“Can crickets die of fright?”

Or, R.I.P. Narmer.

As you might guess from the title of this post, it’s happened again. The male cricket that The Nine-Year-Old brought home last week to replace Charles Allen Cricket after his untimely demise has also died. Like Charles Allen Cricket, this guy lived with us just long enough for The Nine-Year-Old to name him Narmer, after the first Pharoah of the First Dynasty in Egypt. But he didn’t survive long enough for me to take his picture, which is why this is another photo-less post. (Clearly I’m going to have to start taking pictures of these guys when The Nine-Year-Old first brings them in the door.)

The odd thing is, as far as we can tell, Debbie Davis, Cricket is still doing well.

Which brings me to my next point. The Nine-Year-Old is rapidly becoming convinced that Debbie Davis, Cricket is actually a vampire cricket. This bothers her a great deal less than you might think. Her main response to it is to make sure that she keeps Debbie Davis, Cricket and her succession of male companions in separate cages. So now we have two cricket totes complete with paper product-based shelters and peat moss.

The precaution wasn’t enough to save Narmer, though. Last Friday morning while feeding her crickets before going to school, The Nine-Year-Old discovered Narmer belly-up in his cage. Debbie Davis, Cricket was still tucked away in hers, which The Nine-Year-Old has decided means she’s not to blame.

Is something in the habitat to blame? 

The males are being fed the same food as Debbie Davis, Cricket, so it’s probably not the food.

We tried separating the crickets, but Narmer still died, so it’s probably not a case of cricket-on-cricket warfare (or vampirism).

Narmer was treated to a brand new, freshly washed cricket tote, so it’s unlikely he caught whatever disease Charles Allen Cricket had, if in fact Charles Allen Cricket had some sort of disease. And really, if Charles Allen Cricket had been ill, and if that illness had been virulent enough to kill Narmer off within two days of exposure to it, wouldn’t Debbie also be dead now?

That leaves the peat moss and paper products. Again, we have the same setup and the same supply source for both habitats, and Debbie’s doing just fine.

So if the habitats aren’t at fault, what else could be? 

The Nine-Year-Old wakes up every morning to an alarm clock that sounds like chirping birds. She rather likes the sound of chirping birds in the morning, so she lets the alarm keep chirping until it shuts itself off an hour later. This sounds lovely to us, but let’s think about it from Narmer’s point of view. Holy terror, Antman.

And then there’s the unpredictable assaults by the roving orange-furred beast. Despite our best security precautions, Canelo still manages to get in The Nine-Year-Old’s room at least twice a day. Inevitably he goes straight for the cricket cages.

Our new working theory: Upon exposure to the Cricket Hellscape that is The Nine-Year-Old’s room, the male crickets are dying of fright.

Can crickets die of fright? 

Frankly, I don’t know. There is some evidence that otherwise healthy people, especially post-menopausal women over 60, who are exposed to a sudden, severe shock can experience a massive adrenaline surge that causes their hearts to stop beating.

Crickets don’t have adrenaline, but they do have a neurotransmitter called octopamine that operates in a similar fashion. If I’m reading this right, octopamine helps regulate the fight or flight response in crickets much the same way adrenaline operates in us.

So while I have no real evidence for this, it does at least seem plausible that crickets could die of fright after being exposed to a sudden intense shock, like the rapid appearance of a gigantic furry paw armed with half-cricket-length claws.

Especially if those crickets are already on edge after listening to an army of birds chirping about how they are going to come and feast on crickets at the very first opportunity.

Having typed all that, I find that I have a new appreciation for Debbie Davis, Cricket. She must be made of very stern stuff indeed.

Daddyo, unconvinced: “Do crickets even have hearts? And if so, can they have heart attacks from octopamine surges?”

And just like that Dr. Science pokes a hole in my lovely theory (and gives me an idea to test in next Monday’s post). Stay tuned.

P.S. The Nine-Year-Old has named her new cricket Bob. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a picture of him before he dies. Canelo’s already tossed his cage onto the floor at least once.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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2 Responses to “Can crickets die of fright?”

  1. Pingback: What’s The Nine-Year-Old reading this week? | CATERPICKLES

  2. Pingback: “Can crickets die of fright,” Part Two: “Do crickets have hearts?” | CATERPICKLES

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