A cricket with a voracious appetite for anything - including members of its own species - is now spreading across the eastern United States with no end to the invasion in sight.
The invader, known as the greenhouse camel cricket (Diestrammena asynamora), is described in the latest issue of the journal PeerJ.
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"The good news is that camel crickets don't bite or pose any kind of threat to humans," Mary Jane Epps, a postdoctoral researcher at North Carolina State and lead author of the paper, said in a press release.
She was inspired to study the cricket after a colleague experienced a chance encounter with one at home. The cricket was previously known to science, but thought to be prevalent only in its native Asia. It had only been spotted in commercial greenhouses -- hence the name -- but wasn't thought to live elsewhere in the United States.
Epps and her team conducted a public survey and discovered that the cannibalistic, eat-anything cricket is all over the eastern states.
"We don't know what kind of impact this species has on local ecosystems though it's possible that the greenhouse camel cricket could be driving out native camel cricket species in homes," Epps said.
She and her team also sampled the yards of 10 homes in Raleigh, N.C. They found large numbers of greenhouse camel crickets, with higher numbers in the areas of the yards closest to homes.
Doing the research, they uncovered the possibility of yet another unusual cricket.
"There appears to be a second Asian species, Diestrammena japanica, that hasn't been formally reported in the U.S. before, but seems to be showing up in homes in the Northeast," Epps explained. "However, that species has only been identified based on photos. We'd love to get a physical specimen to determine whether it is D. japanica."
While invasive species are never a good sign, the researchers urge homeowners not to panic. Although the cricket sounds like fodder for a B-movie, there could be a silver lining to its presence.
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"Because they are scavengers, camel crickets may actually provide an important service in our basements or garages, eating the dead stuff that accumulates there," said Holly Menninger, director of public science in the Your Wild Life lab at NC State and a co-author of the paper.
"We know remarkably little about these camel crickets, such as their biology or how they interact with other species," Menninger added. "We're interested in continuing to study them, and there's a lot to learn."
Photo: greenhouse camel cricket (Diestrammena asynamora). Credit: Lauren Nichols, YourWildlife.org