For the next five weeks we are going to be sharing some activities to allow budding insect scientists to explore the common groups (orders) of insects, including:
Today we're going to investigate the order Orthoptera, which includes the grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets.
Activity 1. Building a Cricket Condo
An easy way to study crickets is to make a cricket condo.
- Sturdy clear plastic container such as food storage jar or sun tea jar
- Paper egg carton
- Jar lids
- Paper towels
- Cricket food (see below)
- Square of cloth big enough to cover jar opening
- Rubber bands (at least 2)
- Crickets (Most pet stores sell live crickets as pet food for various reptiles.)
- Cut the egg carton so it will fit vertically in the container and place it upright inside against one wall.
2. It is best not to add open water to the container. Instead, prepare a cricket waterer in a jar lid by adding sopping paper towels. Add water to the towels daily and change to fresh towels regularly. Older crickets may lay eggs in the damp paper towels.
3. Using jar lids as containers also make adding and cleaning up cricket food easier. You can buy commercially-prepared cricket food in many pet stores (images are affiliate links).
For short term care, a few cat food kibbles and fresh vegetable scraps will work.
4. Make a top using a square of cloth, fastened with rubber bands. Use at least two separate rubber bands, so if one breaks there will still be one in place. The cloth top allows the crickets to get plenty of fresh air while preventing them from escaping.
Add your crickets and watch their behavior. Look for differences between nymphs and adults.
Activity 2. Grasshopper and Cricket Life Cycles
Insects grow by shedding their outer covering or exoskeleton.
A. Molting Demonstration
You will need a large long-sleeved shirt or lab coat and a child volunteer. Put the shirt or lab coat on the child backwards (the insect's exoskeleton opens in the back during molting.) Overlap the opening in the back, but do not button it. Challenge the child to shed the shirt or coat without using his or her hands (suggest shrugging if they struggle).
B. Simple or Incomplete Metamorphosis
Most insects hatch from eggs. In the case of crickets and grasshoppers, the young insects resemble the adults, but lack wings. After each molt, they are bigger and have more adult-like characteristics. This type of change is called simple or incomplete metamorphosis and the young insects are called "nymphs."
(Public domain drawing by Snodgrass retrieved from Wikimedia.)
For more information, see earlier posts for about the grasshopper life cycle and identification of immature insects.
Activity 3: Grasshopper and Cricket Anatomy
Insects have three main body parts:
- Head - has eyes, mouth, and antennae
- Thorax - where wings and six legs are attached
- Abdomen - where digestion and reproductive processes take place
Can you find the three sections on photographs of crickets and grasshoppers?
Spiracles are the openings in the sides of the insects that allow oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.
For a fun demonstration to use, see our previous discussion of insect mouthparts
Wikimedia has two public domain line drawings of grasshoppers you can download and print for lessons,
as well as a public domain line drawing of a cricket.
The long structure at the back of the cricket is the ovipositor or egg laying tube of the female cricket.
Draw a grasshopper, katydid or cricket and observe the parts closely.
how to draw a grasshopper
Activity 4. Grasshopper and Cricket Jumping
Most members of this group have large hind legs used for jumping. Large grasshoppers can leap as far as five feet, although smaller crickets can only jump about two feet.
Mark out a section of floor using 10 feet of painter's tape. Draw lines on the tape in one foot increments and challenge children to jump as far as a cricket.
For more information about the mechanisms involved see:
Activity 5. Grasshopper and Cricket Singing
Many of the grasshoppers, katydids and crickets produce sounds, usually the adult male insect calling to the female. Crickets and grasshoppers, however, make their sounds with different parts of their bodies.
Crickets make their chirps by rubbing a rough area on one wing against a special surface on another wing. The patches are commonly called the scraper and file. They detect sounds via special stretchy patches on their front legs (one is called a tympanum), near what could be called the "knee."
In contrast, the grasshoppers rub the rough surfaces on their big legs against their bodies or wings to produce sounds. They "hear" sounds using a stretchy patch on the side of their abdomen.
You can see a cricket rubbing its wings together to chirp in this video.
Here are some direct links to recordings of various cricket and grasshopper songs. (Please leave a comment below if these recordings don't work for you.)
Snowy Cricket Song
Snowy Cricket- warm temperature
Snowy cricket - cooler temperature
Texas Field Cricket 1
Northern Mole Cricket
Tropical House Cricket
In this video, you can see a grasshopper using its legs to produce sounds.
Marsh Meadow Grasshopper
A. Model Scraper and File
To make similar sounds, rub a wooden craft stick over a small comb to represent the file and scraper on the cricket's wings or grasshopper's legs. Try fast and slow movements to replicate the sounds above.
B. Model Tympanum
To make a model of the stretchy patches insects use to detect sounds, gather a balloon, rubber band and a stiff-sided cylinder, such as a small plastic vial. Cut out a piece of balloon big enough to cover the opening of the cylinder and tightly stretch it over. Affix with a rubber band. See how the surface moves and vibrates when tapped.
Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions for related activities.
Books about Grasshoppers and Crickets:
Are You a Grasshopper? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries is part of an adorable series with a narrative that allows young children to compare themselves to insects, and in this case grasshoppers. Details of grasshopper life cycles, anatomy and behavior are included.
Age Range: 5 - 8 years
Publisher: Kingfisher (May 13, 2004)
Grasshopper (Bug Books) by Karen Hartley, Chris Macro, and Philip Taylor is an informational book illustrated with color photographs.
Age Range: 5 - 8 years
Publisher: Heinemann; 2nd Edition edition (April 28, 2006)
Chirping Crickets (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, Stage 2) by Melvin Berger and and illustrated by Megan Lloyd has excellent explanations and illustrations showing how crickets make and hear their chirping sounds, as well as other aspects of cricket biology. Has activity suggestions in the back.
Crickets and Grasshoppers by Ann O. Squire is another informational text, this time for the middle grade level reader.
Age Range: 8 and up
Publisher: Children's Press(CT) (March 1, 2004)
Related Fiction Books:
For the youngest reader, The Very Quiet Cricket Board Book by Eric Carle is a fun title about how a little cricket finds its voice.
The Cricket in Times Square (Chester Cricket and His Friends) by George Selden and and illustrated by Garth Williams is a chapter book for older readers.
Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States by John L. Capinera, Ralph D. Scott, and Thomas J. Walker
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