As you drive around the Oklahoma City metro area, you may notice a large number of small mounds in grassy areas. Perhaps you have them in your own yard. This year at my house, I even have them in my flower beds. What you are observing is the work of the shorttailed cricket. The mounds can be differentiated from ant hills in that, with ant hills, the soil will be very granular (like sugar), whereas the cricket mounds will be much coarser.
These crickets are similar to field crickets except for the short ovipositor from which they get their name “shorttailed.” They are light brown in color with a body length of about three-fourths of an inch. They shed their hindwings soon after becoming adults and never fly. Do not confuse these crickets with the brown field cricket. The brown field cricket is the nuisance home invader that I wrote about a few weeks back.
Shorttailed crickets overwinter as nymphs in burrows in the soil. The nymphs are best described as teenagers moving away from home for the first time. They have spent the summer in their parents' burrow, and are now ready to start their first home. The nymphs construct burrows of their own. At first the burrows are small, but as the crickets mature the burrows are enlarged and may reach depths of 12 to 20 inches.
Burrows constructed by the crickets result in unsightly mounds of small soil pellets which may smother the surrounding grass. This will usually affect only cool season grasses. Activity will continue through October and, in some years, through most of November. The burrows are rebuilt each time they are washed away by fall rains.
Damage to the turf is negligible, and is merely aesthetic. I consider the crickets to be a cheap and efficient way to aerate my lawn. However, if you cannot tolerate the mounds on your lawn, products labeled for grub control should do a satisfactory job in controlling them.
Ray Ridlen is an agriculture/horticulture educator for the Oklahoma County Extension Service. His column addresses frequently asked horticulture questions. For more information, call 713-1125.