The Fighting Cricket

 

https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/brawling-crickets-shed-light-fight-flight-response-humans-1491824
An aggressive male cricket about to attack an opponent 

 


How do you feel about crickets? Do they keep you awake at night, make your house feel infested? I live outside of town on a little bit of land, and this time of year, I have crickets everywhere. And there loud chirping at night can make it hard to fall back asleep at times. And finding little cricket carcasses the cats leave around the house can also be off putting.

 

It turns out though, the humble cricket has quite the relationship history with humanity from ancient times to today. In this episode, we’re going to take a look at some Lore and Legends, from the past, present, and future surrounding this little wonder bug…

 

We’ll start with a story that is set in Ancient China…. 

 

During the Ming Dynasty, Cricket Fighting had become a very popular sport among the noble and wealthy. And each year, the population had to collect a quota of crickets for the noble courts. One year, the magistrate of an area within Shensi in central China wanted to gain favor with the higher nobility. So, he set his mind on finding the best fighting cricket. He eventually succeeded, and the cricket he presented became their best fighter. As a result, the royal courts declared his land would become the official Royal Supplier of crickets. There was only one problem, crickets were not common in this area and were hard to find. So, the magistrate kicked this responsibility down to his subordinates. One of these men was named Buchang, and he was extraordinarily average, and despite his best efforts to move up the ranks for his family he was always outsmarted, neglected, and passed over. In his role, he was ultimately responsible for collecting taxes, and if he came of short would have to pay the rest out of his pockets, similarly he would be responsible for the crickets in his nearly cricket less area. 

 


Crickets were of course, treasured insects, so people tended to keep the few crickets they could find for protection and good luck. And Buchang could not bring himself to take them from them to pass up to the royal court. So, he set out to find wild ones himself. He looked everywhere, even the cracks in the walls and the rocks in the gardens, but he only found a few small weak crickets. When he failed to meet the quota, he was beaten severely by the magistrate’s men, so severely that he could do nothing but lie down for days afterwards, with his spirit broken, he just wanted to die. 

 

Worried for her family, Buchang's wife set off to see a prominent fortune teller to see if the future would be any better. When she arrived, there was a crowd vying for the attention of the old hunchbacked fortune teller. The Fortune Teller was standing and chanting in the midst of incense smoke before a reverent crowd bowing deep before her and leaving their money on her table. Every so often a slip of paper would appear out of a curtain behind the fortune teller and contain the fortune of one of the crowd. Buchang's wife placed her money at the tellers table, and owed low, and in time received her fortune. Her slip of paper had a picture of a weathered and abandoned shrine among jagged rocks, and near the shrine was a magnificent green cricket, and next to it a leaping frog. 

 

She hurried home and showed the mysterious fortune to her husband. Buchang sat up, and got excited, “I think I know this shrine” he said. “This Fortune is telling me where I will find a perfect cricket!” He got up, still aching from his beating and set off for the old shrine. When he arrived, he looked carefully in every crack and crevice, prodding with a bamboo staff but didn’t find any crickets, he was beginning to despair, until suddenly a frog leapt out of nowhere, recalling the frog from the fortune he quickly followed after it into the weeds. He followed the frog, and when he reached down to look for it in the weeds, he saw the magnificent green cricket on the fortune with wings that appeared to be made of gold. He caught the cricket and happily took it home. The family was overjoyed with such a fine specimen in their house. Buchang put it in large cage, fed it grain, and guarded it, saving it for the next quote he would have to meet. 


One night though, his young son crept into the room with the cricket and removed it from his cage, as he admired the cricket in his hands it suddenly jumped away, he frantically chased it around the room and outside, desperate to recover his families best hope for the future he finally caught it, but he was to rough, one of the crickets legs was torn off, and its belly was slashed. It twitched for a moment and died. The boy’s mother caught him in the moment, Furious, she yelled at him, and told him he was in for a world of hurt when his Father found out. The boy burst into tears, and his mother went to wake his father. 

