It’s just not Cricket

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]

 

A male bell cricket as illustrated in Hearn’s book. Females are less round and possess a long ovipositor between the two spine-like appendages.

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.

 

A male “singing” – rubbing its wings together produces a high-pitched sound, and alerts females to his presence.

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.

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4 Responses to It’s just not Cricket

  1. Enjoyed reading this quirky post… and reference to MP dead parrot sketch. And just not cricket .. well it sounds a short but sweet life, singing arias, mating and then pouff… gone. Had a listen to the video.. high tone, not nearly as tintinnabulous as our local crickets. BTW had to look up that excellent word, tintinnabulation… brilliant onomatopaeic 🙂

    • wildinjapan says:

      Anyone who uses the word “tintinnabulous” is a legend in my book!
      Like I said, low quality recording equipment, such as my mobile phone, can’t capture the full range of sounds of crickets and can never do them justice.

      Thanks for the shout!

  2. GOAT 山羊 says:

    I’ll never be able to hear crickets again without thinking of your house! Such a soothing sound — and Mr Hearn’s quote is wonderful as ever. He never disappoints.

    • wildinjapan says:

      Indeed, bell crickets produce such a soothing sound. Too bad the city folk like to pipe all kinds of noise pollution into their lives.
      Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to procure any more males, and I don’t think they mated before they died. One can only hope.

      And Hearn, for all his shortcomings, was a keenly observant writer. He deserves to be remembered for what he did best – collect short observations of insects and re-write ghost stories.

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