The handsome trig lives in vegetation about four feet off the ground near water. This beetle-like cricket may be a mimic of bombardier beetles, which spew foul chemicals for defense.
Males may call at night or during the day. It is a loud, quickly repeating series of staccato rasps. Calling males often position themselves between two leaves, or on a leaf that curls around them, creating chamber to amplify and project their sound.
A quick checklist of characteristics identifies this cricket:
- Red or rusty head and thorax.
- Pale yellowish tan legs, including the hind legs, that are modified like a cricket's for hopping.
- Black forewings. Those of females are rounded and look like the elytra of a beetle. Those of males are more cricket-like and used for chirping; one wing is black and the other is clear.
- The tip of the palps (fingerlike mouthparts) are black, oval, and relatively large. Some people say they look like tiny boxing gloves. The insect habitually wiggles the palps and antennae, almost without stopping.
- Habitat: usually seen near streams and wetlands, on vegetation three or four feet high.
Similar species: This is the only member of genus Phyllopalpus, but there are three other genera in the subfamily of winged bush crickets, also called trigs (subfamily Trigonidiinae). In North America north of Mexico, these include 4 species of green trigs (Cyrtoxipha), about 8 species of brown trigs (Anaxipha), and 1 species, Hebard's trig, in genus Falcicula. All of these relatives are either pale green or tan; none have the bold red and black coloration of the handsome trig.
Length: ¼–½ inch.
Habitat and Conservation
Typically occurs near streams, in wetlands, and other low, wet areas. Lives in bushes and other vegetation, about four feet off the ground. When it senses danger, it quickly runs to the undersides of leaves. On cool, sunny mornings late in the season, you may see them sunning themselves on the top sides of leaves.
The handsome trig apparently eats a wide variety of food types, such as leaves and flowers, small insects, and insect eggs.
Adults become mature in the middle of summer; listen for the males' singing in July and August. Females deposit eggs in the trunks of trees, using the curved, swordlike ovipositor at the tip of the abdomen. There is only one brood per year.
Humans through the ages, and across cultures, have appreciated the sounds of singing insects. Japanese haiku masters, lovers of nature, wrote poems about crickets just as they did about flowers, mushrooms, and the beauties of rain and moonlight. In 1961, Canadian songwriter and poet deftly summarized the sultry, still quality of a summer day with his own haiku, which might as well have been about the handsome trig: "Silence / and a deeper silence / when the crickets / hesitate."
Although it's not completely clear if handsome trigs are distasteful to predators themselves, they apparently employ their black-and-red coloration as a form of protection against possible predators. There are plenty of bad-tasting, toxic, or stinging insects that have similar colors: wasps, moths, beetles, and more. This beetle-like cricket may be a mimic of bombardier beetles, which spew foul chemicals for defense. The interrelationships are complex, with some species being genuinely bad news for predators, and others being harmless mimics taking advantage of the warning coloration.