California Potato Bug (Aggressive, Sometimes)

The California potato bug is the name commonly given to Jerusalem crickets, a type of insect found in California and other western states in the U.S. Despite what their name might suggest, these insects or neither crickets nor are they native species to Jerusalem. In fact, they don’t even eat potatoes, at least not that often. 

Jerusalem insects draw quite a lot of attention in California due to their size and intimidating appearance. Moreover, they have a nasty bite and aren’t afraid to use it when provoked. That said, California potato bugs dwell mainly outdoors and typically don’t act aggressively unless disturbed. 

Extreme Close Up Of A Jerusalem Cricket Or Potato Bug Nocturnal Insect - California Places, Travel, And News.
Extreme Close Up Of A Jerusalem Cricket Or Potato Bug Nocturnal Insect

About the California Potato Bug

Compared to common bugs found across the country, like beetles, ants, or flies, California potato bugs are rather large, measuring up to three inches long. These flightless insects spend most of their time burrowing into the soil in search of food. 

Although they can be found above ground, most people come across them when gardening. They spend the majority of their time below the soil and are often uprooted when gardeners dig or remove plants from the soil.

Their rather unsightly appearance and size make people wary of them. However, they are not harmful to humans.

California Potato Bug Size and Appearance

Potato bugs are recognized by their distinct large bulbous head and rotund abdomen. Their backs are patterned with black or dark brown and yellow horizontal stripes. They have six legs: two at the front, two in the center, and two hind legs. Their hindlegs are the largest and form a hoop shape, similar to a cricket. 

Each leg has a set of toes that’s useful for digging and foraging for food. Their large jaws and teeth ensure they have no problem snacking on various food sources. Unfortunately for some, they also use these powerful features to deliver a painful bite. If you come across one, it’s best to avoid disturbing them. 

California potato bugs use long antennae and eyes to guide them through the soil. However, their small eyes mean their vision is very poor.

They don’t have wings and cannot fly. Instead, they use their legs to hop around and dig short distances. Their sturdy spines ensure they are strong and durable. 

Adult bugs grow to about two to three inches in length. They take approximately 18 months to reach adulthood so you can find California potato bugs across a range of sizes. 

Jerusalem Cricket - California Places, Travel, And News.
Jerusalem Cricket

California Potato Bug Habitat

California potato bugs prefer to stay in the dark so they are rarely seen wandering above ground in daylight hours. They are mainly found under the soil, rocks, or logs. While they thrive in nutrient-dense earth, they also flourish near decaying wood and are prominent in areas where the deadwood is common.

Like many bugs, they remain hidden during the day and tend to reveal themselves at night when it’s dark. Because they’re easy prey to predators, like birds or coyotes, potato bugs remain sheltered as much as possible.

While they usually stay outdoors, they occasionally enter homes and live under floorboards or furniture. 

California Potato Bug Diet

Most people believe that potato bugs get their name from the type of food that they consume. However, this is incorrect. They were given this name because they were often found in potato fields due to their rich soil and abundance of roots and tubers from the potato crops.

Jerusalem crickets are predominantly omnivores. This means that their diet consists of plant and animal-based foods. They rarely feed on actual potatoes. Instead, they eat the roots and tubers that grow below the surface of the crop. Potato bugs also consume decaying plant materials so they gather in gardens during winter when dead crops are left over. 

In terms of the animal portion of their diet, potato bugs are known to prey on other insects, like worms and crickets. Although they are not regarded as plant or animal pests, they often feed on decaying organisms, whether dead animals or natural wildlife.

California Potato Bug Predators

As you may already know, the state of California is home to extremely diverse animal life, from snakes and lizards to hawks and bears. Unfortunately for small bugs like Jerusalem crickets, this means they are common prey. They’re eaten by a number of species but can typically fight off other insects or bugs. 

Potato bugs are not necessarily the preferred prey of a certain animal. Instead, they are opportunistic food for predators in and around their habitat. They’ve become an important food source for animals such as hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, bats, and badgers. 

California Potato Bug - California Places, Travel, And News.
California Potato Bug

California Potato Bug Lifecycle

California potato bugs’ mating season is in spring. Because of this, spring is the most likely time to encounter a Jerusalem cricket above ground. Once males and females mate, the impregnated females carry the sperm for several months until they are ready to lay their eggs.  

Females lay their eggs in the fall and bury them in shallow holes under the soil. They then line the site with a protective substance that they produce naturally. Eggs are left unaccompanied throughout winter until they are ready to hatch the following spring. Once hatched, baby potato bugs are called nymphs.

Nymphs are active once they hatch and continue to grow for 12 to 18 months. They shed their skin at various periods as they grow. Once they reach adulthood, these insects are capable of mating. The mating process is essentially fatal for males. It also weakens females, often resulting in their death shortly after laying eggs. 

It’s also quite common for female potato bugs to eat their male counterparts after mating. The mating process involves tearing the males’ sperm sacs, making them extremely vulnerable and fragile. 

California Potato Bug Bite

Jerusalem crickets have a reputation for their bite, which is not unwarranted. They are relatively large compared to other common insects and are equipped with strong teeth and jaws. They don’t carry venom or poison but their bite is strong enough to cause some pain and discomfort, even to humans. 

However, potato bugs aren’t aggressive by nature. Their first instinct is to run from danger or ward off predators with their cries (more on this below). However, if they are provoked and incapable of escaping, they may bite to defend themselves. Although they may appear sinister, California potato bugs are gentle creatures. 

California Potato Bug Cry

California potato bugs make very distinct sounds. Since they are not actually crickets, they don’t produce sounds the same way (with their wings and hind legs). They create hissing sounds by rubbing their hind legs against their abdomen. This sound is often used to ward off predators.

Jerusalem crickets also make a mating call, known as drumming. They do this by tapping their abdomen against the ground, creating vibrations. These drumming sounds signal intent to mate and helps communicate their location to other potato bugs nearby. 

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