History Keeping crickets as pets is thought to have begun in the T'ang Dynasty in China. The practice is believed to have been started with women who lived in the imperial palace. They would keep crickets by their beds at night so they could hear their songs. This was soon taken up by the common people as well who saw it as a noble past time. Later cricket fighting became incredibly popular among both noble and common alike. By the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) keeping crickets was a scholarly pursuit. Crickets had become the subject of poems, artwork and academic research.
Trapping In ancient China, crickets were caught in the nearby countryside. Cricket season extends from August through september when they are the most active. It typically takes place at night as crickets are nocturnal. Chinese crickets will hide underground so the trappers have to lure them out of their burrows. They use either light, smoke, fruit bait, or digging to get the crickets to come out depending on the region. When the cricket appears modern trappers use a soft net, but earlier a bamboo and ivory cage trap was used. Cricket trapping is still going on today and trapping crickets is a second job for most Chinese residents of Ningjin County and Shandong.
Cricket Fighting Typically a fall sport, cricket fighting was a favorite among Emperors and commoners alike. A host of traditions has been set up around cricket fighting ranging from what to feed the crickets, to what the crickets should be covered in to give it an edge against its competitor. Special attention was paid to fighting crickets to look for signs of distress or discomfort. They would mate their crickets before each bout as they thought it would improve their chances as they become more aggressive after having sex. Or so the Chinese believe.
In Ancient China there were three weight classes. Today there are nine. Before each match the crickets are weighed to make sure they are fighting the same weight class.
The match is held outdoors in an oval ring called a douzha. It was once a flat clay pot but is now usually plastic. A man will tickle the crickets to stimulate them into fighting. Typically the matches last three to five bouts. Scoring is best two of three or three of five. When a cricket extends its wings or another cricket runs from another the bout is over. Earlier they were fights to the death.
Cricket Homes Cricket homes come in a wide variation of decoration, but there are three main types. There is the basic cage that is traditionally made out of wood. Tiny rods and planks make up these small cages and were popular in Shanghai and Hangzhou. They were mainly used for grasshoppers and cicadas and when the cricket came along, their use started to decline. They are still used for transporting crickets.
Ceramic jars and pots with flat lids were introduced in the ming period(1368-1644) and were preferred in the summer months. They were excellent at shielding the cricket from excessive heat. They are also used for raising cricket larvae. The jars also have excellent acoustical properties which boost the chirping of the cricket inside.
Gourds are mainly used in the winter months. They were only available in the forbidden city and their cultivation kept secret. They were grown already molded into the desired shape. The cultivation of the molded gourds was lost during the cultural revolution. Now they are carved by hand. Their bottoms are filled with lime and their lids are usually jade, coconut, sandalwood, or ivory. They are richly decorated and vented to allow the chirping to be enhanced.
Around the World
Although no other country has embraced crickets as wholeheartedly as China, there are still some that keep crickets as pets. Japan began trading crickets as early as China and still keep crickets as pets on occasion. Some European countries keep them as pets mainly on the Iberian peninsula. Cricket fighting is also popular in areas such as Mexico and Southeast Asia.