Gryllotalpa major - Saussure
Prairie Mole Cricket
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Gryllotalpa major Saussure, 1874 (TSN 658215)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.115541
Element Code: IIORT17010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Invertebrates - Insects - Other Insects
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Mandibulata Insecta Orthoptera Gryllotalpidae Gryllotalpa
Genus Size: B - Very small genus (2-5 species)
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1989a. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; animal notice of review. Federal Register, Department of the Interior 54(4): 554-579.
Concept Reference Code: N89FWS01EHUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Gryllotalpa major
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G3
Global Status Last Reviewed: 12Nov1992
Global Status Last Changed: 12Nov1992
Rounded Global Status: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Scattered, fragmented populations; limited ability to establish populations once extirpated from a site.
Nation: United States
National Status: N3 (03Jun1993)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Arkansas (S1S2), Illinois (SH), Kansas (S3), Mississippi (SH), Missouri (S3), Oklahoma (S2), Tennessee (SH)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: DD - Data deficient

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 250-20,000 square km (about 100-8000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Historically from Kansan-type tallgrass prairie (Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, with outlying records from Mississippi and Illinois). Records from Mississippi, Illinois. Currently known from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Doubtful occurrence elsewhere.

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Recent surveys (1989-1991) have turned up many more locations, particularly in Oklahoma. About 150 extant locations are known. Estimate that there may be 100 more. Many of these sites are C ranked occurrences and their long-term survival is unknown.

Population Size: 2500 - 10,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Total abundance has little relevance in this and other invertebrates; number of occurrences is more significant. Still, the range of 10,000 to 50,000 acres is relevant.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Significant loss of prairie habitat has contributed to the decline. Populations persist on sites not suitable for planting but held for hay production. Habitat fragmentation is a concern for extant populations, many of which are very small. Sites are being lost in Oklahoma and Arkansas, several in Oklahoma since 1987 due to changes in land use practices.

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)
Short-term Trend Comments: Assume stable, but likely declining. Significant decline in the modern agricultural era, but there is not as much habitat conversion today. Stable on sites maintained as hay meadows. Habitat lost when land use changes. The cricket is not compatible with heavy or early spring grazing, plowing or most development for housing/commercial purposes.

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Fairly secure prairie-soil arthropod, appears to be vulnerable to heavy grazing pressure.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Surveys conducted in 1989-1991, particularly in OK and KS, showed the species extant at many locations. Additional survey is warranted, but not the priority suggested in 1987.

Protection Needs: Unknown.

Global Range: (250-20,000 square km (about 100-8000 square miles)) Historically from Kansan-type tallgrass prairie (Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, with outlying records from Mississippi and Illinois). Records from Mississippi, Illinois. Currently known from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Doubtful occurrence elsewhere.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.

Map unavailable!:
Distribution data for U.S. states and Canadian provinces is known to be incomplete or has not been reviewed for this taxon.

