Ditch Hopping: Northern Mole Crickets

by Carl Strang

Last year, while driving a rural road at dusk in Newton County, Indiana, I stopped beside a drainage ditch to listen for slightly musical coneheads. Instead I heard a northern mole cricket, and I realized that I needed to turn off the car engine to hear the low-pitched song.

Northern mole cricket specimen (Neocurtilla hexadactyla). This face-on view shows the modified front legs that make this cricket such a good digger.
Recording of northern mole cricket calling song

This turned out to be a lucky observation, as it opened a way for me to conduct my research profitably in this covid19 year. I spent most of the peak singing insect season ditch hopping. I used GoogleEarth and DeLorme map books to identify likely spots where rural roads intersect drainage ditches and streams. Such stops kept me away from concentrations of people.

Typical drainage ditch, Kankakee County

This method gave me a cluster of mole cricket locations on ditches and streams in northeastern Kankakee County, Illinois, all tributaries of the Kankakee River. I also added county records in Pulaski and Fulton Counties, Indiana. Otherwise, the many evenings of searching mainly told me where mole crickets are not, and I have concluded that I will add no more counties in Illinois or Wisconsin.

Map of the Chicago region showing where I have found northern mole crickets (black dots) and identifying counties where there are old records for the species (white dots).

I have satisfied myself that I am not going to find them in Cook County, Illinois, but there still are a few places to check next year in St. Joseph County, Indiana, and Berrien County, Michigan.

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