Lawns are prone not only to pathogenic infections but also to pest infestations, such as crickets. Depending on the species, these pests can cause serious damage to lawns, sod farms, and golf courses. Damage control starts with timely identification of the cricket species and reduction of conditions that increase grass susceptibility to the pest.
Crickets infest lawns when environmental conditions are hospitable. Warm days, dry soil, and mowing the lawn too short all contribute to cricket infestations.
About Lawn Crickets
Mole crickets are insects from the Orthoptera order with 1 1/2-inch-long, cylindrical brown bodies. The rear of the head has a shieldlike area with two pairs of distinct, light-colored spots. The front legs are enlarged and shovel-like with two fingerlike projections. Adult mole crickets have sturdy wings long enough to cover nearly the entire abdomen when lying flat.
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Mole crickets are fast runners but poor jumpers. The insects fly mostly during the night. Young crickets or the nymphs are almost like the adults in appearance but smaller in size and without the well-developed wings.
Field crickets and the smaller ground crickets are smaller than mole crickets, ranging from 1 1/4 inches to less than 1/2 inch long. While annoying, they do not do as much damage to lawns as mole crickets.
Causes of Cricket Infestations
The growth habit of various turfgrass species makes the grasses more prone to injury. Grasses with an open growth habit such as bahiagrass result in dry soil around the roots which, in turn, invites the pests. Bermudagrass turf that is mowed very short results in reduction of root depth, and this creates favorable conditions for mole cricket infestations.
St. Augustinegrass lawns are less severely affected, with zoysiagrass the least affected grass species. On a general note, grasses that have a fine texture suffer the most damage. Mowing grass at the appropriate height for the species helps discourage crickets and other pests.
Damage by Crickets
Mole crickets are primarily root eaters and feed on grass roots. As the pests feed, their movement through the soil under turf disturbs normal growth. The insects use their strong front legs to tunnel through the roots. This loosens and uproots turf, leading to drying and dying grass.
These nocturnal pests feed at night and can easily tunnel through 10 to 20 feet of turfgrass during a single night. The burrows are created primarily in spring and early summer and in late fall and early winter. Mole crickets spend the day in their burrows, safe from the sun's rays and predators, such as birds.
Control of Crickets
The recommended time to apply pesticides to the lawn for mole cricket control is in late spring and early summer when the eggs are hatching and while the nymphs are young. The pests are hard to control once they mature and tunnel deep into the soil.
To determine where the crickets are in their life cycle and how many infest the area, mix 1 to 2 ounces of dishwashing liquid in 1 gallon water. Mark a 2-foot-square area and saturate it with the soapy solution. The crickets will emerge from the water-soaked area. Capture a few to examine and determine the species and stage of development.
When you're ready to treat the lawn, purchase one of the insecticides that are recommended for crickets; these include neonicotinoid, organophosphate, and synthetic pyrethroid products. Put on protective gear, including safety goggles, gloves, and a mask, and apply the liquid or granular insecticide or mole cricket bait according to the manufacturer's directions. Avoid watering the lawn for two to three days after treatment.