July 17, 2012 at 3:47 PM

‘Jerusalem Crickets’

"In New Mexico, this 'child of the earth' is relatively common although less often seen"

By Karen Denison

At Home Outdoors

Karen Denison is owner of Outspire Hiking and Snowshoeing guide service, a former biologist, and a shameless admirer of the outdoors.

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My first encounter with a "ni¤a de la tierra" came many summers ago.  For whatever reason, it marched in through the patio door and across the carpet catching me unawares as I watched TV one night.  Now usually I'm not squeamish but there was something decidedly wrong about this big-headed, flesh-colored 1-1/2 inch creature marching purposefully across the carpet. I might have yelped....

In New Mexico, this "child of the earth" is relatively common although less often seen.  They are large, solitary relatives of crickets elsewhere they are called potato bugs, skull bugs, or "Jerusalem crickets."  One Navajo name translates to "old bald-headed man".  They are largely nocturnal and spend most of their time foraging for other insects or decaying organic matter.  Their legs and body shape reflect their terrific burrowing capability and when threatened, they burrow quickly and efficiently out of sight.

Despite their fearsome appearance, they are not aggressive, don't sting, and have no venom. They will give a nasty pinch, however, if a silly person tries to pick them up.

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