Tag Archives: Insect

Cricket Hunting Method of Nevada Indians

Eastern Nevada Indians hunted Mormon crickets at certain times, getting huge returns of meat for their time. American Indians all ate grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids in large numbers, and had many different methods of hunting them. The Mormon cricket is a large member of the katydid family found in the US Southwest.


Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex)
From: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2008/1305/

Here was an interesting method used for capturing them:

On flat lands below foothills, quite a number of trenches were dug measuring a foot wide, a foot deep, and about 30-40 feet long, shaped like a new crescent moon with the horns facing uphill. The trenches were in a row, with ends joined or very close. The trenches were covered with a thin layer of stiff wheat grass straw.

At the hottest part of the day, the Indians divided into two parties, each going to one end of the trenches, and lined up single file uphill towards the foothills. Each individual was armed with a bunch of grass, which they swung back and forth as the line advanced toward the trenches (the description of the exact positioning is vague, but I’m assuming the Indians advanced from uphill, going diagonally, with one end of each line near the end of the trenches, and the other near the foothills but still far from the other party, and as they advanced, they covered all the space between them), driving the crickets [Anabrus simplex (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae)] towards the trenches, leaving few behind, and creating a thick black tumbling mass of crickets before the drivers.

The crickets, when disturbed, can jump about one foot down hill, but only half a foot uphill, so will always go downhill to escape if possible. The Indians were exploiting this behavior.

As they reached the trenches, the Indians went slower to give the crickets time to crawl through the grass covering the trenches, into the trenches where they stopped, thinking themselves hidden and protected. Once all the crickets were driven into the trenches, the Indians set fire to the grass bunches in their hands and scattered it atop the grass over the trenches, causing a big blaze of smoke, which killed or stunned all the crickets inside within a few minutes.

The trenches were over half full of crickets, and only about one out of a thousand passed by the trenches without entering. The crickets are dried and ground whole on the same mill used for pine nuts and grass seeds, making a fine flour that will keep a long time if kept dry. A bread or cake is made with them, or the cricket flour is added to pine nut or grass meal to make a bread, making it sweeter.


Egan, Howard. 1917. Pioneering the West, 1846-1878: Major Howard Egan’s diary: also thrilling experiences of pre-frontier life among Indians, their traits, civil and savage, and part of autobiography, inter-related to his father’s. Howard R. Egan Estate, Richmond, UT.

Tree Lobsters Live!

A single Melaleuca bush precariously clings to the sharp sheer rock face 225 ft up on Ball’s Pyramid, a spire of remains of the oldest sea stack in the world. This jagged 1844 ft tall steep rock is officially part of Lord Howe Island in the South Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand. Thrashed and battered by constant high winds, this humble plant, related to the renowned tea tree, exists and endures thanks to the choice defecation spot of some perching seabird that deposited a seed primed with fertilizer.

For this location was the only one on the rock where a tiny remnant of its earlier bush-covered glory survived the fell 1918 invasion of shipwrecked Norwegian rats, Rattus norvegicus. Perhaps their impish hands were just too big for the narrow ledges leading to this one bush (though certainly many a rat would’ve leaped to their death trying during the desperate crash phase of their population), or maybe some deserted sailor cat lurks in a crevice nearby, but for whatever reason, this single bush is the last of its kind.

No plant is an island (even on an island) and this plant has traveled through time as a single unitsample of the ecosystem 80 years ago, when bushes of its kind covered Ball’s Pyramid, supporting grazing herds of giant walking sticks, or “tree lobsters” bigger than your hand. Thanks to the investigations by Austalian scientists David Priddel, Nicholas Carlile, and two assistants, who spotted frass (=bug poo) on the plant during a survey climb in 2001, and the subsequent intrepid night climbing by Carlile and ranger Dean Hiscock to find the nocturnal frass-makers, a herd of 24 of the long-thought extinct tree lobster Dryococelus australis were found grazing upon the Melaleuca. These are the heaviest flightless insects in the world.

After the discovery, it took two years to get permission from the Australian government to remove just 4 of the walking sticks to breed in captivity. The first pair died within two weeks in the care of the private breeder assigned the job. The second pair were bred at Melbourne zoo, and the female nearly died after trying to lay eggs but was rescued with a calcium nectar concoction. Now nearly a thousand adults have been reared to adulthood in captivity.

It was noticed that mating pairs of this species exhibited strong bonds for insects, spooning each night.

Conservationists are now considering extirpating the rats on Ball’s Pyramid and repopulating it with captive-bred tree lobsters.

Rats are voracious for most insects and plant seeds. Most likely, they destroyed the native ecosystem in a top down and bottom up blitzkreig of trophic domination. First they went after the seabird eggs and tree lobsters, then smaller insects and seeds of the Melalueca bush. The desperate overpopulated descendents of the first gluttonous rats were driven to eat the toxic Melalueca and destroy and scavenge any organic bits and seeds til the island was scoured clean of plant and insects and soil alike. For though the walking sticks devour the plants, their frassfall and stimulated abscission of tissues by the bush formed the soil essential for water retention around the roots and recycling of nutrients to enriched forms for re-absorption by the plant.

In the age of species extinctions every few seconds, we’ve succeeded in domesticating a nearly extinct species. Farming the tree lobsters will surely become easier over time as they adapt to their streamlined, human-controlled environments. One big question remains: are they really as tasty as lobsters?

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