HELEN: I like bugs. I started a Ph.D. in ants (and quit, but still think ants are awesome). I have blogged in this space about butterflies. I think the coming of the 17-year-cicadas is one of the most exciting things that happens in the world. My record is quite clear on this: me and bugs, we have no dispute. But I make an exception for camel crickets. They are horrible. Just horrible.
ANN: They’re horrible. They’re poop-brown, have way too many legs, and they jump exactly whatever height you are. They jump on your body, you make involuntary noises. They were in my basement, hordes of them. I used to love finding them dead in the bucket of plant fertilizer or drowned in the basement toilet. Wikipedia says they live in damp, dark places and in Japan they’re called toilet crickets. In Baltimore, we call them sprickets. Do they call them that in DC too?
HELEN: I haven’t heard them called sprickets down here in DC, but it’s possible that I just haven’t had enough conversations about them. Which is why I’m so glad we’re doing this.
CASSIE: I never saw a spricket or heard of a spricket until I moved to Baltimore. I rented this awesome apartment on St. Paul Street. The first time I went into the basement to do laundry, there they were. I hated them immediately, but it was months before I realized that they are a real thing with a name that exists places other than my basement. A real species.
It’s their stupid leaping that gets to me. Footsteps make them explode into the air like leggy popcorn kernels in a too-hot pan. But often as not, they would crash into me, not leap away from me. WTF, evolution. Go home. You’re drunk. This might not sound like such a grievous offense, but try walking into a dimly lit cement room where insects are ricocheting off every surface, including your body. It’s the stuff of goddamn nightmares.
JENNY: We’ve always called those basement beasts hunchback crickets, and I would like to drop them one by one into an active volcano. Their collective screams would bring me peace. I’m also a buggy-creature lover, but I draw the line at things that leap on me without my permission. Plus, something about that hunched shape…they look like they’re plotting something evil.
ANN: They’re like Richard III, the one who murdered the little princes in the Tower. They’re like hunched evil popcorn.
JENNY: Love the evil popcorn image, Ann…I can just see them rubbing their first set of legs together and cackling as they plot. But when bugs (using term very loosely, as I’ve been told the term “bug” refers only to insects of the order Hemiptera) are leaping or moving extra fast, they are probably trying to get away because they’re scared, no? (Or is that just a roach, millipede, silverfish thing?) I always figured the crickets just have a crappy sense of direction. Like cicadas. Which fly right into me without my permission. Sprickets and cicadas need Mapquest and glasses.
ANN: Wikipedia says sprickets are not running away. It says that they’re all-but-blind and depend on a sense of touch and “will often jump towards any perceived threat in an attempt to frighten it away.”
CASSIE: Wait, so the stupid aimless spricket jumping is an actual strategy?
JENNY: If so, it works. Although if one leaps on me, I’ll likely end up squishing the foul creature because I’m going to freak out and swat at it without concern for its wellbeing. So the strategy may backfire if the target is, like me, a spazz.
HELEN : The best thing about camel crickets is that they’re easy to kill. I lived for four years in my parents’ basement and got quite good at it. Steps:
- Turn on lights
- Discover horrible sprickets, standing still in the middle of the sudden brightness
- Smack with fly swatter, but gently so their guts don’t squish out on the carpet
- Collect with tissue and flush
This makes me feel kind of bad. Most bugs I gently collect and release outside. Once I found a snake in my parents’ basement and I collected it in a bucket and took it to a nature center. Come to think of it, I should have found out if it ate camel crickets.
ANN: I’ve heard that cats eat them, also that they eat each other. Once or twice I’ve been able to stomp one and they squish in a crackly way. Maybe a pocket flame-thrower? I googled around and found an evolutionary biologist named Colin Purrington who’s apparently experimented with methods of murdering sprickets. These include an electronic trap that makes them explode, an airsoft gun with which you should wear goggles, importing mice to eat them and then importing giant tropical centipedes to eat the mice, and a motion-activated vacuum cleaner, to which he added a red party light. I stand humbled in the presence of a man so capable, so brilliant, so focused.
