The mole cricket is an invasive pest that attacks turfgrass and other plants. This unique insect gets its name from its huge forelegs, which it uses to tunnel through the dirt like a mole. It damages golf courses and lawns by eating plant roots and disturbing the soil’s surface. Discover everything you need to know about the mole cricket’s traits, signs of an infestation, and removal strategies.
What Is a Mole Cricket?
Mole crickets belong to the family Gryllotalpidae. Over 100 species of mole crickets exist worldwide. These nocturnal insects mostly live underground and communicate by producing vibrations. These habits mirror the behavior of underground mammals like golden moles and mole rats.
What do mole crickets look like? The mole cricket is a large, brown insect that typically ranges from 1 to 1¾ inches long.
The mole cricket’s long forelegs are its most distinctive physical trait. These enlarged limbs have blade-like projections called dactyls that allow the insect to dig through the soil. The number and appearance of dactyls differ among species.
Adult mole crickets have short antennae and long cerci, or appendages, on their abdomen. They have large hind legs and wings of varying sizes. Many mole crickets can fly awkwardly. Their bodies have thick, short hairs.
What do mole crickets eat? The mole cricket is an omnivore that feeds above and below the surface. These insects eat foliage, grasses, plant stem tissue, roots, and tubers. They also feed on fruit and vegetables like beets, carrots, eggplants, strawberries, sweet potatoes, and turnips.
Tawny mole crickets eat grass roots and shoots. This species can cause extensive damage to fields and lawns as it feeds on and tunnels beneath the grass.
The southern mole cricket mostly eats small animals and insects that live underground.
What is a mole cricket’s life cycle? Mole crickets typically mate in April and May. Males in most species attract mates by producing courtship songs that sound like loud, continuous trills.
The female mole cricket builds a small chamber under the soil surface and deposits a clutch of 25 to 60 eggs inside. The eggs grow larger as they absorb water and hatch after 10 to 40 days.
Nymphs look like adults but have less developed wings. They molt eight to 10 times before reaching maturity.
Experts estimate that mole crickets live for one to three years, depending on the species.
Types of Mole Crickets
There are several species of native and invasive mole crickets in North America, but only a few types are considered pests. These three species cause the most damage:
Tawny mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus vicinus). This large mole cricket is the bane of many golf course managers and homeowners. It destroys lawns by feeding on turfgrass roots and shoots and creating tunnels. This species was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s after ships transported it from South America. It thrives in sandy coastal regions in the Southeast.
Southern mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus borellii). This invasive species was introduced to America around the same time as the tawny mole cricket. The southern mole cricket is a smaller insect that measures 1 to 1½ inches long. It has a dark brown or black body and four spots on its head. This pest usually doesn’t eat turf, but its tunnels can still cause extensive damage to lawns.
Short Winged mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus abbreviatus). This flightless species has stubby wings and a tan or whitish body with dark spots. Unlike the other two species, it doesn’t produce a calling song. It can reproduce year-round in hot regions.
Where Do Mole Crickets Live?
The mole cricket’s range varies by species. The shortwinged mole cricket mostly lives in northeast and southern Florida and southern Georgia coastal regions. The tawny mole cricket inhabits the southern coastal plain, which includes Louisiana, North Carolina, and Florida.
The southern mole cricket has a wider distribution stretching from Arizona to North Carolina. Affected regions include Alabama, Georgia, Florida, north Mexico, and, most recently, California.
Mole crickets invade outdoor spaces around commercial properties, golf courses, home lawns, sod farms, and sports fields.
Signs You Have Mole Crickets
If you have mole crickets, you’ll likely notice damaged areas in your lawn or turf. Common signs of these pests include:
- Dead or dying grass
- Mounds of loose soil from mole cricket tunnels
- Predators like birds and raccoons ripping up the ground to eat mole crickets
You can also detect mole crickets by driving them to the surface. Mix a gallon of water with 1 to 2 fluid ounces of dish soap and pour this solution over areas where you suspect you have an infestation. The mole crickets will emerge from their tunnels, confirming their presence.
Why Do You Get Mole Crickets?
Mole crickets prefer to live in areas where they can dig easily. They’re attracted to cultivated dirt, sandy soil, and mud.
These nocturnal pests will also fly toward bright fluorescent and ultraviolet lights. Shutting off lights at night may help you avoid them.
Health Risks of Mole Crickets
While mole crickets can destroy plants, they pose little risk to humans and pets.
Are mole crickets dangerous? Experts consider these pests harmless to humans. They don’t sting humans and won’t eat materials like fabric and paper.
Do mole crickets bite? Most experts believe mole crickets don’t bite, but some sources state that this pest may bite humans if you handle it. Avoid touching these insects to be safe.
How to Get Rid of Mole Crickets
Mole crickets can be a nuisance, but you can eliminate these pests with patience and appropriate management techniques.
Biocontrol agents. The Larra bicolor wasp is a parasitoid that lays eggs in mole crickets. The wasp larva hatches inside the mole cricket and feeds on its host, eventually killing it. You can attract Larra wasps to your property by planting partridge peas (Chamaecrista fasciculata) and shrubby false buttonweed (Spermacoce verticillata).
Cultural control. Coarser bermudagrasses can tolerate mole crickets better than other varieties, so growing this turf could be an effective way to minimize damage.
Pesticides. You can purchase mole cricket baits with carbaryl and indoxacarb. Adult mole crickets feed on the baits during the late spring and early summer and die. Some lawn insecticides also kill mole crickets. Always follow instructions carefully when applying pesticides to avoid harming humans, pets, and the environment.