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Raising Gryllus (field crickets)

Necessary disclaimer: This article is written purely from emotion, not from science. This is my very first time to handle any field cricket and I'm learning as I go. I have zero scientific background or expertise and am raising the creatures simply for the love of them. I will add to this article as I observe and learn more.

Here I will discuss 1) finding my only cricket, 2) caring for eggs, 3) caring for babies, 4) adult and nymph habitats, 5) life cycle, 6) food, 7) care, and 8) observations. The species described here is Gryllus texensis.

There is plenty of colour and size variation among individuals. This beautiful adult male has lighter forewings (less common) and lighter hindwings (very common) compared to his thorax and head


freshly moulted adult female:



1. Finding

...A Miracle Find


• The Men's Room:
I have wanted to raise field or ground crickets, but I am dismally incompetent at finding creatures in the wild. After searching and searching and failing miserably at finding any such cricket, I gave up and had decided to purchase some house crickets (Acheta domesticus) just to play with and listen to. They are used as feeder crickets and sold at pet stores, I learned.
I arrived at a local PetSmart store shortly after they opened and was going to pick out some crickets from their container, but I wanted to go to the restroom first. They were cleaning the ladies' room, so I wandered around the aisles, waiting for them to finish. I checked back several times, but they were still cleaning. I finally asked the fellow working if I could use the men's room. He answered with a bemused "I don't care what you do!"
So I skulked into the men's room and there on the floor was what looked like a dead field cricket. I was entering just before they cleaned, so the cricket was still on the floor. I moved closer and saw that she was still alive, but looking old and very weak. Cricket season was well over and the weather had already been quite cold, so I was very surprised to see any cricket at all.
I picked her up and carried her in my cupped hand out of the store and to my car (which might have looked weird to the security cameras). I placed her in the critter keeper that I keep in my car: a quart-sized cage with layers of paper towels on the floor and a ventilated top.
Since I knew I wouldn't be able to find her a mate, I returned to the store to get some "feeder crickets" to raise and observe. Before I went to the cricket bin, I walked to where they sell terrariums to have a look, and I noticed something hopping on the floor. It was one of their Acheta domesticus who had made his escape! I had never seen one up close and I hadn't realised how beautiful they are. I crawled around on the floor until I caught him, an older nymph male, and once again carried him in my cupped hand to my car. (By this time, the security cameras would have caught a little old lady first using the men's room, then carrying something cupped outside, returning to the store only to crawl around on the floor, again carrying something cupped outside, and returning a final time.)
I went back inside the store and asked the employee near the crickets if I could pick out five crickets from their large bin of live crickets. They thought I was crazy, of course, but let me do it. I picked out two males and three females: the females were full adults and the males were last-instar nymphs. (I would recommend picking out all late-instar nymphs rather than full adults for anyone doing this so that you can ensure a longer, safer life for them.) The cricketeer? (unlucky employee whom I caught standing near the cricket bin at the moment) told me that their crickets only live for up to two days and should be "used quickly."

• Coming Home:
I brought home my old, weak bathroom cricket and my six Acheta domesticus (five purchased and one escapee) and put them in a holding cage while I put food in the terrarium I had set up.
Holding cage for crickets before being transferred: (approx. 3-gallon plastic container with ventilated lid)

I had already prepared an aquarium. It's a 10-gallon unit resting on a heating pad (seedling mat) with a strong metal mesh top. I used vermiculite for the substrate, and I added sticks, rocks, a bit of egg carton, and tissue rolls for hiding. I put in one dish of moist native soil and one dish of moist sand. I added two temperature/humidity gauges. Once I got home with my crickets and secured them in their holding cage, I added some initial food: minced home-grown (organic) bellpepper, apple slices, Fluker's cricket powder, tropical fish flakes, Fluker's thirst quencher, and purified water on paper towels in shallow dish.
Initial set-up for my new crickets:


... And a Miracle Surprise
On the first evening, I was eager to observe my new creatures. My Gryllus, the one from the bathroom floor, was clearly dehydrated and starving. She drank her water and Fluker's thirst quencher and ate heartily.
My cricket's first night home, scared and weak and starving:

Then, to my utter shock, she found her way into the container of moist soil and began laying eggs(!!).