JENNY: Wow. I wonder if he’s single? I’m guessing he’s single.
HELEN: The worst thing about camel crickets is that they exist. Once I was midway into getting into bed when I realized that there was one IN MY BED and I sprang right back out of there. I made some kind of strangled “gaaahhhh” sound, too.
ANN: I’d have had to torch the house.
CASSIE: This reminds me of the scene in Edward Scissorhands where the daughter comes into her room, flips on the light, sees Edward, screams, and Edward pokes a million holes in the waterbed. I don’t know why. Maybe the sprickets are like Edward — terrifying to look at, but more scared of us than we are of them. (That doesn’t seem possible, though.)
ANN: I used to see them every time I went into the basement. Then one day I went out into the garage (which shares a wall with the basement) and moved a table that was leaning against the wall and behind it, the wall was black with sprickets. I could talk intellectually about bugs in the aggregate being worse than bugs one-at-a-time, but frankly I have to stop typing now because my hands are shaking.
CASSIE: I have a little theory. Let me try this out on you. I think our abhorrence of particular insects has everything to do with how they move. The more unpredictable and foreign the motion, the greater the hate. For example, I also hate centipedes. They don’t leap at all, but they’re very fast. Creepily fast. And they do that slithering S-shaped thing. I literally just shivered thinking about how centipedes move. Ew.
JENNY: Also, the more legs, the ickier, I think. I like spiders and will leave them alone or gently free them, but I hate the various “pedes” that show up in my bathtub. I’ll swim with sharks but I make my husband come kill those nasty things. It’s like those legs have a mind of their own.
CASSIE: I will poke a hole in your theory, Jenny. I don’t mind millipedes. They have so many legs they don’t actually move that fast. And now I’ll poke a hole in my theory: It can’t be all about speed and unpredictability, because lots of people (myself included) also hate wasps. So causing injury has to be a factor too.
JENNY: Good point. It’s hard to like things that hurt you, but that’s especially true if they’re small enough to sneak up on you. I mean, I like grizzly bears even if they can kill me. Little flying stinging things that suddenly get in my face, not so much.
ANN: I think hating hurty wasps is just rational. I can admire a wasp. But I loathe and despise sprickets, I hate everything about them, I need to kill them. Psychology calls this entomophobia and so far, Jenny and Cassie have said more interesting things about it than the psychologists — who seem more interested in differentiating it from delusional parasitosis, and I’m not going to link to that.
JENNY: Here’s a thought, though. Maybe if we learned more about sprickets, we’d find something to love? That’s how I came to like spiders. I worked on an article about spider webs and became enamored of their weavers. Should we provide readers with some truth about these horrible hunchback crickets? Maybe they’re pollinators or gather at dawn to sing in harmony or something. Helen? You’re good at truth.
ANN: Helen is certainly good at truth, but it’s not going to make me love sprickets, not even respect them, not even the little baby ones that are easier to stomp.
HELEN: I will admit, I did enjoy learning a bit more about them recently–apparently there was a citizen science project that asked people to collect sprickets (ugh) or photos of sprickets (ugh) from their basements. Scientists used the data to figure out where sprickets live. For one thing: Yes, there are a lot of them East of the Mississippi. If you’re from Wyoming and wondering what the heck we’re talking about, well, you’re just lucky to live in a low-spricket state. Also, they found that most households had been invaded by an Asian camel cricket, while only 12% had a native–also horrible–species. Bethany Brookshire did a nice story about the research at Science News for Students.
I have to admit to a kind of appreciation for anything that has figured out how to live alongside humans. These little critters have figured us out. We build them basements; they sproing in our faces. They’re actually slow-moving enough to nail with a fly swatter, and yet somehow there are more of them every time you go down the stairs. And somehow we coexist.
I still hate them, though.
Photo: Steve Fernie