What is a Jerusalem Cricket?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The Jerusalem cricket is a large insect, which is also known as the potato bug. It has alternate names like earth baby, nino de la terra, or cara de nino. This last name, face of the baby, is popular because from the top of the insect, the head looks something like a young baby, though most people consider it not nearly as attractive. In fact, aside from the name, the Jerusalem cricket is more apt to give people an unpleasant surprise due to its large size and somewhat translucent amber or brown color.

Some believe that Jerusalem crickets may have been named because they ate Jerusalem artichokes.
Some believe that Jerusalem crickets may have been named because they ate Jerusalem artichokes.

Each name for the Jerusalem cricket is a little bit deceptive. They are of the genus Stenopelmatidae and they aren’t actually true crickets. They’re also not true bugs, as the name potato bug implies. They lack wings, and some people confuse them with bees. This is because their lower body many be striped with black and light brown to dark brown bands.

Some rumors have it that the Jerusalem cricket is venomous like bees or yellow jackets, yet this is not true. They can bite hard because their jaws are strong, but they tend not to want to bite humans if they’re left alone. It’s probably more likely that a Jerusalem cricket might bite an inquiring animal that decides to sniff it at.

These insects are difficult to ignore since full grown ones may be as much as 2 inches (5.08 cm) in length. You’re most likely to see them in the evening hours because they are usually nocturnal. People often see just one potato bug at a time, because these insects are not social and don’t tend to live in groups.

You’ll primarily find Jerusalem crickets in the Western United States and they also occur in Mexico, especially in areas along the Pacific coast. They don’t live anywhere near Jerusalem, which sparks some interesting questions about how they came by their most common name. There are a few colorful explanations for this name, which began being popularly used in the early 19th century.

One explanation is that when the Jerusalem cricket is resting, it resembles a type of cross called a Jerusalem cross. Another idea is that Jerusalem crickets may have eaten Jerusalem artichokes, which grow along the range of the cricket, since they primarily consume organic matter. Alternately, perhaps the funniest, though difficult to prove explanation, is that saying “Jerusalem” was a slang term to express surprise. Since these insects are large, it might be hard not to see one without letting out some sort of exclamation, though it should be remembered that these insects tend to be harmless.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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I just found one crawling around in my front yard. In mid day. It was huge, I had to google it to find out what it was. Never seen one before. It is near freezing cold too. I was surprised to see one during this weather here in Oklahoma.


I found one outside not far from where my cat naps. I am going to wash the bed to be sure there aren't more out there as I don't want her to get bitten. She loves bugs, well to play with them anyway.

I put it in a jar to show family and looked it up. We measured it through the jar and it's 2 3/4" long and its head is three times fatter than its tail. We're going to see if we can keep it alive in a small carry tank. Great for show and tell for the kids!


I was digging in my garden for worms and I saw one of these things. I named it thing. I had no idea what it was until I searched it on the web. Thanks far all the info!


I found one in Oklahoma. Is this common?


Some of you may be seeing mole crickets. They are kind of similar, especially if you've never seen either.


My cat was trying to bring in one of these tonight, and scared me to death. It was huge! I did kill it, and now thankfully I know what it was. I had never seen one before, lived in California all my life. Don't care to see one again.


I squished one tonight and a couple minutes later there were two very long, very thin "tentacle "like appendages protruding from it's abdomen. We inspected and they were intact attached and moving! I've never seen that before and have yet to find it on the Internet. They were probably three to four times it's body length long and very thin. Anyone know if that's normal or have ever seen that?


Found one in my garden and scared the crap out of me. I killed it with a shovel and soon enough the ants took over. Saw one a few years ago in the bathroom but only saw it for half a second before someone got rid of it. Finally found out what it was. Thanks.


Found one outside in my yard on our way back from the evening walk. Scared my three year old to death. It was so big, at first I was terrified and ran with my baby and three year old into the house as fast as I could go. No offense to the cricket, but I hope I never see it again.


Found one of these on the kitchen counter in the mid morning. Strange thing is that we live in oklahoma and reading about this bug it seems to be more native in the western region. is this normal?


I found one crawling on the living floor. I looked down at it and it looked up at me! His head turned up to me! I put it in a jar and gave it to exterminator and he told me what it was. I was told that they eat concrete.


I found a dead one on the porch out in the rain. When I was little, I remember loving it! I forgot how freaky it is, especially when it's dead. Thank you for the info. It was super useful!


I saw this bug at last night when I was lying in bed. I heard something fall from my ceiling to the floor and looked to see what it was. Then I saw that bug and started running cause I thought it was like a scorpion spider or something and I had my uncle get it out cause I was to scared to go to my room. So I slept in the living room for the rest of the night.

I also came on this website to identify what it was and if it was harmful or dangerous if it bit you, because this was so close to falling on my face. Ahh so. thanks for this website.


I just found one on my bathroom floor. Not sure how it got there, but it certainly was unusual, and of course, I spent the next hour on the internet trying to figure out what it was, now to only figure out how it got there.


The same thing happened to us! My daughter found one upstairs struggling to turn over. None of us had ever seen this insect before, so it was great to be able to have it identified for us. Keep up the great work!


I found one of these this morning, and was shocked! It's h-u-g-e, and I just had to do a bit of research to figure out if it was harmful or not. Luckily it's not if it had been a termite with lots of relatives? We'd have no wood left in California! I am glad this article included photographs and information for me. -- the amateur insect admirer.

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