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Cool Characters

One of the great things about living in Texas was the abundance of insects, all the time. Because it was hot for much of the year, we could find bugs to film and photograph just about any time we wanted. We admit it. We were totally spoiled. When we moved to Oregon, we were scared that we would only have three or four good bug months a year and that we’d have to cram all our filming expeditions into one short season.

Thank goodness we were wrong! Western Oregon is cooler and wetter than East Texas, sure, but there are plenty of familiar species. And Oregon has insects that we’d never find in Texas; insects that are adapted to living in snow and cold coastal caves.

Snow Scorpionflies

Most people don’t think snow and insects go together. Snow scorpionflies, in the family Boreidae, are small – about a half centimeter or so – and dark. They look like flecks of debris on the snow’s surface. They’re adapted to live on snowfields at high elevations. They jump around on the snow using their long back legs.

These animals are so well adapted to the cold that higher temperatures easily kill them. Even the body heat of your hands is enough to bake these little guys if you were to pick them up. The best time to see snow scorpionflies is November to March in the Pacific Northwest. If snow is scarce, don’t worry. They can also be found feeding on mosses and fungi.

Camel (Cave) Crickets


The square-legged camel cricket, Tropidischia xanthostoma, is another insect you can find in the colder months. The common name “camel cricket” (also called a cave cricket) comes from the humpbacked appearance of these animals. But if you see one, you won’t be looking at its back. With a length up to 8 inches, this huge insect is all legs. These nocturnal insects thrive in cool, damp places like caves, from coastal California to British Columbia. They’ve even been found under old bridges and in abandoned wells. (Wanna spelunk an old well? We do!) Because they spend so much time in low-to-no light environments, they use their ultra-long antennae as super-sensors to feel their way around.

We won’t be able to find them by listening for their chirp, though. Chirps are created by a movement called stridulation (basically rubbing one body part against another). Crickets rub their wings together to create their signature sounds. But camel crickets are wingless, so they lack chirp! We will just have to use headlamps and cunning to locate them instead.

A fun bit of trivia: In the Caverne des Troise Frères in Ariège, France, scientists found a 20,000 year old carving of a camel cricket (genus Troglophilus) on a bison bone!

The photos in this post were taken at the Oregon Department of Agriculture Insect Collection. We recently made the trip there to take photos for a video project we were working on. Jim LaBonte, entomologist and director of the collection, is an incredible resource for insect information. He recently tipped us off on where we can find the snow scorpionflies and cave crickets in Oregon! So naturally, we’ve planned an expedition to find and film these cold-weather animals. We’ll be sure to document what we find!

 

The original post can be found on Science Friday.

Join the discussion

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  2. Autumn Tamura

    Oh. Dear. Yuck! Now I’ve officially seen it again! I used to live in Jewell (Elsie),Oregon. My boyfriend and I went over to help a friend with their well and when we all saw this creepy, mutated spider/cricket all 3 of us just about died in terror!
    So shocked it actually has a name and someone else has seen it. I was certain the public would have been warned about this scarey looking bug before, so I thought we may have discovered a new species!
    Thanks for the photo and information! If you’d like to know where to find it let me know

  3. thebugchicks

    We saw these alive at the Oregon Caves last year during our filming trip! Just because they are different, doesn’t make them bad. No need for terror– they are fragile and harmless. Next time, YOU send US a pic (of you holding it) 🙂

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  5. Craig

    Saw 2 of these crazy big camel crickets at St. Vincent Bay near Egmont BC. We were fixing a broken board on an old rotting bridge and out hopped two of these guys. They were too quick to catch a photo of but they were big 5 inches. Wow! Thanks for the info.

  6. luis trujillo

    yikes we run in to one today working in cannon beach Oregon we though it was a spider so we left it along and he could jump thru our fresh pour concrete it does looks creepy thank you for sharing this info on this bug few

  7. thebugchicks

    You’re welcome! Filming with them was a pretty great experience. I hope the one that hopped through the concrete is ok.

  8. thebugchicks

    No problem! Yes, they are big. We could hardly hold one in our hands. Those legs!

  9. Elliott P

    Awesome! Thanks for helping me identify these creepy creatures. We ran into a bunch of these guys rock climbing on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state. We we’re climbing past sundown. We didn’t see them when it was light out but when we clicked on our headlamps they were all over the place! I’m a little ashamed to admit that we were kinda scared to just keep jamming our hands in the cracks on the rock that they seemed to be coming out of. I assume that they’re harmless but that big stinger looking thing sticking out of their rear end was kinda intimidating. I got a few pics, if you want I can send ’em to ya somehow.

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