The number of living insect species is estimated to be around 900,000, with the total population in the neighborhood of 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000). Given that density, it’s not surprising that a bunch of insects share similarities. Grasshoppers and crickets, for example, have both developed hind legs they use to jump relatively great distances. So how can you tell the difference?
Crickets and grasshoppers belong to the same insect order, Orthoptera, and share a lot of the same first-blush characteristics, like the elongated legs and semi-hardened wings. But closer inspection reveals crickets sport longer, thinner antennae than grasshoppers, which have stubbier protrusions; they also tend to be smaller than grasshoppers, measuring 2 inches or so while grasshoppers can be up to 4 inches. If you care to take a closer look, crickets also have their ears located on their forelegs, while grasshoppers listen via their abdomen.
The way they make noise differs, as well. Crickets use their wings, rubbing one against the other, while grasshoppers rely on their legs to stroke their wings to compose their tunes.
Crickets are named after their unique chirping, which sounded to some like “cricket.” The melody has a variety of functions, from attracting mates to intimidating rivals. Humans can even gauge temperatures depending on the frequency of the chirps: The more chirping, the hotter it is.
The two also sound different. Here’s a cricket:
And a grasshopper:
The time of day may also make a difference. If you see one out and about during the daytime, it’s likely to be a grasshopper. Crickets prefer emerging at dusk. And their diet is different. While grasshoppers are vegetarian, some cricket subspecies will snack on other insects.
Crickets and grasshoppers also differ when it comes to mating habits. Female crickets tend to obtain a dominant position over the male during copulation, but in grasshoppers it’s the opposite.
In terms of athletic ability, the two are similar. Grasshoppers can leap about 30 inches, which is not unlike a human jumping the length of a football field. Spider crickets can cover roughly the same distance.
Some people find that crickets are more likely to become a nuisance inside the home, as they like to wander toward light sources. If they do get in, they can be somewhat destructive, chewing through clothes and flooring. They can also bite humans, though there’s no concern of disease or injury. (Their tiny bite probably won’t break the skin.) If crickets are invading, they’re probably getting in through cracks in the foundation; sealing up possible paths of entry can help.
What about locusts? Technically, grasshoppers that swarm become locusts by definition, though only certain subspecies of grasshopper will engage in such behavior.
It’s still common for the two to get mixed up, and even get blamed for the others’ missteps. In 1993, when a swarm of crickets descended on stage during an Elton John concert and prompted the singer to call off the show, some news outlets misidentified the interlopers as grasshoppers.