It didn't occur to me at the time that she could have already mated and stored sperm. I didn't expect the eggs to be viable, and, mostly, I was concerned about her because she looked so weak.
I named her Grietta and was already in love with her.
This is my Grietta, who taught me how to love Gryllus crickets:


2. Caring for Eggs
The first eggs that Grietta laid on her first night home was on October 17, 2019. I collected the container of moist soil the next day and replaced it with a fresh container of moist soil.
I incubated the eggs by putting their container on a heat mat with a loose top (just enough to maintain moisture but not air tight) and keeping the eggs around or just over 80°F/27°C.
On October 18, Grietta did not lay eggs and appeared to be very weak.
However, on October 19 and 20, she laid some more eggs. Once again, I collected the container and incubated the eggs.
On one final night, October 21, Grietta laid eggs and I collected the third container. After that, I did not collect the container any more, as the Acheta domesticus crickets appeared to be both laying eggs and playing in the dirt.
Incubated eggs kept at around 80°F/27°C:


I labelled the containers with the dates, not expecting anything, and continued to care for my adults.
Each morning I checked the soil moisture and made sure the soil was warm enough.

On October 25, I was in for quite a surprise. In the container marked October 17, I saw the very first baby! There were three that morning.


The eggs laid on October 19 and 20 hatched on October 28. Finally, the eggs laid on October 21 hatched on October 31. The eggs took eight to ten days to hatch in the varying temperatures.

As soon as the first eggs hatched, which took me completely by surprise since I hadn't expected them to be viable, I ran out and got a second aquarium and quickly set up a nymph habitat.

These are grandnymph eggs being incubated (eggs of nymphs of Grietta). They are on a heating pad with loose tops to retain moisture. I covered the containers with a towel and placed an additional heat mat on top.


3. Caring for Babies
When nymphs appeared in each of the three containers, I moved the container to a nymph habitat, keeping the soil moist every day with very fine mist spray so as not to hurt the babies. I provided little dishes of food in the containers as well as outside of the containers for folks who hopped away. There were sticks for every container so my babies could climb in and out as needed. In the young nymph stage, I maintained a temperature of around 80°F and kept the atmosphere somewhat moist.
Young nymph habitat:


4. Adult and Nymph Habitats
The adult habitat that I used was a 10-gallon aquarium tank with a metal ventilated top, a seedling mat (heating mat) underneath and a reptile heat lamp on top:

The substrate is Vigoro vermiculite. For breeding, a dish of moist native soil is available, along with a dish of moist sand.
I provided rocks, sticks, climbing surfaces, and hiding places. Each cage has two temperature/humidity gauges on each end, and I keep adult temperatures around 75 to 80 degrees F (24-27°C).
The nymph habitat is similar: I put their breeding dishes in the aquarium with plenty of small sticks to climb in and out. I am very careful to make sure no one can get squished or can drown in that the breeding dishes do not move at all, the rocks are small and light, moisture is kept in check without standing water, and drinking water is provided on cellulose sponges.
nymph habitat:


5. Life Cycle
My precious Grietta, the mom of my nymphs, died 23 days after I brought her home from a cold bathroom floor at PetSmart, and she took a cricket-shaped piece of my heart with her. I don't know how old she was when I found her weak and starving in the store restroom, and I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know her and care for her at the end of her life.

Eggs
The eggs were laid in warm, moist soil. I incubated them in moist conditions averaging around 80°F/27°C, and they hatched in 8-10 days, depending on temperature.
The eggs are grey-white, elongate, just over 3 mm in length, and laid approximately 10 mm beneath the surface of the soil:


Nymphs
Just-out-of-the-egg nymphs are around 3 mm in length and start out completely light. They darken rather quickly:


The nymphs go through several instars. I've attempted to show the growth cycle here: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1757188.
There appear to be three early instars, two or maybe three middle instars, and two late instars. I believe mine went through seven or possibly eight instars.
Early instars-one day, 2.5 weeks, and 3.5 weeks:

middle instars-just under 4 weeks and just over 4 weeks:

late instars- 4.5 wk male, 4.5 wk female, and 5 wk female:


Adults
My first adult moulted on Day 43 after hatching, a female.
Her first day after moulting overnight, day 43 after hatching:


She looks like Mom! My first adult at two days old, named Magena:


and the first full male, moulted 12.12.2019:


freshly moulted adult male:


frass:
Gryllus nymph frass is small, black, dry. specks. Gryllus adult frass is around 1.5mm long, grey and black, dry:


Moulting
After having raised caterpillars, beetles, true bugs, Oecanthinae, and such, I was completely shocked by the ease with which Gryllus crickets moult. My other creatures have used gravity to help them, going through what often looks like death, and sometimes losing a limb or even failing completely when moulting. My Gryllus crickets can moult horizontally on various surfaces: sticks, rocks, egg cartons, or even on vermiculite.
I saw numerous moultings and never witnessed a problem. They moult quickly and easily. When I wasn't fast enough to grab my camera, I missed the entire process.
Moulting Gryllus crickets:

first moult: first to second instar:


young nymphs, likely 2nd to 3rd instar of 8 instars:


late middle instar:




(two moultings:)



freshly moulted Gryllus cricket, early late instar males:


freshly moulted Gryllus crickets - final instar female and final instar male:


exuvia of final instar male who moulted to full adult:


females moulting to full adult:





(Side note about Acheta domesticus: not only did my crickets live well longer than the two days asserted by the PetSmart employee, but they produced dozens and dozens of babies. It makes me wonder why people would purchase them more than once since they are so easy to breed.)


Laying eggs
Unfortunately, I have not yet photographed my Gryllus texensis mating, but I posted a mating series for Acheta domesticus which should be comparable. It shows approach, mounting, spermatophore transfer, and separation.
Acheta domesticus mating series:


My adult females who hatched from my original cricket, Grietta, lay their eggs in moist native soil. They appear to lay their eggs with ease, inserting the ovipositor into the soil while remaining at the surface.
This one-minute video illustrates the process. At the end, she walks away and you get a clear view of the ovipositor:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/95854225@N02/49245145187

At times, the crickets lay their eggs farther beneath the surface. In this instance, the Gryllus texensis first digs a deep hole and then lays her egg:


Here, a female burrows deep into the soil before laying eggs:


This is a hole made by a female. There are three eggs above the hole at the surface of the soil, likely dug up by the cricket who made this hole:


6. Food
These are the easiest creatures of anything I've raised to feed! My Labidomera clivicollis, for example, overwinter as adults and will *only* eat milkweed leaves. Trying to keep Asclepias alive and leafy over winter is insanely difficult. These guys, thankfully, will eat a variety of foods.
I am feeding mine organic Fuji and Gala apples, organic Romaine lettuce, tropical fish flakes, Fluker's High Calcium Diet (cricket powder), Fluker's Thirst Quencher, and purified water.
When they recalled the organic romaine lettuce I was using, I tried iceberg lettuce, which my crickets scoffed at. They love the dark green leafy lettuce, however, especially the romaine. When the stores resumed selling romaine from safe growers, I quickly began using it again, and my crickets munch cute little holes in it.
My crickets flatly refused the fresh carrots that I sliced for them. They love their apples and lettuce, and most of all, their tropical fish flakes. I use high quality fish food for them and buy it in large containers. I will continue to look for foods that they love.
Nymph munching on apple:


Nymphs munching on tropical fish flakes:


Nymph (last instar) having salad: (romaine lettuce). Full adult males having salad:


One thing that surprised me is that my crickets like to eat the seeds in the apples! (Lygaeidae crickets?) They really go for them.


7. Care
Gryllus crickets are surprisingly easy to care for. I change out their food daily and put in fresh food and clean water. I keep their temperatures warm and steady. They have natural daylight and night darkness. They are not overcrowded and have plenty of space, food and water, places to climb, and places to hide. They are generally only disturbed when I am changing out their food, and I am quiet and gentle with them. They seem to tolerate me well.

8. Observations
I will be adding to these observations as I go:

Song
The "song" is more of a buzz than the musical sound of other Gryllus species. My males didn't begin singing until at least five days after moulting to full adult. The song is often quite subtle: I imagine it could be missed in the field.
There are numerous different sounds in this species, ranging from buzzy (raspy) to more musical. Chirps are never consistent, as with Gryllus pennsylvanicus; that is, the pulses are not purely rhythmic.
Here's a little bit of song. I'll be adding more later:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/95854225@N02/49235477798

Rocking / Wagging
Courting males often stand near a female and rock from side to side while standing in place and singing. I've seen this behaviour in my Gryllus texensis and Acheta domesticus.


Social Behaviour
So far, my Gryllus crickets have gotten on well with each other and I haven't seen aggression. (I had to move out my Acheta domesticus because I fear their aggression.)
I don't know how adult male Gryllus crickets will do with conspecifics. Update: I have seen no aggression whatsoever. They all seem to play nicely together.
These crickets are definitely social. Even when I've had two different species in a large cage together, they will hang out near each other and socialise and communicate. In groups, they communicate with their antennae, eat together, and generally rest close together.
If a cricket is alone, the cricket gets sad and distressed and doesn't want to eat, so I avoid keeping anyone alone. Once they are with someone else, even a different species, they perk up and do much better. They are happiest when they are interacting.

Gryllus nymphs discussing their day:


Activity
My handraised crickets get fairly natural lighting during the day and darkness at night (I don't use lights between sunset and sunrise). The adult nymphs of Grietta, my original female, are active both day and night. They feed, communicate, lay eggs, and are generally active during most parts of the day.
One behaviour that I find interesting is that they walk on top of each other. The crickets being used as bridges don't seem to mind at all. They certainly have room to avoid this behaviour, but they appear to work well together.

This male peeks into the sandbox to see if any pretty ladies are around:


Wing Fluttering (and Migration?)
Young adults sometimes run around the terrarium fluttering their hindwings. I believe they would be preparing for flight in the wild. (I cannot safely release them at this time as we are having regular hard freezes through winter.)


As mine moulted to full adult, about one-third of them appeared to want to fly away: they were fluttering their wings, hopping, and attempting to leave the terrarium. I imagine that in natural conditions, they would naturally spread out. It appears that some, maybe all?, have strong hindwings built for flight. As my adults age, however, they stop fluttering their wings and it appears to me that the wings weaken considerably.

Hindwings
I've seen images of texensis and other Gryllus species, sometimes referred to as "short-winged" individuals, whose hindwings appear to be absent. All of mine have hindwings. After moulting to full adult, some of mine don't fully darken in their hindwings; that is, the hindwings remain a bit lighter than the forewings and rest of the body. None of mine have shed their hindwings; however, in some cases, the hind wings seem to be very slightly deteriorating. Perhaps if the insect does not have a need to fly (in these cases, were not free to fly off as some likely would have done in the natural), the hindwings are not needed. Because I am raising these guys in the dead of winter, I have not released any, but in spring, I will be able to release the ones who want to fly (they let me know when they want to fly!).

At Play
My Gryllus crickets like to sit and rest on rocks, climb on surfaces, and dig into the vermiculite.
They sometimes chew on their sticks.
When sleeping, they like to hide in their egg cartons and under things, and are happy to sleep cuddled with others.

An adult male observes life outside the terrarium:


Inbreeding
Because of my extremely poor skills at finding creatures in the wild, I have had to raise cricket species where inbreeding becomes an issue. My Oecanthus crickets (varicornis, celerinictus, fultoni) appear to be highly sensitive to inbreeding and do not fare well as offspring of siblings. Specifically, they develop significant deformities and become highly susceptible to disease.

