The Hundredth Cricket Phenomenon?: Pregnant Crickets Forewarn Their Young Before Birth! An Opportunity for Natural and Supernatural Speculation?

And that would also mean that baby crickets have prebirth “memories” (either somatic or mental), doesn’t it? There must be a mechanism responsible for this, but what could it possibly be? This today in the New York Times:

Researchers from the University of South Carolina Upstate and Indiana State University placed pregnant crickets in an enclosure where they were stalked, but not eaten, by a wolf spider, whose fangs had been coated with wax to protect the crickets.

The young of the spider-exposed mothers turned out to be more predator-savvy than those with mothers who were not exposed to the wolf spider; they stayed hidden longer, and were more likely to freeze when they encountered spider feces or spider silk.

In a second experiment, the researchers placed the juvenile crickets in an arena with a starving wolf spider with fully functioning fangs. Eventually, the spider got all the crickets, but the young born from spider-exposed mothers lasted longer in the arena of death.

Superficially, this sounds near Lamarkian. Or like the bogus hundredth monkey “phenomenon.” I suppose that you could also speculate on the mental properties of cricket mothers and their abilities to send semantic messages to their young: beware the wolf spider! And, of course, you could guess that there is no material explanation at all, but that God is up to something.

But none of these would make for very satisfying explanations, would they? The only proper explanation would have to be a material and scientific one, right? Afterall, we all know that crickets don’t have rich mental lives or vocabularies, and God surely doesn’t micromanage the creation in so crude a fashion.

We do know these things, don’t we?

More from the New York Times:

“We don’t know a specific mechanism,” said Jonathan Storm, a professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg and one of the authors of the paper.

Although it is conjecture at this point, he said, “It’s possible that there could be some sort of hormone transmitted.”

What else could it be but some sort of hormone—or at least something grounded in determinate biochemistry? Is there any other route to an explanation that wouldn’t entail overturning everything that scientists think they’ve discovered about life over the past century and a half?

Here’s a cricket whose “mind”—or nervous system—has been taken over by a parasitic worm that “wants” to get to water. The worm drives the cricket to commit “suicide.” It’s tricky talking about such things without purposeful anthropocentric language, isn’t it?:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to The Hundredth Cricket Phenomenon?: Pregnant Crickets Forewarn Their Young Before Birth! An Opportunity for Natural and Supernatural Speculation?

  1. Or did the cricket, in heroic valor, make a sacrifice in an effort to preserve another species?

  2. santitafarella says:

    Edward:

    That’s a clever theory.

    —Santi

  3. I used to water-ski in Pohick Bay, a jut of the Potomac River. We once ported onto a little island in the Bay which was loaded with crickets. But they all had only one hind leg. There was a nuclear power plant nearby. I assumed that had something to do with it.

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