What are Potato Bugs?
For some reason, there’s been a lot of hullaballoo about the potato bug lately. What is the potato bug and what is all the hullaballoo about? I decided to do some research to answer these two questions. Right off the bat I learned that there are three bugs – the roly-poly bug, the Colorado beetle, and the Jerusalem cricket – that are all referred to as potato bugs. I visited each of these bugs to uncover the “hullaballoo” and this is what I found.
The roly-poly bug is the only one that inhabits our Hawaiian islands. The roly-poly bug – also known as a potato bug, a pill bug, and a sow bug – is that little gray bug that I played with as a child. The roly-poly doesn’t bite or sting, it has an armor-like shell around its body, and it’s fun to play with because it rolls up into a ball when disturbed. The roly-poly’s job as part of our ecosystem is to decompose waste and return valuable nutrients back into our soils. The “hullaballoo” about the roly-poly bug may be that it’s not a bug at all, which means it’s not an insect either. The roly-poly may be called a bug, but it is really a land-based crustacean! Yes, the roly-poly I played with as a kid has crayfish and lobster relatives!
The Colorado beetle – also known as a potato bug, a ten-striped spearman, and a Colorado potato beetle – generally has a black and yellow-striped body with an orange-colored head. The Colorado beetle is a serious pest to potato, tomato, eggplant, and pepper crops, and has yet to be identified in the state of Hawaii. The Colorado beetle is food for birds and frogs, and other beneficial insects to the ecosystem attack and eat them as well. What I deem the “hullaballoo” about the Colorado beetle is its super ability to easily create a resistance to most synthetic pest treatments aimed at eliminating them from crops.
Now enter the Jerusalem cricket. The Jerusalem cricket – also known as the potato bug, earth baby, skull head, and old bald headed man – may take home the prize for the most “hullaballoo” just with its looks. The Jerusalem cricket is not a cricket, it did not come from Jerusalem, could care less about potatoes, and it really isn’t a bug. The Jerusalem cricket is an insect that can grow up to three inches long, is kind of brownish-yellow in color, has a big bald-looking head, and tiny black beady eyes. Its size, bald head, and massive jaw that opens when defending itself make the Jerusalem cricket very scary-looking! In fact, the Jerusalem cricket has been referred to as “…Frankenstein’s monster of the insect world.” The Jerusalem cricket will bite if provoked; the bite hurts but is not venomous and will go away in a few minutes. This cricket burrows underground during the day, helping to aerate our soils and make them more absorbent. Another interesting thing about the Jerusalem cricket is that – according to The Hawaiian Forester and Agriculturist Magazine, First Quarter (January-March 1924) Edition – a Jerusalem cricket was found aboard a vessel that came to our islands from California. Other than that, there appears to be no evidence that Jerusalem crickets are here in Hawaii.
By no stretch of the imagination am I a potato bug expert, but I learned a lot about what potato bugs are, and how each of the three have unique characteristics that folks find captivating. So, that’s all the “hullaballoo” for today about the potato bug.