 

A Green Cricket (I always thought these were grasshoppers)

When Buchang found out he was furious, he intended to punish his son as severely as he had been beaten for missing the cricket quota, but when he arrived at the spot with the dead cricket, his son was gone. Furiously he looked all over, when he began to run out of places to look, his anger faded and was replaced by worry… he eventually found his son, who had fallen into an old well and appeared lifeless. His anger and worry now faded to despair, he pulled his son up from the well and wept. But he soon felt that his son was still breathing, though just barely, so he took him home. Buchang couldn’t sleep, he laid awake all night worried for his son who was in an unshakeable deep sleep. As morning got closer, he heard a faint chirp outside, then it grew louder, he sprang to action and went searching for the cricket, he saw it, a large green cricket like the one before. He chased after it, and thought he had caught it, but he didn’t feel it in hands, he opened his hands to look and it was there! But in that brief moment it jumped away and seemed to get faster and faster until he lost track of it and it disappeared. Defeated once again, he wanted to just die. But on the wall next to him he spotted another cricket, this one black and red and holding still, but small. Ignoring the small cricket, he began to look in the surrounding area for more crickets. But the black cricket jumped into his shirt, better than nothing, he decided to take it home. As the quota day approached, Buchang had the idea that he would test this cricket in a local fight before presenting it. “I’m screwed either way he thought, I may as well have some fun with this small cricket until then” So he took it to the fights, and at the sight of the small cricket a young hotshot with an impressive cricket of his own laughed and placed his large champion cricket in the arena next to it. 

 

Buchang’s cricket just sat there, though in a pose that seemed aggressive and ready to fight. As the larger cricket moved towards it, Buchang prodded his small cricket with a piece of grass with no luck and anticipated a loss, but just before the large cricket could bite, the black cricket leapt into action and latched onto the larger cricket’s throat. Terrified of losing his prized cricket the young owner quickly pulled them apart. A Rooster in the area had taken notice though and while Buchang admired his small cricket it pecked at it, but missed, the cricket hopped away, and rooster appeared to give chase. Now Terrified for his cricket Buchang chased the rooster. Only to find that his cricket had latched its jaws to the rooster’s comb and the rooster was attempting to flee!

 

Buchang quickly took this cricket to the magistrate who had him beaten and presented it. The magistrate could not believe such a small cricket was any good, so he had it fight his own cricket. One by one, Buchang’s cricket dominated them all, and even bested one of the magistrate’s roosters, proving Buchang’s story. The magistrate took the cricket to the Royal Palace, where it quickly became the most prized cricket, besting all of the competition!

 

The emperor rewarded the magistrate, who in turn made Buchang into a Nobleman, granted him vast swaths of farmland, several herds of livestock, and the finest goods available. After all of this, Buchang’s son awoke from his deep sleep, and told his father that while he slept, he dreamt that he was a fighting cricket, light and fast, who could best any competition……

 

There are several variants of this basic story, which is called “The Fighting Cricket”, I paraphrased this one a little it, and cleaned up some language but it comes from “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio” by Songling Pu and translated to English by Herbert Giles, Published in 1880. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/43629/43629-h/43629-h.htm#chapter-64

 

I picked this story because it brings up a few themes related to cricket mythology or beliefs and of the course the weird world of Cricket Fighting, which still happens in a big organized way today. 

 

So why are or were crickets so treasured? Well you know that chirping sound that can dominate the night? In Old China, it was considered musical, soothing, and entertaining. Male crickets are the ones that chirp, and though you might not know it, if you listen close, they play a few different songs. The loudest one is used to lure female crickets. But once the Female is near, the switch to a quieter courtship song, and there are songs that indicate to other males to stay away, or that they’re about to fight. Pretty complex for a small insect, right? Researchers have even some studies with female crickets to determine what sounds and rhythms they prefer by tracking how they move relative to any given song! https://jeb.biologists.org/content/215/13/2210



There’s even more here, did you know that if you count the number of chirps in a cricket’s song over a 15 second period, and add 40 to it, you will have an accurate measurement of the ambient temperature? This is referred to as Dolbear's law, after Amos Dolbear who realized in the 1800s that the rate of cricket chirps correlated with the outside temperature. This science at work here, is that the male crickets’ muscles move easier in warmer weather than in cold weather. So, they can chirp faster when its warm, and are slower in the cold. Don’t believe me? Go check https://www.scienceabc.com/nature/animals/is-it-possible-to-determine-temperature-by-counting-cricket-chirps-the-dolbear-law.html

 


Simplified


Crickets songs were also used in old china to help predict when to plant and when to harvest. And this makes some sense considering the months that they are active and the rate of chirping.  