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AR, IL, KS, MO, MS, OK, TN

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
AR Arkansas (05001), Benton (05007), Boone (05009), Franklin (05047), Lonoke (05085), Monroe (05095), Prairie (05117)
KS Anderson (20003), Bourbon (20011), Chautauqua (20019), Clay (20027), Coffey (20031), Crawford (20037), Elk (20049), Franklin (20059), Greenwood (20073), Johnson (20091), Labette (20099), Miami (20121), Montgomery (20125), Riley (20161), Wilson (20205), Woodson (20207)
MO Barton (29011), Benton (29015), Cedar (29039), Dade (29057), Henry (29083), Jasper (29097), Lawrence (29109), New Madrid (29143)*, Newton (29145), Pemiscot (29155)*, Pettis (29159), Polk (29167), St. Clair (29185), Vernon (29217)
MS Rankin (28121)*, Simpson (28127)*, Winston (28159)*
OK Caddo (40015), Canadian (40017), Cleveland (40027), Craig (40035), Creek (40037), Delaware (40041), Kay (40071), Lincoln (40081), Mayes (40097), McIntosh (40091), Nowata (40105), Osage (40113), Payne (40119), Rogers (40131), Tulsa (40143), Wagoner (40145), Washington (40147)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
03 Noxubee (03160108)+*, Upper Pearl (03180001)+*, Middle Pearl-Strong (03180002)+*
08 Little River Ditches (08020204)+*, Lower White-Bayou Des Arc (08020301)+, Lower White (08020303)+, Bayou Meto (08020402)+
10 Lower Republican (10250017)+, Upper Kansas (10270101)+, Lower Kansas (10270104)+, Upper Marais Des Cygnes (10290101)+, Lower Marais Des Cygnes (10290102)+, Marmaton (10290104)+, Harry S. Missouri (10290105)+, Sac (10290106)+, Pomme De Terre (10290107)+, South Grand (10290108)+, Lake of the Ozarks (10290109)+, Lamine (10300103)+
11 Bull Shoals Lake (11010003)+, Lower Cimarron (11050003)+, Kaw Lake (11060001)+, Upper Verdigris (11070101)+, Fall (11070102)+, Middle Verdigris (11070103)+, Elk (11070104)+, Lower Verdigris (11070105)+, Caney (11070106)+, Bird (11070107)+, Upper Neosho (11070204)+, Middle Neosho (11070205)+, Lake O' the Cherokees (11070206)+, Spring (11070207)+, Lower Neosho (11070209)+, Lower Canadian-Walnut (11090202)+, Little (11090203)+, Middle North Canadian (11100301)+, Lower North Canadian (11100302)+, Deep Fork (11100303)+, Polecat-Snake (11110101)+, Illinois (11110103)+, Frog-Mulberry (11110201)+, Dardanelle Reservoir (11110202)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: Largest mole cricket in North America.
General Description: Large native mole cricket, measuring up to five cm and weighing up to 2.6 gm (Walker and Figg, 1990). Males and females are very similar in appearance, but males have fore wings modified for producing calls, while females are silent. (Sexually mature females fly but males do not.) Adults are tan to reddish brown in color. Forelegs are modified for burrowing and are mole-like in appearance. The fore wings extend only about 1/3 the length of the abdomen, but a pair of pale, slender underwings extends over and curls under the tip of the abdomen. The thorax is shield-like and seems to cover the small head and small, closely spaced pair of eyes. A pair of antennae project forward from the head while a pair of bristles extend back from the abdomen. No descriptions of the young are available.
Diagnostic Characteristics: Calls in late March to early June from specialized burrows. Males and females have modified forelimbs for burrowing. Forewings extend about 1/3 the length of the abdomen. Pale, narrow underwings curve over the tip of the abdomen.

Two or more species of mole crickets (of the genus SCAPTERISCUS) have been accidentally been introduced into the United States. These species may confuse the public, but they would not confuse a biologist.

Reproduction Comments: Males form aggregations, or leks (Walker and Figg, 1990). Leks are easy to locate because of the loud call of courtship males. Presumably the number of calling males could drop below a threshold number and the colony would disappear.
Ecology Comments: Native component of natural tallgrass prairie ecosystem. The role played by this cricket in the system is not well documented, but populations are found only in high quality, mostly unmodified habitat. Individuals live for two years, molting several times (Figg and Calvert, 1987). All developmental stages spend most of their lives underground. They are only recognized during the brief spring mating season when males in specialized acoustic burrows call to flying females to attract them for mating. Females lay eggs away from the acoustic burrow, and males inhabit these burrows only during the brief daily calling period. No ecology details are available other than this brief portion of the life cycle.

Most observations to date were taken during the courtship period. The only successful indicator of population is a count of courtship males. Large annual fluctuation in the number of courtship males is probably normal. Courtship males reliably appear at the same locations every spring.

Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: Observations of females late in the courtship season suggest that females migrate away from the lek into surrounding habitats. Presume that 3-5 miles is the upper limit to female disperal.
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Grassland/herbaceous, Savanna
Special Habitat Factors: Burrowing in or using soil
Habitat Comments: Inhabitant of prairie soil ranging from mesic to dry-mesic (Figg, 1986). Not found in pastures.

Southern tallgrass prairie of the United States. Some individuals are found in mixed grass prairie, although these sites may not be optimal habitat as much as habitat that is both acceptable and available (Vaughn et al., 1993). The EO is based on reproductive males, and habitat used other than for reproduction has not been determined. The assumption is that all developmental stages live independently, dispersed throughout the soils adjacent to and on the aggregation sites, but evidence from related species suggests that females may tend eggs up through the first or second molt. Attempts to document or observe this have not been successful.

