environments. Remember that mole crickets are harmless creatures that should be appreciated for their intriguing characteristics.

Conclusion

Mole crickets are quite fascinating creatures that spend most of their life underground, using their modified front legs to tunnel through the soil. While they can be considered pests, they also serve as food for various predators in the ecosystem. In this section, we’ll explore some of the animals that prey on mole crickets.

Several animals, such as birds, frogs, and even some mammals, enjoy feasting on mole crickets. Birds, like robins and bluebirds, are particularly adept at finding the insects’ hiding spots. Frogs, too, with their quick reflexes and sticky tongues, effectively catch these elusive crickets.

Insects such as ants and spiders also contribute to mole cricket population control. Predatory ants, like fire ants, can overwhelm mole crickets by attacking in large numbers. Similarly, spiders use their webs to ensnare these ground-dwelling insects and feed on them.

You may be surprised to find that even some nematodes can be natural enemies of mole crickets by infecting and killing them within a span of 7 to 10 days, although this is a slower process compared to chemical pesticides.

As you reflect on the information presented, remember that mole crickets play an essential role in the natural food chain. Their predators keep their population in check, ensuring a balanced ecosystem. Nonetheless, effective management strategies are crucial for keeping these insects under control in residential and commercial turfgrass settings.

Footnotes

  1. Mole Crickets – Solutions for Your Life – University of Florida 2 3 4 5
  2. Mole Cricket | NC State Extension
  3. Basic Biology of Mole Crickets – Entomology and Nematology Department
  4. Ibid.
  5. Are You Sure That’s Mole Cricket Damage? | Extension Marketing and …

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 – Costa Rican Mole Cricket

 

Grio-Topo
Hi from Costa Rica,
What is this little guy? They call him the Grio-Topo here, which is some reference to a mole. He is about 2.5 cm long, has an articulated body behind the second set of legs, has machete like diggers on those front feet, and a mouthful of teeth. He feeds off grass roots, hence destroying most of our front lawn. They dig mole-like tunnels as much as two feet deep (hence their CR name), and like sandy soils. Hope you can identify him by a scientific name or what he goes by in English. We are curious.
Thanks
scmorgan
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Limon, Costa Rica

Hi scmorgan,
The reference to moles knows no language barrier as the common English name for this insect is Mole Cricket, not a true cricket, but a member of the family Grylloralpidae.

Letter 2 – Australian Mole Cricket

 

identification
Dear Bugman,
My husband and son found this bug last night in the kitchen and we are wondering if you may be able to identify it for us. We live in Australia (Victoria) and have a feeling that it may be related to the Potato Bug upon looking at a few examples on your website, however nothing matches exactly. My husband used to see heaps of the them when he was young in his home town of Swan Hill, yet hasn’t seen any for ages. He used to call the "cricket moles" because the looked like crickets and they dig in the ground. Isn’t it lovely how children make up their own names for insects. We have attached a photo of our mysterious bug and the measurements are 5cm from the tip of the head to the end of the tail (abdomen) antennae?? Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.
Yours sincerely,
Fiona Gibson.

Hi Fiona,
The simple way that children view the world often translates into etymology, since the common name for this insect is a Mole Cricket, Family Grylloralpidae.

Dear Bugman,
Thank you so much for your response, this bug has created so much interest in our household for the past 24 hours, it has been amazing. My husband and I , our 4 and 1 year old sons loved it, and our 7 year old daughter hated it.We even gave it a special house for the night. After taking a photo of it and sending it to you we put him back in the garden so he could find his mum and dad. Once again, thank you for your response and my husband is stoked that he had the common name of the cricket right after all this time.
Fiona.

Letter 3 – Iraqi Mole Cricket

 

What the heck is this?!
My friend and I recently found this abomination on out base in northern Iraq. What is it!? Can we have a neme and some info? We want it as a pet!
Chris

Hi Chris,
You have a Mole Cricket. They live underground and feed on plant material. Good luck with your pet.

Letter 4 – Bug of the Month February 2012: Mole Crickets from Slovenia and Australia

 

creepy crawler unidentified
Location: Horjul, Slovenia, EU
January 31, 2012 8:21 am
Found this thing trying to eat my hardwood floor! The noise was so loud it woke me up – he was under my bed.
Signature: Creepy Crawler in Slovenia

Mole Cricket

Dear Creepy Crawler in Slovenia,
You had an encounter with a Mole Cricket, a harmless subterranean dweller that generally attracts attention when it surfaces.  Some species are capable of flying and they are attracted to lights, which might explain the presence in your home.  Since it is time for us to select a Bug of the Month for February, we are posting your letter and photo in that position.  Though we don’t get many identification requests from Slovenia, we do get identification requests for Mole Crickets from many parts of the planet, including Australia, the Middle East, Europe and North America.

Cool! Thanks. I came across your website years ago already but it was not until now that I found the pictures and so I sent them to you immediately so I wouldn’t forget again.
Best regards from Slovenia!
Daniel

Another Mole Cricket
Cockroach thing
Location: Newcastle, NSW, Australia
January 31, 2012 3:09 am
Hi,
I found this thing crawling across my floor the other day. It was about 2.5 inches long, thought it was a cockroach at first. I have no idea what it is. i have recently had a lot of those ants with wings appear in the kitchen when i got back from holiday, could this be the thing that lays those eggs? sorry if the picture is a bit blurry.
Signature: Justin

Mole Cricket

Hi Justin,
We just posted another letter from Slovenia of a Mole Cricket and we made it the Bug of the Month for February.  We are adding your letter and photo to that posting.  We get many Mole Cricket identification requests from Australia and you can see additional information on the Brisbane Insect website.

Letter 5 – Drawing of a possible Mole Cricket

 

Subject: STRANGE PRAWN LIKE INSECT
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa
December 11, 2012 3:47 am
Hi Bugman,
Please help, Im so freaked out by these bugs Im finding in our home… I cant even get a decent photo of one because they are constantly on the move – and they are so scary (to me anyway) Im not prepared to take one in my hand!
Ive drawn a pic of what it looks like… I hope this can be of some help.
I live in the Eastern Cape, in South Africa. Ive lived in Kwazulu Natal as well as Johannesburg and Ive never seen anything like this before. Its uglier than a Parktown Prawn!
Signature: Odette

Drawing of what might be a Mole Cricket

Dear Odette,
We suspect you might have encountered Mole Crickets.  They are harmless.  They are found in many parts of the world, including South Africa.  We are including an image of a Mole Cricket from New Jersey with this posting.

Mole Cricket from New Jersey

Hi Daniel!
Thank you so much for your quick response!!!!
I had a look at the pic, and it seems to be very similar except for the long things at the tail end, and the colour, but I’m sure it’s definitely from the same family.
You are a star! Thanks again!

 

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.

    View all posts
  • 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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3 thoughts on “Natural Predators of Mole Crickets: An Insightful Exploration”

    • Thanks Cesar. The list of locations was not meant to be all inclusive. We listed the areas where most of our identification requests for Mole Crickets have originated.

      Reply
  1. I discovered a similar specie this summer, during my holiday in slovenia. I searched with the search words ‘mole like bug’ and found this web page. thanks for the information

    Reply

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