Not even close.
It's a Jerusalem cricket, sometimes called a "potato bug."
The be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) for the Asian giant hornet detected in Canada and Washington state has resulted in scores of queries and submissions of not-even-close specimens.
The poor ol' potato bug gets blamed for being an Asian giant hornet, which the media labeled "the murder hornet." (Wish they wouldn't.)
"Some of the local insects that have been confused with invasive hornets are Jerusalem crickets, bald-faced hornets and cicada killers," says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
In a Bohart Fact Sheet, she writes:
"Jerusalem crickets are among the largest insects found in western North America. They range in size from 1-2½ inches long. In North America they are found only west of the Rocky Mountains. The large shiny brown abdomen with dark stripes, large ovoid head, and spiny hind legs are diagnostic features of these crickets. Both juvenile stages and adults are wingless and crawl slowly. These large crickets belong to the family Stenopelmatidae. The most widespread species found in California is Stenopelmatus fuscus. Even though they are essentially harmless, there is considerable mythology about the dangerous nature of these large wingless, ground dwelling insects. Much of this mythology is due to their large size, large, bald humanoid head, and massive jaws. Jerusalem Crickets can bite, so some care should be taken when handling them; otherwise, despite their ferocious appearance, they are harmless. They are also not considered to be agricultural pests, as they do not cause noticeable damage to garden or crop plants.
"Although the officially recognized common name for this insect is Jerusalem Cricket, a number of other names also are used including: "Potato Bugs", Woh-tzi-Neh ("old bald-headed man") or "Niña de la Tierra" ("little girl of the earth"). The name "Potato Bugs" is used because they occasionally will feed on potato tubers. Jerusalem crickets are nocturnal, coming out at night to feed. During the day, particularly in the summer months, they can be found underneath rocks, logs or boards. These crickets are to some extent scavengers, feeding on plant roots and tubers, and sometimes even on dead animal matter. Unlike most other crickets, female Jerusalem Crickets sometimes kill the males after mating. Jerusalem crickets can generate sound by rubbing the back leg against the side of the abdomen (stridulation). These large crickets are an important source of food, particularly during the winter for a number of different birds of prey including barn and burrowing owls and small hawks, like kestrels."
Kimsey, a noted authority on Hymenoptera (bees and wasps) and a past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists, is highly sought for her expertise on the Asian giant hornet.
And now, in a collaborative project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Bohart Museum scientists are imaging insect specimens misidentified as the invasive hornet. The Bohart Museum houses a dual system, a GIGA macro system and a Leica microsope system, the later necessary for imaging smaller insects. "Examples of smaller insects," Kimsey says, "would be some of the parasitoid wasps which can be 1 mm in length. Both systems can offer images at 100x life size."
"Ultimately these images will be used to educate and train inspectors and USDA agents who are tasked with intercepting invasive insects in cargo loads and shipping containers from around the world," Kimsey says.
Now give the poor ol' potato bug a break. It is NOT the Asian giant hornet...and please don't call it a murder cricket.
It's a strange little insect.
A reader likens it to "a cricket on steroids."
A Van Nuys resident says she always wondered what they were. "I've lived in this house for 17 years, and a few times a year I see this strange insect in my backyard. It is always either dead or dying. It has a really large head and seems to be a bit top-heavy and has problems walking. I have never seen these insects anywhere but in my backyard and no one seems to know what they are. I feel badly for the little critters, since they don't seem to be thriving."
A Vacaville resident encountered this "unknown species of insect" in her backyard. Her dog discovered the first one. Dead. She discovered the second. Alive.
Guess what they found? A Jerusalem cricket, also known as a "potato bug" because it occasionally feeds on potato tubers.
They're among the largest insects found in California and elsewhere in western North America, says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
The adult is characterized by its "large shiny brown abdomen with dark stripes, large ovoid head and spiny hind legs."
These ground dwellers crawl (slowly) but they don't fly. They belong to the family Stenopelmatidae. The common species found in California is Stenopelmatus fuscus, Kimsey says.
Kimsey also says they are harmless, although if you handle them, they may bite.
So when you're digging around in your backyard, you may find them under rocks, logs or boards. They feed on plant roots and tubers. "They generate sound by rubbing the hind leg against the side of the abdomen (stridulation)," Kimsey says.
In her Fact Sheet on Jerusalem Crickets posted on the Bohart Museum website: Kimsey points out that "Unlike most other crickets, female Jerusalem crickets frequenty kill the males after mating."
Ah, a touch of the praying mantis behavior!
We've seen Jerusalem crickets beneath the grounds of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. We've also seen their predators: birds of prey, including owls and hawks, but never the prey and predator together.
Seems like a tasty treat for a burrowing owl.
If you don't know what it is, don't kill it.
That insect in your garden could very well be a beneficial insect.
If you operate on the "shoot-first-ask-questions later" or "the only good bug is a dead bug," no telling how many insects--and generations--you'll be destroying.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, tells this story that's worth remembering.
"Last week I was walking across Capitol Park in Sacramento when I observed a smartly dressed young woman in her 20s stomp a praying mantis and grind it into the sidewalk. She exclaimed to her phenotypically similar friend: 'Did you ever see such an ugly, icky bug?'"
And, many years ago, Shapiro encountered a man in College Park, Davis, in the act of stomping a Tiger Swallowtail.
Shapiro asked him why he was doing this.
The man replied: "This is the bug that has the big green caterpillar that eats my tomato plants!"
When Shapiro told him it wasn't, the man told him to check his information, and that "I'm right and you're wrong."
There is indeed a lot of misinformation and misidentification out there.
Tabatha Yang of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis relates the story about an avid gardener who absolutely loved ladybugs (aka lady beetles) because of their voracious appetites for aphids. But when our avid gardener came across "some weird black and orange bugs," she promptly killed them.
Little did she know that she was killing immature ladybugs.
Then there's the story about a UC Master Gardener who encountered a "green-eyed golden bumblebee-like" insect that frightened her because it buzzed so loudly around her flower beds. So, she killed it. Turns out it was a pollinator, a male Valley carpenter bee, also known as a "teddy bear."
And, can you imagine what goes through people's minds when they meet up with a Jerusalem cricket in the mud after a rain? Whoa! Bug-o-mania!
Here's where the Bohart Museum, 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, UC Davis campus, can help. If you live in California and see an insect and wonder if it's beneficial insect or a pest--or just want to know what it is--take a photo of it and email it to the Bohart. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum (home of more than seven million specimens) and professor of entomology at UC Davis, identifies insects in between research, teaching, administering the Bohart Museum, and other duties. Her email address: email@example.com.
Maybe, just maybe, this will save a few praying mantids, ladybugs, Valley carpenter bees and Jerusalem crickets./span>
It was an unexpected visit.
She found it several days after the massive Oct. 12 storm raced through Northern California.
The heavy rain soaked the earth, apparently forcing the critter from its habitat.
How it wound up in the restroom is anybody's guess.
What is it?
Not a true cricket, though. It's an insect (genus Stenopelmatus) that feeds primarily on decaying organic material (and occasionally insects). It burrows into the soil using its highly specialized feet.
And yes, it does inflect a sometimes painful bite, as Cobey can attest.
It's not lethal though.
Cobey returned it to the Laidlaw grounds, releasing it near a stump.
She has no plans to trade her honey bees in for Jerusalem crickets.