REPRODUCTIVE HABITAT: Mesic to dry-mesic prairie soils, mostly in tallgrass prairie remnants used for haying. Males construct burrows in the early spring when soils are soft and moist. Later in the summer, these same soils dry and harden. Males are only found in acoustic burrows during their brief nightly calling period or when they are maintaining the burrow.

Adult Food Habits: Herbivore, Invertivore
Food Comments: Food habits of adults and young are not known. Other species of mole crickets eat either animal or plant material, or both. Analysis of the digestive tract of eight adult individuals were inconclusive but appeared to include pulpy roots of native prairie plants and some animal tissues (Figg and Calvert, 1987). Mouth parts of the adults would support this type of feeding strategy.
Adult Phenology: Nocturnal
Phenology Comments: Males begin singing in late March to late April with the arrival of spring temperatures. Individuals call for up to 30 minutes, while the aggregation calls for approximately one hour. Some individuals begin their calling bout at sunset and others begin after it is dark. They call on warm, still nights with no rain. A combination of wind and cold also inhibit calling. Most males don't call when temperatures are less than 17 degrees Celsius, but some will call at lower temperatures if there is no wind. Males do not call when wind is over 25 mph. The calling season is just over one month in length, even though climatic conditions may be suitable on fewer then half the nights in this time span.
Colonial Breeder: Y
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: Because this cricket was known from fewer than 75 museum specimens in 1986 and believed to be extinct, it became a candidate for the Endangered Species List (Walker and Figg, 1990). Surveys from 1987 to 1991 turned up approximately 150 populations, and the proposed rule to list the cricket was withdrawn (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1992). The cricket was accorded Category 2 status and is still a candidate for listing until sufficient information on its general ecology and life history can be gathered to make an informed decision. Even though 150 populations had been located by 1991, and estimates were that as many as 100 more might be found, many of these sites are C ranked occurrences, and their long-term survival prospects are unknown. Habitat fragmentation that follows land use changes is a concern for extant populations, as is dispersal into unsuitable habitat (Figg and Calvert, 1987). Single individuals or pairs of males have been found along roadside ditches or margins of residential property in what once was tallgrass prairie habitat (Caire et al., 1993). Preliminary results from a 1995 inventory indicate that many sites identified previously in Oklahoma no longer support populations. Habitat has been lost to grazing, housing developments and conversion of hay meadows to plowed fields. At the same time, sites that have been maintained in the same condition since EO's were located there continue to support populations, with A and B ranked groups thriving. Many protected EO's are found in Missouri, with few in Arkansas and almost none in Kansas and Oklahoma.
Species Impacts: Native component of tallgrass prairie, associated with high quality prairie remnants. No known adverse affects on natural populations.
Restoration Potential: Recovery seems likely if habitat loss is stopped. Populations are persistent on sites unless land use changes are made. All A and B locations have been reliable since their discovery. Smaller populations may be less reliable through time, but it is safe to assume permanence of the EO unless there are significant habitat modifications.
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: Populations on protected sites of 160 acres or more seem to be thriving. Smaller area sites continue to support populations unless habitat is degraded in some way. Very small fragments may be protected if nearby sites are known to support persistent populations that could disperse to the very small fragments. Errant dispersal to unsuitable habitats neighboring current aggregations is a threat to existing populations (Figg and Calver, 1987).
Management Requirements: Populations seem to be lost when reproduction is interrupted and no offspring are left to inhabit the site once adults die. Activities such as early spring plowing, moderate to heavy grazing as soon as the prairie starts to produce after March burning, and lawn maintenance in new housing/commercial developments all interfere with construction and maintenance of the acoustic burrows from which males must call to attract females for mating. Turning the soil, compacting it, or adding herbicides and pesticides to it make the soil unsuitable for burrow construction and occupation. Early burning of the site, while possibly killing some males outright, doesn't affect the soil temperature for more than a few days. Populations still thrive on sites burned annually. Likewise, meadows that are mown for hay, after the the mating season is over and the soils have firmed up, are not degraded by this activity. It is possible that light grazing to maintain composition of the prairie plant community might not degrade the habitat, especially if it were inititated only after the soils had dried sufficiently to resist compaction. No observations of such light grazing regimes have been made.
Monitoring Requirements: Monitoring of the EOs during the mating season should be initiated by mid-April, or earlier when spring temperatures are high. On small sites, walking through the area and counting calling males should be sufficient to make accurate estimates of population size. Since not all males call at the beginning of the season, two to three visits should be made to a site, early and late in the season, and possibly during the middle. Likewise, not all males call just at sunset, so observations of a single site should begin before sunset and continue until it is completely dark, or all males stop calling. It is difficult to monitor more than one population per night, even if these are near each other. Larger populations require visits on consecutive nights to ensure that all burrows are located. A workable plan includes marking burrows with surveyor's flags until all are located, and then keeping records of activity at these markers on subsequent visits.
Management Research Needs: Additional inventory surveys, especially of habitat that appears suitable but has not been surveyed previously. Test sites where light grazing is allowed after the mating season ends to determine if this type of management generally improves the prairie plant community without harming the EO's. Long-term monitoring of C ranked sites to determine both persistence and mating success of males on these fragments.
Biological Research Needs: Documentation of life history, from oviposition by the females until maturity in the second spring. Details of the behavior of the females, since their choice of mates likely drives the mating system. More information on male-male interactions, especially as they relate to spacing and maintenance of a minimum viable population. Long-term monitoring of A ranked sites to determine if aggregations meet requirements to be classified as true leks (Bradbury, 1985).
Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 12Nov1992
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Figg, D.
Management Information Edition Date: 12Nov1992
Management Information Edition Author: FIGG, D., UPDATED BY HILL, P. S. M.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 12Nov1992
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): FIGG, DENNIS

