Jerusalem crickets (scientific name : Stenopelmatus fuscus), commonly called potato bugs, are nocturnal insects belonging to the genus Stenopelmatus. They are also known by other names such as devil's spawn, devil's child, earth fetus, etc. Though Armadillidium vulgare or Colorado beetle are also called potato bugs, in this article we are referring to Jerusalem crickets as potato bugs.
Found all throughout western United States and parts of Mexico, Jerusalem crickets are large flightless insects that look really disgusting. With black and orange banded bodies, these 2 to 2.5 inches long insects can be identified anywhere because of their conspicuous humanoid heads. Their bodies bear semblance to the bodies of engorged wasps and their long, translucent legs resemble the legs of giant spiders.
Thus, all these features put together, they don't make a very pretty insect. Potato bugs complete a generation within one year, beginning from eggs which hatch in spring and develop into adults by fall. Potato bugs like other insect bite humans. The bites are undoubtedly painful, however, are they poisonous?
Are Potato Bugs Poisonous?
A bite from a potato bug is sure to cause one to yelp in pain. It is quite painful. However, contrary to popular myths, potato bugs are not venomous. These insects do contain a toxin-rich saliva, however, this only causes harm to plants. Because of the absence of any kind of poison glands, potato bugs are not poisonous.
Nevertheless, they do inflict painful bites with the help of their powerful jaws and mandibles. These mandibles are used to dig into the hard earth's surface, so one can imagine how strong they must be. No wonder, when these powerful mandibles are inserted into one's flesh, it hurts so much!
More than biting, these pesky insects gnaw and they emit a foul kind of smell. Potato bugs are not very aggressive and generally shy away from people. However, having said this, if these insects are provoked or disturbed, they will give you a piece of their mind!
The name 'potato bug' misguides people and causes one to think that these bugs devour potato plantations, which is why they are named so. However, these bugs do not have any specific preference to potatoes. Moreover, their other name Jerusalem cricket can also be misleading.
They are neither true crickets (they do not chirp like crickets, but hiss) nor are insects related to the city Jerusalem. They are also not bugs, but insects, which primarily feed on dead organic matter, however, they also relish live insects.
These are shy insects that spend most of their time underground. They possess highly adapted feet that they use for burrowing. The large head is supported by strong muscles that also support the jaws to dig deeper into the soil and feed on dead as well as living matter. They feed on decaying roots of plants and tubers. These insects do not have wings and hop to move about.
Potato bugs are mostly discovered while preparing the soil for spring or winter planting. They suck out plant juices from the undersides of leaves and stems of almost all vegetable and fruit crops. The toxin-rich saliva causes harm to the plants. The leaves of the plants begin to curl and they begin to show stunted growth. Thus, they are a pain to gardeners.
Although potato bugs are not found in large numbers and cannot be termed as pests, potato bug bites are not very pleasant. Therefore, one needs to get rid of them as soon as possible. To make your vegetable garden free from potato bugs, you can introduce their natural predators to the garden, such as spined soldierbug, stinkbug and ladybug.
If you have a small garden, then you can even handpick these potato bugs. However, wear gloves before doing so. If you handle them carefully, they will not bite you. Potato bug bites can be extremely painful. Thus, it's important to take necessary precautions.