The cave cricket (Hadenoecus subterraneus) is a keystone species in maintaining biological diversity in cave communities in Mammoth Cave National Park. Crickets must leave the cave to forage on nights when conditions are favorable, which puts them at considerable risk of predation. Invertebrates have developed defenses for predation, including autotomy (voluntary loss of a limb). We hypothesize that missing legs are a sign of predation pressure on the crickets, and may be vary in different environments. We used a visual census to record the sex-specific frequency of missing legs among adult cave crickets at eight different cave entrances. We expected males to be missing legs more than females because they must leave the cave refuge to forage more frequently than females; however, we found that males and females were missing legs in equal numbers. The hind leg was missing with greater frequency than other limbs, likely the result of cricket predator avoidance behavior (jumping), which puts the larger hind limb closest to the predator. The frequency of crickets with missing limbs varied among cave entrances from a low of 6.6% to a high of nearly 40%, with abundance varying yearly. In Frozen Niagara, which consistently had a high proportion of crickets missing legs, the percentage missing legs was highest in crickets roosting closer to the entrance (30.8%) than deeper (18.7%) into the cave. The goal of this survey was to study the pattern and implications of limb loss on foraging and predator avoidance.
Published in SUNY Plattsburgh's Scientia Discipulorum Journal of Undergraduate Research. Volume 6, issue 1, pages 56-61. 2013.