Monday, 3 April 2017

Mole Cricket

Image: Mark Yokoyama
You know how you shouldn't make a mountain out of a molehill?

Well, this might be your best opportunity to make a bonsai mountain that's even smaller than the average molehill! Just don't make a big mountain out of your little mountain.

Image: Amy
Our miniature molehills come courtesy of the Mole Cricket. They're not small as insects go, being somewhere around 3.5 cm (1.4 in) long, but compared to moles? They're definitely mini-moles with mini-mole hands for making mini-molehills.

It's as if they went to the mole shop and said, "Do you have these in small? And I mean REALLY small."

Turns out they did.

Image: Sergey Yeliseev
European Mole Cricket (Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa)
Mole Crickets aren't one to waste a good thing so they put their mini-mole hands to good, if not constant, use. And they do so by spending almost the entirety of their lives digging and delving through an extensive network of tunnels constructed with their own two hands.

Mole Crickets are built like a bullet train. Their pointy head and bulging thorax are heavily scleroticised, which means the exoskeleton is extra thick and hard to help the Mole Cricket plough its way through the soil.

Image: George Chernilevsky
And then, of course, there are those exquisite mole hands. Actual moles have fingers and claws. Mole Crickets have a kind of imitation in the form of a collection of daggers sprouting out of their front legs. With these the Mole Cricket can tear a path through the soil, handful by handful. And since they have really big hands for their size, its easy for them to carve their tunnels through the earth.

Having put their best foot forward, the rest of the Mole Cricket's body pretty much stays out of the way. The soft abdomen is narrower than the thorax so that it can happily follow behind without snagging on the tunnel walls. The membranous flight wings are neatly folded up and hidden beneath more robust, leathery wings. And the legs are short and stocky so that they don't stick out too much. Even the long, jumpy legs we normally associate with crickets are too small to do any real jumping with.

Image: Boobook48
Sacrifices have to be made, after all. But it's all worthwhile because Mole Crickets love a good tunnel. They probably find the monotonous walls charmingly earthy, the never-ending darkness pleasingly tranquil, and the crushing claustrophobia reassuringly comforting.

It just sounds like very long coffin to me. And I wouldn't be seen dead in a coffin.


Video: Raoul Pop

But Mole Crickets don't want to be seen dead in their tunnels, either. They've got tunnels for all the important aspects of life. There are tunnels that serve as escape routes to run away from predators, tunnels that serve as foraging and dining areas, and tunnels for raising young and saying, "Welcome to my tunnel. Please, make yourself comfortable," to the opposite sex.

And it seems to have worked pretty well. There are more than 100 species of Mole Cricket, all belonging to the Gryllotalpidae family, and they're found in every continent except Antarctica.

Image: Steven Mullin
Part of their success surely comes from the omnivorous diet a lot them have. There are many Mole Crickets who will happily nibble on plant roots and munch on worms and the kind of soft-bodied larvae you find underground. Others are strictly carnivorous or herbivorous. There are even some who'll actually leave their tunnels at night to explore the surface and look for leaves and stems to drag underground and eat at their leisure.

After a good meal, and maybe some running away from the beaks and jaws of monstrous predators, there comes the very important task of making more Mole Crickets.

Image: Judy Gallagher
Southern Mole Cricket (Scapteriscus borellii)
Like other crickets, male Mole Crickets attract females by stridulating, where they scrape their wings against each other to create that chirping sound we all know and love, hate or at least grow accustomed to, hopefully.

It might be a little more difficult to grow accustomed to the Mole Cricket's song, though. It's loud! Really, really loud. Males sing at night at the mouth of their burrow and it's enough to make the soil vibrate around them. It's said you can hear them from hundreds of metres away.


Video: Wim Spronk

Many Mole Crickets aren't satisfied with the volume attained from their own physical prowess. Oh no, they have to use their brainpower, engineering and acoustics to make it even LOUDER. And so they do some extra digging to turn the entrance of their burrow into a kind of twin trumpet to amplify the sound even further.

Females can't help but hear it and apparently it sounds pretty good to them. In fact, it's not loud enough. They want front row seats. So they fly to the male's burrow and say hello, love your work, I wondered if you wanted to, you know, hang out or whatever.

Image: Mark Yokoyama
And so they hang out or whatever and the next thing you know, the female has eggs to lay. What else can she do now but start digging into the soil to build a little nest? I'm sure other kinds of cricket could think of something, but not Mole Crickets. So she builds a little nest, lays her eggs, and seals it up behind her. In some species she'll then leave the little ones to their own devices. In others she'll stay in a chamber nearby to tend to them.

Either way, the eggs hatch to reveal nymphs that look pretty much like tiny, wingless Mole Crickets. And what gladder sight for tiny eyes to see than the charming walls, pleasing earth, and reassuring claustrophobia of the underdark? I can think of a few things. I can think of a lot of things. But then I'm not a Mole Cricket.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails