There are nearly 150 different species of camel crickets — also known as cave crickets — in North America. Often spotted in basements, garages, and other areas — especially humid ones — these harmless crickets are sometimes mistaken for spiders.
In order to find out which species were most commonly found in American houses, researchers from North Carolina State University set up a citizen-science project and asked the public to send them photos of camel crickets, or to mail in physical specimens. The responses they got were surprising.
The most common species, reported by more than 90 percent of respondents, was the greenhouse camel cricket (Diestrammena asynamora). Native to Asia, this species was first sighted in the U.S. in the 19th century — but it was thought to be rare outside of commercial greenhouses. However, the researchers found that it is now far more common than native camel crickets in and near homes east of the Mississippi.
The researchers also sampled the yards of ten homes in Raleigh, North Carolina. They found large numbers of greenhouse camel crickets, with higher numbers being found in the areas of the yards closest to homes.
“We don’t know what kind of impact this species has on local ecosystems, though it’s possible that the greenhouse camel cricket could be driving out native camel cricket species in homes,” said Dr. Mary Jane Epps, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State and lead author of a paper about the research which was recently published in the journal PeerJ.
In addition, the researchers also received photographs of a second Asian species, Diestrammena japanica, which was highly unexpected.
“There appears to be a second Asian species, Diestrammena japanica, that hasn’t been formally reported in the U.S. before, but seems to be showing up in homes in the Northeast,” Epps said. “However, that species has only been identified based on photos. We’d love to get a physical specimen to determine whether it is D. japanica.”
The researchers stress that homeowners shouldn’t panic if they find camel crickets in their homes.
“Because they are scavengers, camel crickets may actually provide an important service in our basements or garages, eating the dead stuff that accumulates there,” said Dr. Holly Menninger, director of public science in the Your Wild Life lab at NC State and co-author of the paper.
“We know remarkably little about these camel crickets, such as their biology or how they interact with other species,” she said. “We’re interested in continuing to study them, and there’s a lot to learn.”
The Your Wild Life team at NC State is inviting people to join their Camel Cricket Project by sending them their observations and photos.
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