FEBRUARY
2001

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

02-08-01

Cricket Sounds Attract Attention

Crickets are among the most recognizable of insect singers. Since crickets are distributed worldwide, few people have not heard these insects sing.

To be sure, the response to the song varies. A homeowner might assume the song portends damage to clothing or curtains-a reasonable concern since crickets generally feed on dead plant material and will chew holes in cotton fabric.

Generally though, the song of the cricket is admired by humanity. In some parts of the world, especially in the Orient, crickets are confined to cages in order to enjoy the song. These cages, appropriately called cricket cages, can be ornately designed. When fastened to a belt or carried in a pocket, cricket cages, with their resident musicians, become a miniature "boombox" for their owners.

Cricket songs have not gone unnoticed by the poets of the world. James Whitcomb Riley compared the song of the cricket to those legendary music-makers, Tubal Cain, Pan and Orpheus in his sonnet "To the Cricket."

In the poem, Riley calls the cricket sound a roundelay, sweet prattle and warbling. He refers to the cricket as a minstrel of the hearth.

Riley includes mention of crickets in many other poems as well. He describes their song in many ways, including trill, cries, chirrups and rattle. To Riley, the cricket sounds remind him of his early days as a child.

Remembering crickets from childhood is common among poets. Eugene Field in "The Cricket's Song" states:
            "And, when they hear my chirrup clear,
            The children stop their playing-."

Thomas Daly, in his wonderful Italian dialectical poem "Il Grillo," also speaks of a childhood fascination with crickets. In his poem, the youngster collects crickets in the country and sells them to "reecha people" in the "ceety." And when winter arrives, the cricket moves to the hearth:
            "For here eet's warm, an ‘O!
            Ill grillo seenga so:
            Cher-ree!  cher-ree!  cher-ree!"

The French naturalist Fabre also took note of crickets, as he did most other insects. In his little story "The Cricket," he is most interested in the way the cricket makes its sounds. Fabre calls the apparatus the cricket uses to make sound his "musical-box." He says it is like that of the grasshoppers, a bow with a hook on it and a vibrating membrane. "It is a fine instrument indeed. The hundred and fifty teeth of the bow, biting into the rungs of the opposite wing case, set the four drums in motion at one and the same time, the lower pair by direct friction, the upper pair by shaking of the friction apparatus."

In watching the cricket begin to sing, Fabre described it as "grating sounds-the noise of a machine out of gear shifting its parts back into their proper order." Nonetheless, Fabre concluded that crickets are left-winged, unlike their cousins the grasshoppers who are right-winged. Not a reference to their political leanings, but which wing is used as the bow in the sound-making process.

It is the male cricket that sings. The sound is produced to warn other males and to attract females. Even though it might be described as grinding gears, it must sound sweet to the females-and all the kids who hear them!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox