"Like something from a bad B science fiction movie, the sudden appearance of Jerusalem crickets has caused fear and freaking out among humans who know little about this big-headed, bumbling and lumbering creature," writes SoCal Wild, the website that tracks the local fauna. "these permanent SoCal residents spend most of their time underground and usually come to the surface when the rains bust up their comfy subterranean condos. Who knew they were there?!"
They are Jerusalem crickets. They come out when the weather cools. "It’s probably the number one call we get from the public,” says Lila Higgins of the Natural History Museum.
Higgins says that folks have been fascinated with Jerusalem crickets for centuries and it shows with the copious names it’s been given. Earth Child, Child’s Face (Mexican), Big Red-Skull, Skull Insect (Navajo) and Shiny Bug (Hopis) along with other monikers: Old Bald Man, Jiminy Cricket, Cootie and, the more popular name in California, the Potato Bug (a misnomer because the critter isn’t that fond of potatoes).
The origin of its most common name, Jerusalem cricket, is shrouded in mystery. One theory goes that back in the 19th century, “Jerusalem” was a well-used expletive which you can imagine coming out of the mouth of a starched-collared European seeing the creepy crawly for the first time.
This year, the mini-monsters of mayhem have been seen earlier in the year says, Daniel Marlos who runs the popular “What’s That Bug?” website. He’s received Jerusalem cricket submissions from Orange County in September, and sightings in L.A. and Mount Washington in early and late October. Likewise, the Jerusalem cricket is on his Top Ten Most Identification requests.
“There are two categories of Jerusalem crickets that we see in the Southland,” says Douglas Yanega, senior museum scientist in the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside who penned the Wikipedia entry for Jerusalem crickets. One category encompasses the common Jerusalem cricket (probably the ones we see most often) while the other reflects highly specialized species (maybe 50 unique ones) that are restricted to small geographical areas, most notably sand dunes.
“Every isolated sand dune probably has its own species of Jerusalem crickets,” he says explaining that scientists haven’t adequately studied them in-depth and that encroaching development doesn’t bode well for these species. Students looking for research projects, take note.