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Bradbury, J. W. 1985. Contrasts between insects and vertebrates in the evolution of male display, female choice, and lek mating. Pages 273-289 in B. Holldobler, and M. Lindauer, editors. Experimental behavioral ecology. G. Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany.

  • Busby, W.H. 1991. Prairie mole cricket survey report for Kansas, 1991. Rept. No. 47, Kansas Biol. Survey, Lawrence, KS. 18 p.

  • Caire, W., Harrison, T., Stevens, S., Grantham, R., Thies, M., and Thies, K. 1993. Notes on the ecology of the prairie mole cricket, Gryllotalpa major, in northeastern Oklahoma. Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science 73:73-75.

  • Capinera, J. L., R. D. Scott, and T. J. Walker. 2004. Field guide to grasshoppers, katydids and crickets of the United States. Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York. 249 pp.

  • Figg, D. E., and Calvert, P. D. 1987. Status, distribution and life history of the prairie mole cricket, Gryllotalpa major Saussure. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, Missouri. 40 pp.

  • Figg, D.E., and P.D. Calvert. 1987. Status, distribution and life history of the prairie mole cricket, Gryllotalpa major. Missouri Dept. of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.

  • Figg, Dennis, Kenneth Lister, Chris Deitrich. 1992. Population monitoring of the prairie mole cricket, Gryllotalpa major Saussure. Improving the Status of Endangered Species in Missouri, Endangered Species Project SE-01-18. Unpublished report for the Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, Missouri. 12 pp.

  • Figg, Dennis. 1986. In search of the prairie mole cricket. Missouri Prairie Journal. 8(1):3-5.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1989a. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; animal notice of review. Federal Register, Department of the Interior 54(4): 554-579.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1992. Withdrawal of the proposed rule to list the prairie mole cricket (Gryllotalpa major) as threatened. Federal Register 57:2239-2241.

  • Vaughn, C. C., Glenn, S. M., and Butler, I. A. 1993. Characterization of prairie mole cricket chorusing sites in Oklahoma. American Midland Naturalist 130:364-371.

  • Vaughn, C.C., S.M. Glen, and I.H. Butler. 1993. Characterization of Prairie Mole Cricket Chorusing Sites in Oklahoma. Am. Midl. Nat. 130:364-371.

  • Walker, T. J. and D. E. Figg. 1990. Song and acoustic burrow of the prairie mole cricket Gryllotalpa major (Orthoptera: Gryllidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, 63(2): pp. 237-242.

  • Walker, T.J., and D.E. Figg. 1990. Song and acoustic burrow of the Prairie Mole Cricket, GRYLLOTALPA MAJOR (Orthoptera: Gryllidae). J. Kansas Ent. Soc. 63:237-242.

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