columnist

Thom Smith, NatureWatch columnist.

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If you are a careful person with a net, you may catch several crickets in your  yard, a park or in an abandoned lot.

Crickets can be fun.

Most people, when they think of crickets, think of Jiminy Cricket or another cartoon character, while some still consider them good luck or just another late summer nighttime serenade. Others keep lizards for pets and feed the crickets to reptiles as  a primary food or a treat now and then.

When I was 10 years old or around that age, I was keeping them as pets — they were part of my miniature zoo. My zoo included an assortment of this and that, critters that I could catch. Seventy years later, I cannot recall everything I had. However, I most often only kept them for a short while, especially if I could not get them to eat. It is always surprising how many city people have never seen a live cricket close-up!

If you are a careful person with a net, you may catch several in either yard, park or abandoned lot. Of course, it is always best and safest not to go on a collecting safari alone! Just like some of you may have caught a few lightning bugs earlier this summer, a jar with a cover and a net or a quick hand is all that is needed to catch one or two. A glass jar with a few pieces of grass or clover for moisture and comfort is all that is necessary to house your catch until a larger container can be found. Most pet shops have a kind of small clear plastic cage with a well-ventilated cover. And if you can’t catch your wild crickets, you may purchase a half dozen at most pet shops. You can still find some in the wild in warm evenings, if they continue, and we don’t have any freezes.

Keeping crickets has been a hobby for thousands of years, maybe even before cats and dogs. I will admit that they are not "petable pets," but neither are goldfish.

Place a half-inch or so of sand or soil in the bottom of the cage or container. Don’t let it get muddy. Add a jar cover with some sand in it and cover with a piece or two of paper towels for the female to lay her eggs. Replace if it gets soiled. It would help if you placed some bark or chips of wood to hide under and spray lightly with water daily to keep moist. If you have both male and female crickets and provide a hiding place of crickets to lay eggs, you may not have to replace your pets; they will take care of that themselves.

Feeding is easy. Offer small pieces of fruit, vegetables, clover, grass and vegetables. Keep in mind to feed frequently but in small amounts. A few flakes of oatmeal is a good treat. They need water in a small jar cover (I recall having success with a well-rinsed piece of a sponge placed in the water dish. Offer small amounts of meat like hamburger but remove what is not eaten after a few minutes.

When your crickets become accustomed to their new surroundings and everything is quiet, they will often chirp, but it will take time to get used to your approach. They have a short lifespan of around three months.

One fun thing about keeping a cricket as a pet is unlike a canary, goldfish or even the smartest of kittens, this “pet” can tell the temperature! In the "Old Farmer’s Almanac," I read a scientist named Amos Dolbear discovered that crickets chirp more rapidly when warmer. To know the temperature, count the chirps it makes in 14 seconds, then add 40 to get the (approximate) temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

Email Thom Smith at Naturewatch41@gmail.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.