Tree Crickets

Posted August 23rd, 2009 by John Callender

I’ve heard male crickets singing at night since I was a young boy, but I’ve never seen one singing. A few weeks ago Linda and I started hearing one in the backyard, and one evening I was interested enough to head out with a flashlight. I didn’t expect I’d actually be able to find the cricket; I’d always believed (without ever testing it) that crickets are natural ventriloquists, very hard to locate by ear, and that the insect would stop singing as I approached.

But no, it turns out this cricket was quite happy to let me locate and sneak up on him, and continued singing even as I got close enough (too close, it turns out) to snap this photo:


I say “too close” because the image is a little out of focus, something I didn’t notice until I got inside and uploaded the image to my computer. But by then I couldn’t go back and try for a better-focused shot, because while taking the above image I accidentally jostled a branch, causing him to stop singing and lower his wings (which are in their raised, singing position in that shot above). Here’s an even-fuzzier shot I got after he lowered his wings:


I got in trouble with Linda for making the cricket stop singing, and she forbade me to bother it any more; she’s still mad about it two weeks later. So that’s the best I can do, image-wise.

It turns out, though, that there’s lots of information about tree crickets (which is what this guy was) online; so I’ve since learned that this was probably either a snowy tree cricket (Oecanthus fultoni), which is found all through the lower 48 states, or a Riley’s tree cricket (O. rileyi), found only in the western states.

To tell the difference, I could have examined the little black markings in the first two segments at the base of the insect’s antennae. Or I could have carefully measured the temperature, and the rate at which the insect was chirping; Riley’s chirps are somewhat slower for a given temperature, while snowy chirps are somewhat faster. Snowy chirps also are faster in western populations than eastern ones, possibly because that helps the insects distinguish themselves from Riley’s.

I love the Internet.

Lots more about tree crickets is available at, which apparently is the product of an amateur tree cricket lover who got bit by the bug (so to speak) fairly hard.

Finally, here’s 7 seconds of video of a male snowy tree cricket singing, courtesy of YouTube user TreeCricketFan, who may be the same hard-bitten obsessive mentioned above, or a different one; I’m not sure:

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