The sound of crickets chirping is the nighttime soundtrack of our collective rural, suburban, and even urban lives. But why do crickets sing? Professor Bugsbee here to give you an inside look at how and why crickets sing or chirp. There are more voices in the choir than you know!
The Who & How
Did you know that only male crickets sing? Their front pair of wings modified with a “file” on one wing and a “scraper” on the other to produce, amplify, and broadcast sound.
The term for sounds made by rubbing one body part against another is “stridulation,” which is akin to the way musicians produce sounds on a violin.
Crickets Sing to….
1. Call Her
Most cricket songs you here are “calling songs” designed to attract females from long distances. His challenge is to be loud enough to be heard, but remain hidden from predators in a burrow, behind a leaf, or other shelter.
2. Woo Her
Once a female is within sight, the male switches from his calling song to his “courtship song,” a much softer species-specific serenade to seduce her into mating with him. This is another chance to communicate his genetic superiority compared to other males.
3. Ward Off Other Males
Another song that a male may broadcast is the “rivalry song,” directed at rival males infringing on his territory and therefore presenting competition for any females he attracts with his calling song. The rivalry song says “Back off!”
How Do Crickets Hear?
Crickets have a hearing organ (cricket “ear”) on each front leg. Inside the slit or hole are organs that vibrate, and translate the meaning of incoming sound, be it another cricket, or perhaps the frequencies of an echolocating bat intent on eating the insect.
Many Kinds of Crickets
Most crickets belong to the family Gryllidae, with over 110 species in the U.S. and Canada. The ones most familiar are the big black field crickets, and the house crickets sold in bait shops and pet stores.
Ground crickets are smaller versions of field crickets. Bush crickets hang out in shrubs and trees.
Delicate tree crickets may look more like lacewings. They live in tall grasses, berry canes, and shrubs and trees.
The smaller the cricket, the more high-pitched the song, generally. With practice you can identify different members of the cricket orchestra, and where to look for them (on the ground, foliage, or tree limbs).
Listen, Learn, Enjoy
The Singing Insects of North America website is a great place to learn about all our cricket friends, listen to their songs, and discover more singing insects. See how many species are in your neighborhood!
About Professor Bugsbee
Learn more about bugs and insects from the expert who always has a bug’s eye perspective. After all, we’re talking about Earth’s largest population, and some of its oldest, strongest, and most beautiful inhabitants. Whether you want to learn everything you can about insects (is your child a budding entomologist?) or have a specific question (can tick bites really give you an allergy to meat?), you’ve come to the right character…part bee, part bunny, fully informed!