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Invasive Camel Crickets May Take Over in U.S. Homes

A citizen science project uncovers some startling facts about a species that eats anything and may outnumber humans in the U.S.
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Camel crickets may have been largely overlooked by scientists over the past several decades, but the results of a new citizen science project, released Tuesday, reveal the insects may outnumber humans in the United States.

What's more, the study found that an invasive species of camel cricket from Asia is now far more common in American basements than the native variety.

Camel crickets — also known as "sprickets," spider crickets and cave crickets — have an arched back and long hind legs. The ones scientists would expect to find in North America are thick-bodied and a mottled brown in color; they belong to the genus Ceuthophilus. An invasive species of camel cricket from Asia, Diestrammena asynamora, became established in the United States during the 19th century. It was dubbed the greenhouse camel cricket, and scientists thought it was rarely found outside of greenhouses. It has a banded pattern on its legs and is more slender than its American counterpart.

"Camel crickets may actually provide an important service in our basements or garages, eating the dead stuff that accumulates there."

To determine how common all kinds of camel crickets are today, Holly Menninger, director of public science in the Your Wild Life lab and co-author of the study, and her colleagues at North Carolina State University and Enloe High School in Raleigh turned to the public. They solicited photos and physical specimens of camel crickets living in and around U.S. homes.

The invasive camel crickets seemed to be much more common than Ceuthophilus insects, according to the results, published in the open-access journal Peer J. This species could also be extremely abundant. Over two days, the researchers caught 50 individual D. asynamora crickets in a single yard in Raleigh, North Carolina.

"We don't know what kind of impact this species has on local ecosystems, though it's possible that the greenhouse camel cricket could be driving out native camel cricket species in homes," study leader Mary Jane Epps, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State, said in a statement.

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The scientists roughly estimated that there could be 700 million camel crickets, of all species, in and around homes across the eastern United States. Camel crickets don't pose any threat to humans, and they might not actually be such bad roommates.

"Because they are scavengers, camel crickets may actually provide an important service in our basements or garages, eating the dead stuff that accumulates there," Menninger explained in a statement.

The authors of a study of Ceuthophilus foraging habits noted that camel crickets would eat anything from American cheese to dead fire ants to human feces to fallen fruit.

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full article. Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+.

— Molly Gannon, LiveScience