 

But there’s still more, I’m sure you’ve noticed that when you walk towards the sound of a cricket at night or enter an area where the crickets are chirping that they almost always stop. This was noticed to, and crickets were often used as a proto house alarm to warn of intruders or movement in the house. 

 

There’s another thing crickets do very well, reproduce. In their short lifespan of about 3 months, a single female cricket can produce hundreds of eggs. One thing that was considered lucky, and still is in many ways, is fertility. But especially in Old China, having more children was seen as a blessing and sign of good fortune and prosperity for the future, and the ability to do a lot of work in a short time.  So aside from the song that served as both entertainment and a house alarm,  Crickets were a symbol of fertility and prosperity. 

 

As such beloved creatures, crickets found their place in many houses. And people would often have intricate cricket houses carved from gourds. Or carefully made cages. And adjust the interior of the cricket house to be warmer or cooler depending on the season. So, where might you place something so revered as a cricket in your home? On the hearth perhaps? 

 

Some pictures of these cricket houses:

Chinese Cricket homes, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Public Domain

Chinese Cricket home, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Public Domain

Old chinese cricket cage by Ian Dikhtiar

Vintage Cricket Cages

But now we need to talk about the actual Cricket Fighting. Ya, turns out that’s a thing, a big thing in some areas,  and has been for a very long time. 

 

Cricket Fight!

The Sport of Cricket Fighting traces its roots back some thousand years in the Chinese Ta(o)ng Dynasty. Starting off as a sport for the affluent, it soon gained popularity among common people as well, it lasted all the way until the rise of the communist party in china in the 1960s, who did what communists tend to do and make everything not fun. Cricket fighting, which was part of Chinese culture going back centuries was outlawed for being a sport of the “bourgeois”. 


Good old fashioned Cricket Fight

Mae Zaedong, one of the most evil people to have ever lived.
Achievements include genocide, and banning cricket fighting 


It's making a great comeback in modern times though. And late September is the official Cricket Fighting season. Organized cricket fighting tournaments are now common. And Cricket fights are even broken up into weight classes not so different from any other fighting sport. A single cricket can be worth upwards of $50, and match wagers can exceed $1000 though gambling on the fights is still illegal and makes the gatherings subject to police raids. But officially sanctioned tournaments are really all about competition, prestige, and honor. In 2010 it is estimated that some $63million was spent on crickets alone! https://www.amusingplanet.com/2011/11/cricket-fighting-contests-in-china.html

 

Cricket Fighting in China, by Yang Jeng-Tze, CC BY-SA 3.0 


A really neat and short Vice piece on Cricket Fighting!


Now of course crickets have jaws to eat, but honestly, I didn’t even know they could really bite like that. Most crickets can’t bite hard enough to puncture human skin, but they can in fact all bite pretty hard, though they tend to only go after other insects. 


Here's an official study on the fighting ability of Male Crickets!

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2601036/

 

But there is one more cricket thing I want to talk about. And that is crickets as food, and not for a pet reptile….

 

Crickets, as we have learned, reproduce rapidly and in large numbers, and they are also high in protein. In some parts of the world they are already eaten alongside other insects. But the trend is catching on as the human population grows, and we look for alternatives for industrial meat farming.  You may have seen dried seasoned crickets at a novelty shop at some point here in the US, but you may not know that a US Company called EXO makes protein bars and protein powder out of them, I’ll have some purchase links up at LoreandLegends.net if you want to give one a try, it’ll help the podcast even! High end survival shelter companies like Terreform,  are relying on sustainable cricket farms built into the walls as a means to keep potential bunker dwellers protein needs met as wait out the riots or the apocalypse too! In a few years, the crickets as food market might exceed $50million domestically! Sounds crazy right? Well, so did sushi and lobster not even 100 years ago! 


https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2018/01/30/farming-the-next-big-food-source-crickets/#3d2d65931168

 

So, there you have it. The humble cricket, chirping away outside your window,  actually has quite the history with mankind. And as the legend goes, the louder he chirps the more prosperity is headed your way. If you want to support the show, buy some of these cricket bars! Or if your less adventurous but still feeling charitable, get me a coffee at buymeacoffee.com/loreandlegends


Till Next Time…..


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