The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Meadowland Minstrel

By Mel Tharp © 1987

Issue: July, 1987

Carson I. A. Ritchie in his book, "Insects, The Creeping Conquerors" gives some fascinating information about crickets in captivity. The ancient Greeks kept crickets in great cages made of reeds. In Spain, crickets are kept in cages to sing during Mass. Pairs of crickets are also hung from the ceiling in homes, in light, two storied cages. In early American pioneer days, many immigrant German boys kept crickets as pets, a carry over from Germany. In their native Germany, most boys had several boxes for keeping crickets.

In the Far East, the keeping of crickets in cages reached the dimensions of a cult or art. In ancient times, there were even cages made to wear in the sleeve of a garment, so the owner could have constant musical companionship. No home was too poor or too rich to have some sort of a cage for a cricket.

Cricket cages in the Orient have varied from crude wooden boxes to embossed gourds with elaborately decorated stoppers of jade or tortoise shell, to pierced boxes of wood or ivory in varied shapes, or cages of gold or silver wire or split bamboo, to porcelain cages with open work sides.

Much simpler cages may be devised by people who wish to keep crickets as pets. Any well ventilated enclosure with some moist earth will do for a cricket cage.

Many naturalists have written of how crickets in the natural state will sometimes fight, often ferociously, over a female. In captivity, the addition of meat to their diet is necessary to keep pet crickets from resorting to cannibalism.

In China, cricket fighting has been a favorite spectator sport, on a par with bull fighting in Spain, sometimes with great sums staked. In ancient days, good fighting crickets were believed by the Chinese to be reincarnations of human heroes, and were called generals or marshals. In tournaments held in the 1920's the victorious cricket had his name inscribed on a gourd shaped ivory tablet, and when he died was buried in a small silver coffin.

Much serious, scientific study has been devoted to the cricket's "song." Dr. Frank E. Lutz, author of "A Lot Of Crickets", says that in its fundamental notes, the chirps of the cricket are in the octave just below piano range. Some observers have noted that just as playing a record may start a canary singing, a cricket will also sometimes begin singing in response to man made music.

More readily observable is the fact that cricket singing is louder and quicker in tempo when the weather is warm. The black field cricket is not so attuned to the temperature, however, as his relative, the snowy tree or "Thermometer" cricket. (The formula: Count the number of chirps the thermometer cricket makes in 15 seconds, and add 40, for a close approximation of the Fahrenheit temperature.)

There are many kinds of crickets, such as the mole cricket and the cave cricket. But it's the shrill and sweet melodies of the common black field cricket which rise to poignant crescendo in the last days of warm weather in the fields of harvest.