Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Cricket Radio

Cricket Radio

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Cricket Radio
    Book Description:

    At a time when night-singing insects have slipped beyond our notice—indeed, are more likely to be heard as NatureSounds than in a backyard—John Himmelman reconnects people to the crickets and katydids whose songs form a part of our own natural history. Online insect calls accompany this colorfully illustrated narrative.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06102-6
    Subjects: Zoology, Biological Sciences, Physics, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  3. one Music Beckons
    (pp. 1-23)

    The actress portraying ecology movement pioneer Rachel Carson spoke these words in the 2009 film A Sense of Wonder. They were taken from an essay she had written in Woman’s Home Companion in 1956, called “Help Your Child to Wonder.” The passage recounted time spent searching, with her grandnephew Roger, for the sources of the “insect orchestra” that swelled and throbbed outside her Maine cottage from midsummer until winter.

    Carson writes, “The game is to listen. Not so much to the full orchestra, as to the separate instruments, and to try to locate the players.”

    She describes her fairy bell-ringer’s...

  4. two Why Listen?
    (pp. 24-43)

    Picture this: A comedian is on television. He stands on stage behind his microphone, plugging away at his repertoire. He tells another joke. No one laughs. The camera pans across the silent audience. Crickets are heard in the background.

    The sound of crickets chirping has long been synonymous with bombed acts. It is meant to convey silence, the worse possible state for a performer attempting to elicit an enthusiastic response. I was thinking about the irony of this, that a sound is used to illustrate the absence of sound. Why not just have that actual silence? Does soundlessness seem less...

  5. three The Straight-winged Bearers of Swords
    (pp. 44-58)

    Few people have heard the word Ensifera. The label describes a suborder of insect songsters that add a tuneful ambiance to a warm, summer evening. Even the sound of the word Ensifera is pleasant to the ears. It rolls off the tongue and is less of a mouthful than “katydids and crickets” or “night-singing insects.”

    The Ensifera, which are the focus of this book, are part of the order Orthoptera. We’ve heard the first part of that word before. When you need your teeth straightened, you go to an orthodontist. To get your vision straightened, you see an orthoptist. As...

  6. four The Katydids
    (pp. 59-72)

    With seven native subfamilies (plus one introduced), and over 275 species, the katydids are well represented in North America. They tend to be the colors and shapes of deciduous leaves and blades of grasses and sedges. Katydids are best told from crickets by a number of physical traits:

    The males generally call from perches, either as individuals or joined in chorus with other males. The females are drawn to the call of the male; many answer them back, and will determine, using some kind of katydid judgment system, whether or not a particular male measures up to their standards. As...

  7. five The Crickets
    (pp. 73-89)

    Let us now shift from the katydids to the crickets. There are two North American families of singing crickets, the Gryllotalpidae (Mole Crickets) and the Gryllidae (True Crickets).

    The Gryllotalpidae comprise a small group, with only eight species found in the United States (one of those in Hawaii). Two of those species, Northern Mole Cricket (Neocurtilla hexadactyla) and Prairie Mole Cricket (Gryllotalpa major), are native to this area. One is historical. The rest likely arrived as stowaways in the soil of nursery stock or in the dumped ballast of ships.

    If you translate “Gryllotalpidae” into English, you get “cricket mole.”...

  8. six The Mighty Cricket Gladiators
    (pp. 90-104)

    Christmas Eve, 1967. Unlike the many families who opened their presents on Christmas day, the Himmelman family celebrated this holiday on the evening before. This was when Santa came. We’d actually get to see him, too. Santa would burst in through the back door bearing a big white pillowcase stuffed with presents for my brothers and me. He was always a bit thinner than he appeared on Christmas cards and cartoons, his pillow-stuffed shirt giving only a suggestion of the Cringle rotundness. His face was completely covered with a cottony beard and long white hair resembling the tousled mop atop...

  9. seven “Give a Little Whistle”: More Stories of the Ensifera and Us
    (pp. 105-121)

    As I child, I’d become quite familiar with crickets. I raised them in my room, and I spent endless hours on my stomach, watching them in the grass. Perhaps that’s why the most famous cricket of the time looked kind of odd to me. In fact, it didn’t really look like a cricket at all. For one, it was green, or sometimes tan—more like a grasshopper. I was able to forgive that it walked on hind legs, and wore clothes, but not the fact that it only had two arms and two legs. To me, it looked more like...

  10. eight A Blade within a Sea of Grass: Adventures in Hunting Katydids and Crickets
    (pp. 122-152)

    I’m beginning to feel the early twinges of frustration. How, one may ask, can anyone feel even a modicum of displeasure while standing in the middle of a thirty-five-acre wildflower-filled fen? It doesn’t get more bucolic than that. I tell myself to relax. Besides, I’m just hunting a bug, and to paraphrase an old fishing cliché, “A bad day’s hunting bugs is better than a good day’s work.”

    However, over the last decade my job has more or less revolved around hunting bugs, so a bad day of hunting bugs is a bad day’s work. I hear the insect ticking...

  11. nine The Bug People: Putting Everything in Its Right Place
    (pp. 153-192)

    As a seventeenth-century buccaneer sailing aboard the notorious Admiral Henry Morgan’s pirate ship, John Esquemeling witnessed many a bloody battle. He was privy to the burning of Panama and the ravaging of coastal Cuba. Granted, he didn’t do much of the burning and ravaging, but he was on hand, watching. The pirate was a keen observer, with a curious mind and a gift for the ability to describe what he saw.

    Esquemeling began his path in history as a clerk on a French West India Company ship sailing to the island of Tortuga to sell supplies to French colonists. Although...

  12. ten Assembling Your Cricket Radio
    (pp. 193-228)

    Seven-year-old Caleb Brand needed a little help falling asleep. His father, Andy, who happened to be a naturalist, introduced a unique solution: singing insects. He and his son would go out in the yard with flashlight and net, and shop for potential roommates. For them, the hunt was as much fun as the procurement.

    The insects were set up in comfy quarters of their own and given all that was necessary to provide them with a reason to sing Caleb his lullabies. His summer nights were tuned in to “Cricket Radio.”

    A number of different species were booked for the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 229-232)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 233-234)
  15. Online Audio Tracklist
    (pp. 235-240)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-244)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 245-246)
  18. Index
    (pp. 247-255)