Mole crickets are burrowing crickets about 3-4 cm long, with powerful front legs which are flattened like shovels and with spurs which push soil aside surprisingly quickly when they are inadvertently dug up in the garden. The hind jumping legs are short in comparison with most crickets and grasshoppers. Mole crickets would have little use for jumping legs in the enclosed habitat of the soil. Many mole crickets can fly but this is mainly the female looking for a mate. The one pictured has short wings.
Mole cricket. Note large head to "bulldoze" its way through soil.
The front leg of a Mole Cricket.
Mole crickets are velvety looking and are covered with short, fine hairs. The two "feelers" at the hind end are large cerci or appendages. The swollen front end of the mole cricket is rather like a miniature bulldozer which also helps it push through the soil. The head is protected by the enlarged first segment of the thorax.
Mole crickets eat plant roots and cause damage in lawns and crops by cutting through roots when feeding. They also eat other organic matter and some are carnivorous on soil insects. They can cause damage on golf greens as they often tunnel through topsoil and leave mounds of soil on the green surface. Apart from digging them up in the garden, we see mole crickets on summer nights when they emerge from their burrows, scuttle across the soil surface or become attracted to lights.
Watch out when collecting these harmless insects though. They exude a nasty smelling, sticky substance from their back end when handled.
Mole cricket. Note short wings.
Quirky bit: Mole crickets are ventriloquists! Male mole crickets sing at dusk by rubbing their wings together to attract the flying females. The male digs a special singing burrow which amplifies his song to make him one of the loudest of any insect, second only to the cicada. The special complex acoustics of his singing burrow magnify hugely the sound his wings make. However, the quality of the sound he emits, makes it is difficult to locate the source of the male's song even if you are only a few centimeters from his burrow. If you are too close, they are disturbed and stop calling for the rest of the night - either that, or it means you have stepped on him!