Not a big fan of scary-looking insects with long, spiky legs and a tendency to cannibalize each other? Here is some bad news for you: An invasive species of camel cricket native to Asia has been spreading across the eastern United States. New research from North Carolina State University finds their population now outnumbers the domestic variety.
"The good news is that camel crickets don't bite or pose any kind of threat to humans," study author Mary Jane Epps, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State, said in a statement.
The camel crickets were found to be particularly common in yard areas close to people's homes.
The cricket study was prompted by a chance encounter. A cricket taxonomist happened to see an invasive camel cricket in the home of one of the NC State researchers, and decided to see how common this species might be in the U.S. The researchers asked people in their citizen science network to report sightings of camel crickets in their homes and yards. The people were asked to send in photos or mail physical specimens to the researchers.
More than 90 percent of respondents reported having encountered the species known as the greenhouse camel cricket (Diestrammena asynamora), which is native to Asia and it was first seen in the U.S. in the 19th century. Although it had been thought to be rare outside of commercial greenhouses, the researchers found that this species was more common than native camel crickets in and near people's homes east of the Mississippi.
"We don't know what kind of impact this species has on local ecosystems though it's possible that the greenhouse camel cricket could be driving out native camel cricket species in homes," Epps said.
The investigators also examined the yards of 10 homes in Raleigh, North Carolina. They found high numbers of greenhouse camel crickets, with most of the insects being found in the areas closest to homes.
But the most surprising discovery came from the photos that people sent the researchers.
"There appears to be a second Asian species, Diestrammena japanica, that hasn't been formally reported in the U.S. before, but seems to be showing up in homes in the Northeast," Epps said. "However, that species has only been identified based on photos. We'd love to get a physical specimen to determine whether it is D. japanica."
Even though camel crickets may look scary, researchers stress that people should not panic if they find the insects in their homes. In fact, the long-legged cannibals can be really useful to humans.
"Because they are scavengers, camel crickets may actually provide an important service in our basements or garages, eating the dead stuff that accumulates there," study author Holly Menninger, the director of public science in the Your Wild Life lab at NC State, said in a statement.