What to Know About Jerusalem Crickets

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on December 06, 2022
4 min read

Jerusalem crickets are insects but are not in the same family as true crickets, Grylloidea, despite their name. However, they are related and fall under the same order of insects, Orthoptera.

Other names for Jerusalem crickets include:

  • Potato bug
  • Chaco
  • Niña de la terra
  • Caro de niña
  • Woh-tzi-Neh
  • Devil's baby
  • Stone cricket
  • Sand cricket
  • Skull cricket

The scientific name for these bugs is Stenopelmatus fuscus.

There are at least 100 species of Jerusalem crickets. They are found in the Western United States, between California and Oklahoma, and as far south as Mexico. 

The name potato bug is confusing because there are several other potato-loving bugs that have also been given the nickname potato bug. So don't confuse the Jerusalem cricket with the Colorado potato beetle, pillbugs, or sowbugs.

Jerusalem crickets are not from Jerusalem or related to the city in any way. They get their name because they often startle people due to their appearance. At the time of their discovery, people sometimes used "Jerusalem!" as a polite euphemism for more severe expletives if they were suddenly started.

Jerusalem crickets are identifiable by their six legs, two small eyes, and unique body shape. As they are in the same family as the camel cricket, they have a similarly shaped body with a humpback. Their backs have yellow and black stripes. Compared to other cricket species, they have short rear legs. These legs have spines on the backs.

Their heads are large for their size, and they have strong jaws. They typically use these powerful mandibles to cut up their food, but they can also bite if frightened or handled by humans. Their jaws are so strong that they can easily cut through plastic and fabric.

Luckily, a Jerusalem cricket bite isn't dangerous; it's just painful. They don't sting and they don't have venom.

Jerusalem crickets do not have wings and can not fly. They are slow walkers and don't pose much of a threat to humans, as long as you keep your fingers away from their mouths. If you pick one up, they are more likely to play dead at first and only bite if you handle them roughly or feel threatened.

Jerusalem crickets like sandy environments and also prefer to live under natural cover like rocks, logs, or dead plant matter. They are also commonly found in home spaces such as garages. Jerusalem cricket often leave tracks on sandy or gravel paths because when they walk, they drag their abdomen along the ground, pressing down the dirt in trenches. The resulting friction can sometimes create a faint scratching sound.

Besides this sound of their abdomen on the ground, these bugs do not chirp like true crickets. However, if they are agitated, they can rub their rear legs together and make a hissing sound that is reminiscent of sandpaper.

These bugs are mostly nocturnal, but you may see them in the daytime once in a while. They are seen most often in the springtime, when they come closer to the surface more regularly to mate, but you may also see them throughout the year.

Jerusalem crickets can't swim, so if they wander into a pool or lake, they will drown.

As adults, Jerusalem crickets have a unique mating behavior that humans may sometimes notice. Both male and female Jerusalem crickets beat their abdomens on the ground to produce a drumming sound. The vibrations travel through the soil, and alert other Jerusalem crickets in the area to the mating call. This drumming is also audible to any humans within about 60 feet. Each species of Jerusalem cricket has a slightly different drumming pattern.  

After finding each other and mating, the female Jerusalem cricket lays her eggs and often eats the male. After a few weeks, the eggs hatch, and the nymphs must find food. They grow and molt their skin 10 or more times, depending on the species and location, takes anywhere from two to five years to reach adulthood. Then, they stay in the adult phase of life for only two to six months.

Jerusalem crickets eat a wide variety of foods, including:

  • Plant roots
  • Other insects
  • Rotting plant material
  • Tubers (potatoes)

They tend to eat underground foods of roots and tubers during the day, but come out at night to eat other bugs and rotting plants.

Most species of Jerusalem crickets grow to be between 1.2 inches and 2 inches long. However, two species of this cricket can get up to 3 inches long. Their unique saucer-shaped eggs are just 3 millimeters long.

While people who grow tubers such as potatoes and sweet potatoes may find their crops with some bites taken out of them by a Jerusalem cricket. According to experts, Jerusalem crickets are not exactly garden pests. They actually help the environment by eating decaying plant materials. Additionally, they are an important part of the food chain, especially for the vertebrate animals that like to eat them.

You will most likely see them in your garden after you till the soil, or after heavy rain.

They are not like ants, termites, or other cricket species in that they are solitary creatures and have a low rate of reproduction. So, seeing one Jerusalem cricket does not mean you have an infestation. People are often scared of their appearance, as they sometimes resemble spiders or other more harmful pests.

Insect experts advise you to safely move a Jerusalem cricket to a different location or let it do its thing if you see one in your home or yard. They also say that you can use an insect guidebook to properly identify Jerusalem crickets and make sure it's not another pest before you decide what to do with it.