John Abbott

If Austinites don’t watch their steps this summer, they may end up crushing a cricket. However, chances are another one will quickly take its place.

High rainfall earlier this year and hot temperatures these past few months have brought a rise in the local cricket population. UT biology lecturer John Abbott said this spike in population occurs every few years when there is the right combination of weather conditions, such as heat and last year’s drought. He said drought conditions killed many predators that eat crickets, which has contributed to the cricket abundance, although the infestation should only last a few weeks.

Abbot said one way to keep the crickets at bay is to turn off outside lights at night when they are most active.

John Burns, UT facility services manager, said the custodial crews have placed bait in hot spots around campus to kill the crickets.

“The crickets have been eating this bait pretty fast because there are so many,” Burns said. “Some hot spots include the Harry Ransom Center, Gregory Gym, the Blanton Museum and the Performing Arts Center.”

According to Accuweather, a worldwide weather service organization, there have been nearly 1.5 times the normal amount of rainfall in Austin this year.

Frequent rainfall makes the earth soft for egg-laying and a suitable breeding ground for crickets. Each female cricket can lay between 200 and 400 eggs and are attracted to bright lights. Crickets give off a foul odor and are noisy throughout the night, which is the primary time they are awake.

Roy Jackson, biology and rhetoric senior, said the vast number of crickets are a nuisance around his apartment building in Far West campus.

“They are harmless creatures,” Jackson said. “On the other hand, they are annoying and keep crawling into my apartment.”

Monica Malone, general manager of J&J Pest Control, said the mild weather and abundance of rain in Austin last winter provided the right climate for cricket survival.

“We are getting like 5 billion calls per minute,” Malone said. “These are primarily from commercial buildings because the big parking lot lights draw every cricket in the world to their building.”

A young girl reaches towards a monarch butterfly during Insecta Fiesta at the UT Texas Natural Science Center’s Breckenridge Field Lab Saturday. The event offered people of all ages the chance to learn about insects and interact with them.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

All kinds of insects, creepy-crawlers and bugs were on display for people to see, touch and learn about on Saturday.

Insecta Fiesta, which was held at the UT Texas Natural Science Center’s Breckenridge Field Lab, offered the chance to learn about insects in various ways, such as an insect petting zoo, arts and crafts and a competition to see who could spit a dead cricket the farthest distance. In attendance were many UT students, faculty, Austinites and children.

John Abbott, curator of entomology and integrative biology professor, organized the event. Abbott said the goal of Insecta Fiesta was to cultivate an interest in insects for the general public.

“We wanted to educate, excite and inform about insects,” Abbott said. “There are more insects on the planet than any others group of animals, and we want to get people as excited about them as we are.”

Abbott said although many people view insects as strange, he hoped the fun activities being offered would spark an interest and understanding of the creatures.

“If they don’t have an outright interest in something, they certainly have a curiosity,” Abbott said. “Our goal through lots of different mechanisms, from arts and crafts to talks to holding live insects, is just to get them excited and over their fears in some cases.”

Abbott said he hoped the event grabbed people’s attention and excited them about insects.

“I just want everybody to appreciate them for the amazing group of organisms that they are,” Abbott said. “Sure, there’s some that are pests, but most of them are not, and they’re so amazing in so many different ways.”

Christina Cid, director of education at the Texas Natural Science Center, said Insecta Fiesta offered several teacher workshops to help integrate insect studies into grade school curriculum. Cid said 151 teachers from throughout the state traveled to attend the workshops.

“The idea behind the teacher workshops is for teachers to learn how to directly integrate insect-related curriculum into their teaching,” Cid said. “That way, they’re getting the content and the teaching skills to incorporate it.”

Cid said it’s important for teachers to integrate insects into their teachings, because it allows for more practical lessons.

“These teachers can go into their back yards and collect grasshoppers for their classes,” Cid said. “It’s really something that’s accessible to them, and easy to integrate into their curriculum for hands-on learning.”

Cid said this type of hands-on learning is critical in order to engage children in the world around them.

“It’s vital,” Cid said. “Science is around us, and we need to engage kids in getting hands on and getting outside.”

Sam Shook, a junior at the Liberal Arts Science Academy and a volunteer at the event, said insects have interested him since he was a child.

“I’ve been collecting insects for a while now, ever since I was a kid,” Shook said. “I love insects. There’s just a massive variety of different kinds to look at, which you don’t really get with many of types of living things.”

Shook said events like Insecta Fiesta are important in helping people truly understand insects.

“This kind of thing is really helpful, because most people don’t have a whole lot of interaction with insects,” Shook said. “These kinds of displays help lessen some of the fear factor for them. It makes them less unknown.”

Shook said he hopes the event will breed a positive attitude toward insects.

“Insects aren’t just scary, weird pest creatures,” he said. “They can be really cool and interesting looking. They’re something you should study and learn more about.”

Printed on Monday, April 23, 2012 as: Insecta Fiesta helps people appreciate bugs

Photo Credit: Colin Mullin | Daily Texan Staff

The unseasonably warm spring weather may spawn larger than normal insect populations, surprising visitors to South By Southwest next week and alerting Austinites to the changing climate.

After a historic drought last year and a mild and wet winter and spring, Austin can expect resurgent mosquito populations, said John Abbott, a senior lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences.

“People are talking about what wonderful May-like weather we were having in February,” Abbott said. “The thing is — it’s not May.”

While the hot, dry weather last year kept the number of mosquitoes down, it also shrunk the population of predators that help to keep the pests under control, Abbott said.

“If you have a warm spring like we do right now, dragonflies can emerge early, too,” he said. “The problem is that last year was so dry that their population was knocked back a bit. Mosquitoes, with their shorter life spans, can rebound much quicker and get ahead of predators like dragonflies.”

Despite the unusual conditions, Abbott said he has not seen any mosquitoes yet this year. He said he has seen plenty of crane flies, however, which are often called ‘mosquito hawks.’ He said visitors to Austin will likely mistake the large insects for Texas-size mosquitoes.

“We are having a big outbreak of crane flies,” Abbott said. “They don’t eat mosquitoes. They’re a completely different family and they do not carry diseases. Folks coming in next week [for South By Southwest] do not have to be alarmed.”

Although mosquitoes have not yet been a problem, Danny Dodd, a local pest control technician, said festivalgoers should keep their bug spray handy.

“You need to wear some kind of repellent,” he said. “They’re going to be pretty bad here, especially with all the rain that we’re getting. But it depends on how warm it gets.”

In the long-term, Abbott said Austinites should be concerned with the changing climate and the ensuing northward spread of insect-born diseases.

“It wasn’t long ago that we had the first confirmed case of dengue fever being contracted in the Rio Grande Valley,” he said. “That [disease] is going to become more prevalent as mosquitoes move farther north. Because the climate allows them, they’ll bring diseases with them.”

Business freshman Alexander Sands said he does not worry about the abnormal weather, the prospect of more mosquitoes or the potential spread of insect-borne disease.

“Texas always has strange weather,” he said. “I’m from Conroe, and compared to there, the number of mosquitoes [in Austin] is very small. I doubt that West Nile would spread to Austin, and I find it unlikely that there would be a serious epidemic.”