The name signifies “bell-insect;” but the bell of which the sound is thus referred to is a very small bell, or a bunch of little bells such as a Shinto priestess uses in the sacred dances. The suzumushi is a great favorite with insect-fanciers, and is bred in great numbers for the market. In the wild state it is found in many parts of Japan; and at night the noise made by multitudes of suzumushi in certain lonesome places might easily be mistaken,—as it has been by myself more than once,—for the sound of rapids. The Japanese description of the insect as resembling “a watermelon seed”—the black kind—is excellent. It is very small, with a black back, and a white or yellowish belly. Its tintinnabulation—ri-ï-ï-ï-in, as the Japanese render the sound—might easily be mistaken for the tinkling of a suzu.
From Exotics and Retrospectives
by Lafcadio Hearn
Apologies for my lack of activity on the blogging front over the last month. I have my rationales, my reasons and even my excuses, but you don’t need to hear them. (Suffice to say they included work, a large typhoon, and a whirlwind visit by former workmate and fellow blogger Ian)
As it turns out, I’m writing this a little too late: the stars of the show – the male bell crickets – reached the end of their short lives a little earlier than expected. [Cue Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” sketch]
Homoeogryllus japonicus is known locally as suzumushi (鈴虫) – literally “bell insect”, as Hearn noted – but was once known as matsumushi (松虫). The latter name is used for a similar cricket, Xenogryllus marmoratus. There is some confusion between the two, but even literature differentiates their songs.
Bell crickets are immensely popular in late summer to early autumn, when males start their high-pitched mating calls. It is precisely for this reason that they have been bred and raised in captivity for centuries. And while urbanization may have reduced their natural habitats somewhat, culturing them may have actually increased their range.
Bell cricket nymphs hatch from eggs in late spring, undergo a number of molts, and complete their growth by mid-summer. They (hopefully!) mate, and wild specimens typically die by the end of September. They tend to last longer in captivity.
People tend to think of crickets as purely herbivores, but they do eat animal material. Breeders have learned that adding some dried fish or bonito flakes to their diet reduces instances of cannibalism.
A curious fact about the bell cricket’s song is that the pitch is too high for most telephone microphones and speakers to relay, and it even confounds a lot of general-purpose recording equipment.
I’m going to see if I can’t get a few more males, as I want to try my hand at breeding them. Wish me luck.