It’s time. Time for their glittering armor and their orgiastic cannibalism, their rhythmically gyrating jazz-antennas and their fearsomely acrobatic, get-Hugh-Hefner-his-smelling-salts sex. Time for the stinking green blood they squeeze from their joints, and the weaponized vomit they smear over their bodies.
What it’s time for, as autumn approaches in the Kalahari, is the armored ground cricket. Never heard of it? That’s hardly surprising. These little lookers haven’t generally made the A-list of African wildlife at which generations of Roosevelts and Hemingways have aimed their elephant guns and Leicas. But if armored ground crickets face some rather formidable marketing challenges, they’re also ridiculously, absurdly fascinating.
Like many visitors to southern Africa, my three fellow road-trippers and I first ran across these crickets literally. As in, with a car. Crunch. Well—crunch—more than one. Crunch, crunch. Woops. Crunch. Watch it there, little fellas! Crunch crunch crunch crunch crunch. All this before we’d left the parking lot of a lodge south of Windhoek (the capital of Namibia, a country that despite any recently amplified cricket-related anxieties should be at the top of every African travel itinerary).
We pulled onto the open road and this drumbeat of crunching death accelerated to a blood-curdling, Jiffy-Pop pace. Utterly revolted, we pulled over almost immediately and turned off the ignition. Wandering into the silence of the windswept highway, we came face-to-spiny-face with our victims: fat, bristling with eponymous armor, and about two inches long, plus antennas.
Hideously mangled by an earlier car, one cricket—let’s call him, oh, Chester, shall we?—struggled mightily, and with much antenna-waving, to right himself. We paused for a moment of obligatory liberal-arts-grad reflection on the trail of casual destruction that even the best-intentioned among us will leave in the world. Meanwhile, other crickets ambled over and stood in a somber arc around the grievously wounded Chester. Heads bowed, jazz antennas momentarily subdued, they seemed—somehow—to share the somber moment. Then they all, simultaneously, began to eat Chester alive.