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Potato Bug

Potato Bug

The Jerusalem cricket, which is also called potato bug, is a wingless insect that feeds on dead organic matter. This article provides more interesting facts.
Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
Indigenous to Mexico and other parts of the United states, the Jerusalem cricket (also called potato bug) is a nocturnal insect species. It is still not clear as to why this flightless insect is named as Jerusalem cricket or potato bug. It is neither a true cricket native to Jerusalem, nor is it a pest that destroys potatoes. It must be noted that the term 'potato bug' may even be used for referring to Armadillidium vulgare (also called pill bug, roly poly, or sowbug), or Colorado beetle. This article would be referring to Jerusalem cricket as potato bug.

The potato bug has strong mandibles and legs, which increase its efficiency for feeding on organic matter. In short, dead organic material is the main food for this insect. Very often, this bug is found underneath the soil layer in vegetable and flower gardens, where there are lots of decaying roots and plant portions. Thus, you can check for holes in moist soil for finding potato bugs.

Identifying a potato bug is easy because of its characteristic features. Brown in color, it has a large, human-like head that bears two black compound eyes on each side. The abdominal portion is black with distinctive stripes. On the belly side, it is cream in color.

Is it Poisonous?
When threatened, a potato bug will bite. With strong mouth parts, this insect bite triggers painful symptoms. However, it does not require any treatment, and the symptoms subside on their own within a few minutes. Thus, in contrary to the myth that a potato bug is venomous, it is found to be a harmless insect.

No doubt potato bugs are found in deep burrows in the garden soil. However, it does little damage to the vegetation or the flowers. Rather, a potato bug is considered as a beneficial insect, as it feeds on other smaller insects and plant pests. Its burrowing habit also helps in aerating soil and increasing porosity. It may rarely be seen indoors, unless there's a lack of food outdoors.

Listed below are some facts, which you may find interesting.
  • In Spanish, the potato bug is called by names cara de niño (meaning child's face) and Niñas de la Tierra (meaning girl of the earth). Other names are skull insect, red-skull bug, and big red-skull.
  • Its scientific name is Stenopelmatus that is classified under the family Stenopelmatidae.
  • Potato bug is omnivorous, feeding on dead plant parts and small insects. Its mouth parts are adapted for feeding on tough organic matter. For gardening enthusiasts, it serves as an organism for biological pest control.
  • The most interesting part is the generation of sound without wings or any other sound generating parts. In fact, it does not have sound hearing features either.
  • At the time of mating, the potato bug produces a specific sound by beating its abdomen on the ground. For defensive purposes, it generates hissing sounds by rubbing its legs on the belly. Unlike other sound-producing insects, it does not rub its legs together.
  • In fall season, the adult female lays several white-colored, oval-shaped eggs in moist soil. The eggs hatch into nymphs during spring, when it is warmer. After spending 2 years as nymphs, they mature into adult potato bugs.
  • Its life cycle comprises eggs, nymphs, and adults. Thus, it has an incomplete metamorphosis, which is characteristic of its order Orthoptera.
Being a harmless insect, pest control for the Jerusalem cricket is not required. Nevertheless, if it bothers you, you may consider using conventional pest control methods. You don't need to use chemical pesticides as the first option, as it responds well to eco-friendly techniques.