Q: What insect from the Gryllotalpidae family burrows around people’s gardens and eats the roots of freshly planted vegetables?
A: The mole cricket.
This nasty critter, which grows to 2 inches or more in length (I’ve seen some that were over 3 inches), has strong forelimbs that it uses to dig around in gardens here in Europe. They’re supposed to be omnivores, and they feed on whatever they find. In the spring, they feed quite a bit on the roots of the planted seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, spinach, cabbage and other common garden vegetables and fruits, which means the seedlings die. They wither and dry out, unable to extract food from the ground since their roots are gone. This also means that your crop, which you, as a gardener, took great care to plant and nourish, is wiped out by some filthy creepy-crawly thing that gives nothing in return and only gets fatter and uglier with each seedling root it shoves in its ravenous mouth.
It is for this very reason that these ugly critters are considered garden pests, and people do what they can to get rid of them. Some put out pesticides, but then you’ve got poisons on your vegetables, and that’s not healthy. Others, like my grandfather, used to go out at night with a flashlight and squash them when they reared their heads from their burrows. Thankfully, they have plenty of natural predators, though you wouldn’t want most of those guys around your garden either — I’m talking about rats, skunks, foxes, armadillos and raccoons. Birds are another of their predators, and they’re definitely welcome in my garden.
My wife caught a mole cricket recently (they’re called “coropisnite” in Romania), and I recorded a short video clip. Sorry the focus isn’t that great — my Nokia N95 doesn’t focus very well in video mode at close distances.
Images used are public domain. Source: Wikipedia.