I am now raising my first grandnymphs from a single female (all are offspring of siblings) and have observed problems:
* Nymphs seemed fine; moulted and developed okay
* Adults have several issues: most lose their hindwings and also lose limbs and antennal segments much more frequently than their parents who were not the result of inbreeding. (All of their parents retained their hindwings and very few lost appendages until they were at the end of their lives.) Inbred Gryllus texensis that I am raising have had shorter lifespans that their non-inbred parents. I will add more specific details on this as I get it.

I have not been able to find much literature at all on the effects of inbreeding in Orthoptera, but I would imagine that if future human generations become concerned about species transitioning to threatened, endangered, and extinct, the effects of inbreeding will need to be examined, as fewer specimens will be available in any attempts toward preservation.

Geriatrics
Because I do compassionate rearing of creatures, I get to see them age and live out what is most likely their full lifespan in ideal conditions.
The aging process is very apparent in the insects I've raised and is especially marked in crickets.
I have observed my Gryllus texensis in their very old age exhibit these characteristics:
* Ovipositor of female spreads.
* Wings become tattered.
* Often one hindleg is dropped.
* Antennal segments are dropped.
* The tarsi and sometimes tibiae of forelegs and middle legs are dropped.
* Crickets become unable to right themselves when they flip upside down. When I clean the cages each morning, I often find someone on his back wiggling his legs. Once I gently flip them over, they do okay considering their age.
* Finally, the crickets can barely crawl.

Tattered wings in elderly crickets:


example of very old female: wings deteriorated; ovipositor split and deteriorated; tarsi of forelegs dropped


This female is nearly 12 weeks after moulting to full adult. Note deterioration of antennae, tarsi, tibiae, cerci, and wings and the separation of ovipositor:


I keep hospice cages for all insects that I raise. With my crickets who can no longer right themselves or crawl well, I keep them in a hospice cage with food and thirst quencher. The cage has soft paper towel layers on the bottom and is place on a heat mat. In the final stages, I try to keep them upright and as comfortable as possible.

-----

I will add more observations as I learn more about these guys.

-----
side note: If anyone knows of a kindhearted orthopterist in Texas, please let me know!

-----
a few articles with more coming:
(Being a mere mortal, I am unable to access many of the scientific articles that I would like to try to read.)

• Effects of inbreeding on morphological and life history traits of the sand cricket, Gryllus firmus
https://www.nature.com/articles/6883630

• Exploring the relationship between tychoparthenogenesis and inbreeding depression in the Desert Locust, Schistocerca gregaria
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551105/

• Inbreeding Depression: Tests of the Overdominance and Partial Dominance Hypotheses (Gryllus firmus - article not accessible to mere mortals)
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12038534-inbreeding-depression-tests-of-the-overdominance-and-partial-dominance-hypotheses/

• Are insects impervious to inbreeding?
https://www.quora.com/Are-insects-impervious-to-inbreeding

• Inbreeding and the evolution of sociality in arthropods
http://www.mathieu-lihoreau.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Tabadkani-et-al.-2012-NAWI.pdf

• Cryptic sexual conflict in gift-giving insects: chasing the chase-away. (G. sigillatus vs Acheta domesticus - article not accessible to mere mortals)
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16475102

• Kinematic and aerodynamic aspects of ultrasound-induced negative phonotaxis in flying Australian field crickets (Teleogryllus oceanicus)
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00603954

• Adult social environment alters female reproductive investment in the cricket Gryllus firmus
https://academic.oup.com/beheco/article/29/2/440/4818409

• Male crickets adjust their aggressive behavior when a female is present (G. assimilus - article not accessible to mere mortals)
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707007

• Cricket Leg Regeneration: Histone Modification Matters
https://thenode.biologists.com/cricket-leg-regeneration-histone-modification-matters/research/