Mole crickets, also known as cricket moles, lawn crickets, or flying moles, are insects that belong to the family Gryllotalpidae of the order Orthoptera, along with grasshoppers, locusts, and normal crickets.
There are 6 species of mole crickets:
Within these, 107 species have been identified and more are likely to be discovered still. Neoscapteriscus didactylus is said to be the most widespread. The short-winged mole cricket (Scapteriscus abbreviatus), the southern mole cricket (Scapteriscus borellii), and the tawny mole cricket (Scapteriscus vicinus) are the most damaging species in North America.
Description and distribution
The appearance of mole crickets will vary slightly depending on the species. Generally, they have cylindrical-shaped bodies, covered with fine, dense hairs and measuring about 3-5cm. The head, forelimbs, and prothorax have a rigid exoskeleton, while the abdomen remains soft. The head presents two small antennae and a pair of small eyes. The forelegs are flattened, adapted for burrowing; the hind legs are shaped like that of a cricket’s, but they are actually adapted for pushing soil, not for leaping. The wings usually lie folded flat over the abdomen; the forewings are short and rounded, while the membranous hind wings reach and sometimes even exceed the tip of the abdomen. In species that cannot fly, the wings are, of course, reduced in size and largely useless. From beneath the wings at the tail end, two long cerci extend.
Mole crickets are present on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica, inhabiting agricultural fields and grassy areas. They are active most of the year; but in cooler climates, they overwinter underground and resume activity in the spring.
The most defining trait of these insects is that they build tunnels of different kinds for all the major functions of life: feeding, escaping from predators, attracting a mate, mating, and raising the young. They can dig underground very quickly, as well as move very rapidly within the tunnels themselves, both forwards and backwards.
Breeding and dietary needs
Mole crickets are hemimetabolous, which means they undergo incomplete metamorphoses. An individual’s life can be divided into 3 stages: egg, nymph, and adult, the majority of which are spent underground. The female starts laying eggs 1-2 weeks following mating. She burrows into the soil to a depth of around 30cm and lays 25-60 eggs. What she does next depends on the species. Neoscapteriscus females retire, sealing the entry to the passage, while females belonging to the species Gryllotalpa and Neocurtilla build an adjoining chamber and remain inside it, tending to the eggs. Perhaps the most important environmental factor that affects young mole crickets is moisture. Eggs need to be laid out in moist ground in order to hatch, and many nymphs actually end up dying if there is insufficient moisture in the ground. If this condition is met, though, eggs generally hatch in a couple of weeks. The nymphs look like the adults, only that they lack wings and genitalia. As they grow, they consume a great deal of plant material, be it roots, or leaves, both underground and above ground; this is why people claim that the nymphal stage is the most destructive stage of this pest. In becoming an adult, a nymph goes through a total of 10 moults. As mentioned previously, adults do have wings and most species are able to use them to fly. Females are the ones that fly most often, generally following sunset, towards the areas where males are calling. During the breeding season, both genders disperse, with adults of some species moving as far as 8km.
Depending on the species it belongs to, a mole cricket’s diet will vary. Some are herbivores, feeding on roots and leaves, grass and plants of virtually any kind. Others are omnivores, feeding on worms and larvae, as well as vegetation. These types do not only feed on easily accessible roots and stems, but also come to the surface at night, find leaves, and drag them underground to consume. A few species of mole crickets are predatory.
Mole crickets as pests
Mole crickets are part of folklore around the world. In Zambia, Gryllotalpa africana is said to bring good fortune to anyone who sees it, while in Latin American, mole crickets are said to predict rain when they dig into the ground. In West Java and Vietnam, they are sometimes used as food, while in the Philippines, they are served as a delicacy called Camaro.
However, due to their way of life, and most importantly, their diet, mole crickets are generally considered to be a pest. The main damage done by them comes as a result of them burrowing through the top couple of centimetres of soil, pushing the ground up in small ridges. This increases evaporation of surface moisture, disturbs germinating seeds, and even damages the roots of seedlings, be them pasture grass, turf, flowers, or vegetables. What is more, as mentioned previously, mole crickets also feed on roots and grass.In places to which they are native, mole crickets have natural enemies that keep them under control; however, in places to which they have been accidentally introduced, such as Florida, in the United States, where they were brought from South America, they are considered to be a great problem, being responsible for approximately $30,000,000 worth of damage.
Predators of mole crickets include insects such as various beetles, parasitic wasps, or spiders, birds, toads, and insectivorous mammals (raccoons, armadillos), but you cannot rely on having other types of pest help you get rid of mole crickets.
In order to apply the correct measures to eliminate these insects from your garden, follow the advice given in our article about ‘How to get rid of Mole Crickets’. Whether you end up using organic or chemical measures, traps or repellents, the most important thing is recognising the signs of infestation in time. Also important is learning how to prevent this from taking place. You can find more details on how ‘Prevent infestation with Mole Crickets’ in our relevant article, and based on them, you can prepare your garden and repel mole crickets in time.