Friday, January 22, 2010

Cricket mystery, solved at last?

On September 25, 2006, at about 9 pm, I heard a cricket singing loudly in a crevice under the stairs going from the Shakespeare Garden to the Belvedere Castle. Curious to see the little singer I coaxed it out with a twig. It popped out for a few seconds and I quickly photographed it. Here's the photo:
I was confident I'd be able to find the critter in the highly touted Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids and Crickets by Capinera, Scott and Walker, a book I had recently acquired. On its cover is a beautiful orange and yellow and black cricket that I had no trouble finding in the book. There it was on Plate 22. a so-called pictured grasshopper, Dactylotum bicolor, only to be found along the western edge of the Great Plains from Montana to Northern Mexico, and west to Arizona. Nowhere near Central Park

Meanwhile, identifying my Shakespeare Garden cricket was much harder. There are many very similar little brown orthopterans in the book. So I sent the photo to BugGuide, a valuable internet resource for entomologists. And the next day it appeared on the BugGuide page of photos of insects to beidentified. Then I waited. And waited.

It was to be a rather long wait. In fact I had completely forgotten about my mystery cricket until I received an e-mail from the folks at BugGuide last week, almost 3 1/2 years later:

Hello Marie Winn, A page to which you have subscribed has been updated. To view the page, browse to

Well, I clicked on the link [as you are invited to do also], and after making my way through a lot of complicated stuff, I finally came upon the final identification of my Shakespeare Garden Cricket. The identifier was David J. Ferguson, a botanist , entomologist and one of BugGuide's contributing editors. He noted" Thought this was a Miogryllus; however, it has the huge jaws of the Asian species. Didn't know it was as far north as New York, but it's definitely this species " And he named a species name.

There on the BugGuide page was the photo I took on September 25, 2006,But now it had a final, authoritative identification:
Cricket just emerged from crevice - Velarifictorus micado - Male
New York City, Central Park, New York County, New York, USA
September 25, 2006
Size: maybe an inch

I did a little internet search for Velarifictorus micado, also known as the Japanese burrowing cricket, and here's what I learned:

This species, native to Japan, was first discovered in the United States in 1959 (Alexander & Walker 1962). By 1977 it had become established in the District of Columbia and at least 23 counties in 6 southeastern states (Walker 1977). Its rapid spread was probably by overwintering eggs in soil in the root balls of ornamental shrubs shipped from nurseries near Mobile, Alabama. The largely suburban and spotty distribution of V. micado agrees with this scenario.

I went back to the Capinera, Scott, Walter Field Guide and found the Japanese Burrowing cricket on plate 43..Maybe it it was simply my disappointment at learning that my Shakespeare Garden mystery singer, turned out to be a lowly invasive species, the starling or the house sparrow of the cricket world.

Nevertheless I'm not really convinced that Mr. Ferguson's ID is right. I know it's presumptuous to doubt someone with his credentials. Still, I don't think the picture on plate 43 in the Field Guide really looks like the one in my photograph. There. I've said it.

What do you think? *

More anon.

*This is a special challenge to Sandy Spitalnik.