Did you know that the potato bug is a common name for the Jerusalem crickets? You probably have come across them and were terrified and intimidated by their size and looks.
Let’s be honest, they don’t make a pretty insect, but that does not make them anything to be scared of. Contrary to the popular myth that potato bug bites are dangerous and poisonous – they are not.
In the course of this article, I will be revealing some basic facts and information on potato bugs. And everything you need to know about them and their bites.
What is a Potato Bug?
The potato bug, also known as Jerusalem cricket, with scientific name Stenopelmatus fuscus as you may have it, is a wingless insect native to the western United States and Mexico.
This insect is distinguished by certain unique characteristics such as appearance, diet, pest management, and distribution. Although it does resemble a cricket, it is actually not one at all as suggested by one of its names – Jerusalem cricket. Unlike crickets that chirp, they hiss instead).
They are also not from the city Jerusalem – they are not bugs, but insects. Farmers may be quite familiar with these insects as they are usually found digging beneath the dirt and feeding on the tubers and roots of potato plants. Hence the name potato bug.
This is not to be confused with the potato beetle, as some people often do. One of the major differences between these two insects is that while one feeds on potatoes that are above ground, the other concentrates on below the ground level. In the course of this article, you will discover more of their differences and the uniqueness of the potato bug. Source
What does a potato bug look like?
Potato bugs are known for their alien look characterized by their big jaws and disproportionately large, human-like heads. Facially speaking, they are sometimes compared to human children, and thus another common name they go by is “child of the earth”.
To add to their conspicuously big heads is their eyes that are tiny and dark. This nocturnal insects in their mature stage tend to reach up to 2 inches or more in length and are typically amber-yellow colored around their heads, legs, and thoraxes. Their abdomens on the other hand alternate between brown and black bands, which is largely an adaptation for the use of their spiny legs in digging through the soil.
Furthermore, they are highly bumbling in their movements as well. Any insect you ever get to see with these traits, know that it is most likely to be a potato bug.
What does a potato bug eat?
It is true that the fondly called Jerusalem insects have over the years been dubbed potato bugs due to their tendency to consume potatoes. But, these are actually not their preferred diet.
With the help of their extra long mandibles serves adaptation, their primary diet are plant parts, decayed vegetative and dead organic matter. When all these become scarce they resolve to feed on insects.
Also, with that said, these insects feed on tubers and roots of potato, although not as implied by their name. Even though these happen, they don’t often cause damage to potato fields.
Where do Potato Bugs Live?
Potato bugs are found in the western and southwestern parts of the United States and along the Pacific coast. They are nocturnal insects; implying that they are most or only active at night. Also, they live inside the ground, but can sometimes be found on the ground level, either crawling, residing in damp places or heaps of manure, and hiding under rocks.
If you are a farmer with potato plantation and the likes, expect to turn up a few of them when plowing your field. Cultivating of the soil is one activity that usually disturbs the potato bugs and brings them out of their hideout.
Do Potato Bugs Bite?
A lot of people often wonder if potato bugs actually bite and/or if they pose any danger to human. To answer this question is to say that a potato bug will do everything in its power to stay away from any appearance of humans or other predators.
But, if there’s any threat to them as a result of your presence, you can expect them to bite. Remember mandible as their adaption for eating? That’s what they are there for. Their mandibles are powerful and capable of biting.
But these insects are generally not hostile. They are usually referred to as shy and as such want to avoid contact or being seen by humans. This is why most of their life is spent underground. And so they only bite when they are provoked.
When they do bite, the effect can be very painful and sore. With the strong jaw they have, it’s no wonder why their bites can get so discomforting. To add to this inconvenience of potato bug bites is the fact that they gnaw and as a result emits a foul smell. Source
Are Potato Bug Poisonous?
Are potato bugs dangerous? No doubt that there a lot of insects that are considered pests because they are harmful to humans or other animals. This is not the case with a potato bug as terrifying and frightening as it may look.
Unlike many other insects, no venomous substance is released when it bites and so poses no danger to the health of humans. And yes, these bugs do have toxin-laced saliva, but that only applies to plants, it is not dangerous or poisonous to humans.
They do not feature any specialized toxic glands and so they are unable to produce poisonous substances when they get agitated, scared, hungry or feeling protective. The worst they can do when threatened is inflict agonizing pain on whoever it bites.
Warning Signs To Avoid A Potato Bug
As terrifying as they may seem, the worst that can they can do is inflicting an agonizing but non-toxic pain as a result of its bite. While this pain may be very excruciating, they are transitory – lasting for a few minutes only.
At the same time, this agony can be avoided by knowing the warning signs they give when they are agitated. Usually, when they are getting ready to bite they have a way of lifting their legs and making their bodies look bigger than usual.
Also, watch out for their hissing that usually comes before they try to sink their teeth into your skin. Additionally, if these guys are left alone, they would be on their own. Before they can get agitated, it is usually another party that initiated the encounter.
Always be cautious any time you come across them and even if you have come in contact with them, make sure your gloves are on.
How To Treat A Potato Bug Bite?
We have already established that the bite of a potato bug itself does not come with any harmful or poisonous substance – just the pain. But, it is important to prevent the bite mark from any infection. It’s necessary that the affected area be cleansed, so as to rid the area around the bite wound of any germs.
To do this, you can simply use soap and warm water. If there’s itching attached to the pain, applying apple cider vinegar to the irritated area is advised. This substance possesses antimicrobial properties and so will go a long way to help keep the wound inflicted by a potato bug from being infected.
Simply mix equal amounts of water and apple cider vinegar, dip a ball of cotton into the mixture and apply to the bite mark. Do this about 3 times a day until the sensation associated with the bite diminishes.
Final Words On Potato Bug Bite
Just because a creature is strange-looking does not mean that they are meant to do us any harm. Particularly, this insect’s appearance has been thought to be synonymous to its behavior. This is not the case with a potato bug. They are one of the meekest insects you will find on the face of the earth.
You don’t necessarily have to be worried about their presence. Now you know that all a potato bug is after is peace. As long as that happens, it poses no threat to humans in any way.
It is also important to note here even though these insects tend to cause nuisances (particularly when disturbed or threatened), they play an important role in the ecosystem.
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