Stumble upon the Jerusalem cricket (Stenopelmatus fuscus) in your home or garden and you might mistake the spindly-legged critter for a spider. But unlike its arachnid doppelganger, the Jerusalem cricket has just six legs and its bite, while possibly painful, isn’t poisonous.
Usually blackish-brown to pale yellow in color, the Jerusalem cricket, or “potato bug,” is also distinguished by its large, helmet-like head and striped abdomen. An adult can measure up to 2 inches in length, and its sharp mouthparts make for effective tools to consume a diet of roots, tubers, decaying vegetables and even other insects. Contrary to many of its cricket relatives, the Jerusalem cricket does not “chirp,” but rather beats its legs against its body during a process called “drumming” to create a hissing sound. They are characteristically wing-less, instead they move by hopping from place to place.
Typically nocturnal creatures, the cricket uses its heavy mouthparts as a kind of shovel to burrow into the earth in search of food or protection. While the majority of a Jerusalem cricket’s life is spent subterranean, when it does venture above ground it tends to hide under rocks or in piles of miscellaneous debris in order to hide and stay cool. The insects also enjoy the shade of flowerbeds and planting pots---though they are not thought to be a harmful garden pest.
Jerusalem crickets are most commonly found populating the western half of the United States, the Pacific Coast and Mexico. They have even been seen as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Panama.
If you’ve encountered a Jerusalem cricket one too many times and wish to avoid repeated sightings, try clearing any rocks or piles from your yard where they might hide and make sure that all exterior doors are closed firmly.