Monday, May 13, 2024

Carolina Leafroller Cricket

Several years ago, flashlight in hand, I was exploring my yard at night looking for insects to capture or photograph. A whole new variety of insects is active at night versus the daylight hours. The only way to find them is to stay up late and hope a beam of light flashes across a shiny body among the leaves. On this particular night, I found a small, but odd-looking cricket-like insect I had not encountered before. I captured several pictures of this new-to-me bug before it lost interest in my presence and walked rapidly away. The walk was more like a fast, awkward, hop-like sprint.

After searching the internet and field guides, I identified it as a Carolina Leaf-Roller Cricket (Camptonotus carolinensis). They are small crickets reaching barely ¾ of an inch, with antennae at least five times longer than their body. They are honey-like golden brown, which helps camouflage them against the foliage and leaves they live on. Some researchers claim they can hop, while others say they walk or run. The one I encountered did not try to hop. So maybe some species within this family of crickets can hop, while others cannot. While they are not uncommon in their range throughout Eastern North America, they are rarely encountered.

This is mostly due to their nocturnal nature, as they are active when most of us are sleeping. During the daylight hours, they produce a silk-like substance, comparable to the silk that silk moths produce, from glands located in their mouth. They use their mandibles to tear the ends of leaves and fold them back and while sitting on the leaf they will pull the cut pieces over their body and stitch them closed with the silk they produce. They are even able to pull those extremely long antennae into the enclosure!  This creates a nice little home in the form of a rolled leaf that camouflages it against the trees and other greenery they live on. This habit of rolling leaves for hiding spots is what earned them their common name of leafroller.

There are over six hundred species of leaf roller crickets in the family Gryllacrididae, which are the raspy crickets. Over a third of them are found in Australia, and the one featured here is the only species in North America. Unlike most crickets, grasshoppers, and katydids, the raspy crickets do not sing to attract mates or advertise their location. Nearly all insects that make sound also have ears for hearing. This helps them locate the proper mate during the breeding season. The raspy crickets, however, lack ears. So, it is still unclear why they possess the ability to make any sound at all when they cannot hear the sound being made by a potential mate. When alarmed they make a raspy sound that is produced by rubbing their legs across their abdomen. They may also stomp their feet in a cricket-like tantrum warning others to just hop away as this breeding site is taken and the female residing there is his.


During courtship, they make a vibrating sound by drumming on the substrate. Both males and females may perform a drum duet to attract each other's attention. Females possess a long projection coming from the back end of the abdomen, this projection is called an ovipositor and is used to lay eggs. This protrusion is not used for stinging. Crickets cannot sting. They can, like most all crickets, bite, fortunately, they are not prone to do so.

The female CLRC will likely dig into the soil and use this special apparatus to lay eggs that will hatch the following year. When the young hatch they will begin feeding on small soft-bodied insects like aphids or tiny caterpillars. They may also feed on some vegetation if the mood strikes them. Both nymphs and adults are omnivores and eat a wide variety of available food. The nymphs can also roll shelters and like their adult counterparts, may reuse these shelters rather than create new ones. They will leave a pheromone-laden scent trail they can track with their antennae back to the shelter. This reuse of shelters helps conserve energy by avoiding building new nests each day.

A night walk among the gardens and vegetation in and around your yard may yield unique and odd insect life like the nearly silent hunter, the Carolina Leafroller. Grab a flashlight and coax your children to join you,  then head outside and explore.