Winter Creeps In, and With It Comes… Vermin!

Screw winter solstice. The way I know that autumn has succumbed to winter in San Francisco is when I have my first sighting of a most unwelcome guest: the Jerusalem cricket, a.k.a. potato bug.

My introduction to this indigenous terror was five years ago,when in the midst of unpacking a few lingering boxes from our move to Bernal Heights a few months before,  my husband caught one of these beauties scuttling along our dining room floor. “Jesus Christ!” he cried. “What the hell is that!?”

Longer than the planks on our hardwood floor are wide, the creature made me think of a crab crossed with a cockroach, but without the cuddle factor of either. As the boxes we were unpacking mostly contained souvenirs from our honeymoon in Southeast Asia years five years earlier, we immediately wondered if the bug could be some exotic hatchling we had inadvertently smuggled into the country, some venomous horror that might pass for a very unattractive cicada in the moments before its neurotoxic bite stilled your stuttering internal monologue.

But now wasn’t the time to surmise about the insect’s identity or origins. Now was the time to get it the hell out of our house.

I don’t remember exactly how we captured it (when it comes to creepy-crawlies, we usually oust rather than squash, and in any case, this thing was far too big to crush with a shoe — just imagine the sound that would make, not to mention the cleanup afterward). I do remember insisting that my husband release it on the other side of the street. Far away from our apartment.

Back inside, a Google Images search to the effect of “grotesque hideous vile cricket cockroach thing” helped us ID our intruder right away. We learned that Jerusalem crickets are not venomous (though they can inflict a painful bite) and that they feed on dead organic material … such as the pile of decaying leaves perpetually outside our back door! We also learned that they are native to the western United States. After 10-plus years in San Francisco, it’s a wonder we hadn’t met one before. Then again, Bernal Hill is the most verdant locale we’ve ever inhabited in the city.

The next couple winters, a succession of JCs struck progressively closer to hearth and heart: first in our kitchen, then right outside our bedroom door — that time I very nearly stepped on the thing with my bare foot.

The past couple of years, my annual JC sightings have been up on the hill, in Bernal Heights Park — this year’s occurred just last week. Interestingly, both times, the insect was dead.

So was the other notable wild animal we last spotted up there, the Pacific gopher snake.

Hmm… Maybe if we could persuade a live one to visit our home, that would help get rid of another, much more common, hallmark of winter: house mice.

IMAGES: Nasty Jerusalem cricket, Neeta Lind. Gopher snake, Wikipedia

24 thoughts on “Winter Creeps In, and With It Comes… Vermin!

  1. When we lived in Berkeley, one night we were awakened by our two kittens playing with what my then-husband assumed was a piece of paper dug out of the trash (a favorite game). In the dark, he picked it up and was horrid when he felt it MOVE. He dropped it like a hot potato and turned on the light, only to discover our friend the Potato Bug aka Jerusalem Cricket. Yipes

  2. Oh man I hate these guys. I think part of the problem is that they look like a disgusting combination of so many things. Wouldn’t it be less creepy if it just looked like a gross cricket? Or a gross cockroach? At any rate, I had my annual potato bug encounter a couple weeks ago on Gates Street. Sandbox Bakery, they’re coming for you!

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  4. Oh god! That’s horrible! I have definitely never seen one of those in Bernal before, but that is NOT a complaint.

    • Gah! I clearly spoke too soon, or else the gods heard me and decided my comment smacked of hubris.

      Immediately after brushing my teeth this morning I turned and found a New Friend about two inches from my bare left foot.

      Later I taught him how to fly.

  5. Found one of those in our garage on N. side of Bernal. I thought it was some type of mystical fetus creature. Horrid!

  6. That bug looks like Alien. It’s as if it’s gonna open its mouth and a smaller Jerusalem Cricket head’s gonna come out.

  7. I’ve dealt with these things for years! I hate the scuttling noise they make and it’s always a shock when you SEE them, usually in my bedroom alas. They definitely love Bernal. Is it the sun?

  8. oh man I hate those things. Why did nobody tell me they live in Bernal before I moved up here? There should be a big sign at either end of Cortland, “Welcome to Bernal Heights, WE HAVE JERUSALEM CRICKETS”

  9. I’m both sorry and comforted that there are so many neighbors who can relate. And seriously, there should be a sign. Maybe that would lower the price of housing!

  10. Potato bugs seem to love dry rocky places; I used to see lots of them on rock outcroppings in Noe Valley when I was a kid.

    I think snakes are great for our ecosystem and hopefully local snakes love eating local mice!

  11. I have a small affection for the creepy little fuckers, having grown up with them in their rotten-log habitats in Southern California many decades ago. A terrarium with a couple of them sounds kind of appealing…

  12. I think they’re kinda cute. I find them year-round on the north slope whenever I dig in the backyard. Semi-hibernating about 6″ down in the soil.

  13. Jeebus. My wife and I just moved to Bernal Heights this past summer. I sincerely hope I never encounter one of these beasts.

  14. yikes! I’ve lived in Bernal for 16 years and never saw one of those monsters. Maybe my cats ate ’em before I could lay eyes on them. Although they would probably freak my cats right out!

  15. I can tell you from personal experience that the bite of a Jerusalem cricket hurts a lot. I do not recommend treating them like pets, because they will turn on you in an instant. I now use ’em for largemouth bass bait in Lake Merced.

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  17. Just killed one in my bedroom…ugh, yuck, gross. I’m sorry I was not more humane, but it was IN OUR BEDROOM! .

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  19. Recently, to my surprise one morning I opened my garage door and found one of these “crickets” somehow been squashed as the door came down. poor thing. And then I had to clean up the mess. I thought it was some kind of cockroach at first but I’m glad I’m the only one to encounter these strange bugs.

  20. OMG just threw one out of our bedroom. Then googled “huge bug San Francisco” which eventually lead me here. Has anyone ever really been bitten by one? I won’t be able to sleep tonight.

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