What species of insect is this? Number 4!

Sometimes you come across something and think, what the hell is that?! Like for example when you are on the golf course, just enjoying some peace and quiet and come across this:

Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa

It sort of looks like a cross between a lobster and a cricket and doesn’t look really cuddly. But anyway, what is it? It has six legs and wings so it clearly is an insect. It looks like a cricket so let’s take a look in our insect book in the chapter about grasshoppers and crickets (Orthoptera). Due to its distinctiveness it doesn’t take long to find what it is. The Mole Cricket (Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa).

The Mole Cricket

The mole cricket is a decent sized insect. Just take a look at our happy little friend in the picture below. We do not see the mole cricket very often. This has two reasons. First, it declined in numbers quite severely and has for that reason been added to the red list. Second, because it normally lives underground. Its front legs have been adapted to efficiently dig tunnels. They are omnivorous (eat everything, plants and animals) and make tunnels underground where they also make their nest, which is about the size of a chicken egg. The mother provides parental care (uncommon in insects), she licks the eggs to prevent fungal growth. Despite the fact that they are willing to eat almost anything, they do prefer eating animals (insect larvae, worms etc.). Technically speaking they are able to fly, they are just not really good at it. Like many crickets they make sound, several different sounds even. They can call each other, use song to impress the ladies, make sounds to repel rivals and can even make sounds when you pick them up. What I find especially interesting is that they are good swimmers!

Picture by Sodininkas.com
Picture by Sodininkas.com

Swimming and orientation based on the sun

As I mentioned before, mole crickets are good swimmers (see the picture below). Felicioni and Ugolini were curious how these critters decided which direction to swim in order to reach the shore. Swimming in the wrong direction is a bad idea in a huge lake. To find out how they decided which direction to swim, Felicioni and Ugolini determined the position of the sun an basically threw mole crickets in the water. Then they looked at which direction they swam in relation to the sun. They found that mole crickets use the sun to find the shore. However, after being taken out of their natural habitat for 2 weeks, they didn’t quite remember how to orient based on the sun. So the mole cricket doesn’t have the best memory. The mole cricket is not only able to swim, it can even figure out which direction to swim in order to reach the shore!

Picture by Böhringer.
Picture by Böhringer.

All-in all, a very weird but interesting animal! Thanks for sending me the picture.


Dutch species register

S. Felicioni and A. Ugolini (1991) Learning and Solar Orientation in the Mole Cricket Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa (Orthoptera: Gryllidae). Journal of Insect Behavior (Vol. 4, No. 4)