Population Regulation of Mole Crickets by Natural Enemies

Mole crickets are to some extent cannibalistic. In the laboratory, young nymphs will devour each other, especially if they are underfed.

Mole crickets underground are fed upon by subterranean predators, which in Florida include ground beetles of the genus Pasimachus (pass-ee-MACK-us) and assassin bugs of the genus Sirthenea (seerth-EHN-eh-a). When they are underground but near the surface, they can be detected and extracted by some insectivorous birds, such as sandhill cranes and cattle egrets, and insectivorous mammals such as armadillos. Digging by armadillos to extract mole crickets from turf may cause more damage than the mole crickets themselves.

Mole cricket attacked by Sirthenea carinata, an assassin bug.

Mole cricket attacked by Pasimachus sublaevis, a ground beetle.

Mole crickets that venture onto the soil surface are subject to predation by an even wider array of predators including amphibians and reptiles (e.g., toads and snakes), birds (e.g., owls and egrets), and mammals (e.g., raccoons and foxes). Predatory spiders (e.g., Lycosa), beetles [e.g., tiger beetles of the genus Megacephala (mega-KEFF-al-a)], and earwigs may not be able to kill fully grown mole crickets, but seem to take a heavy toll on the nymphs.

Mole cricket attacked by Megacephala virginica, a tiger beetle.

The wide array of predators that will kill mole crickets on the soil surface gives the mole crickets good reason to remain concealed underground. However, even underground they are exposed to attack by pathogens: bacteria , fungi, protozoa, and viruses. Undoubtedly this array of generalist natural enemies limits mole cricket populations, but often is inadequate to prevent damage to turf, pastures, and vegetables. Specialist natural enemies, in contrast, may be able to control mole cricket populations at much lower levels than otherwise would occur. Specialist natural enemies of Neoscapteriscus mole crickets evolved their association in South America, where Neoscapteriscus mole crickets are native. Specialist natural enemies of the northern mole cricket, however, are native to North America.

Mole cricket infected with Beauveria bassiana, “white muscardine.”

Mole cricket as prey of a sandhill crane. Photo by Jack Rogers.
Courtesy of Alachua Conservation Trust.

The University of Florida sells color sheets on beneficial insects and other organisms. You can order these sheets through the UF/IFAS Extension Bookstore by calling (800) 226-1764, or order them online at http://ifasbooks.ufl.edu/.

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