For Christmas this year, my family adopted a young bearded dragon lizard as a pet.
Our dragon, whom we named Holly, eats a lot, and the thing she loves to eat most is crickets (typically about 10 a day, in addition to other things like mealworms and vegetables). From the get-go, I knew that keeping an ample supply of crickets on hand would require some planning. We live in a rural area of northwestern Minnesota. The closest pet shop is an hour away, in North Dakota. Restocking our cricket supply would require a time commitment of at least two hours out and back.
By Christmas Day this year, Holly’s cricket supply was running low. I decided to order crickets online, which I had never done before, to save a trip to North Dakota. I bought the crickets from Fluker Farms, one of the more well-established online insect vendors (yes, these exist and there are a lot of them). I decided on a shipment of 250 crickets, which seemed like a reasonable amount for a lizard who is theoretically capable of gobbling up to 50 of them every day.
I opted for next-day-shipping to ensure there was no gap in Holly’s cricket supply. But the package ended up getting delayed by a fierce blizzard that roared through the Northern Plains this week, dumping up to a foot of snow and sending temperatures plunging below zero. The cricket box ended up spending an unplanned overnight at a FedEx sorting facility in Grand Forks, N.D. I feared they would all be dead on arrival.
The package arrived Friday. I anxiously met the FedEx delivery man at the door. He appeared to be relieved to unburden himself of the six-inch-square box emblazoned with the words “Live Insects” and decorated with life-size cricket silhouettes. We exchanged no words. If you’re a FedEx driver, you probably try to avoid conversations with the types of people who order boxes full of insects from the Internet.
Having never ordered Internet crickets before, I naively assumed that I’d open up the box and find the crickets in some sort of sealed bag or other contraption to facilitate easy transfer to their final storage place. I also assumed that given the near-zero temperatures we were experiencing that morning, any crickets in the box would be groggy and disoriented and easy to manage.
I was wrong on both counts.
I cut open the tape and opened the cardboard flaps and was greeted by dozens of beady little cricket eyes staring eagerly up at me. I had a brief vision of the aliens-in-the-claw machine from “Toy Story” before the crickets started doing what they usually do when they are suddenly exposed to light — hopping all over the place. I quickly closed the flaps.
This was a conundrum. There was no immediate way for me to transfer 250 clearly active and ravenously hungry crickets from the box to the shallow plastic container we store them in at home. The only solution would be to grab a spare fish tank we had out in the shed, which would take a bit of time, requiring a trip outside in the deep snow and chilling cold. Back at my desk, after all, I had a nearly finished story that was due to my editor. Rather than upend my workday for the sake of $11.50 worth of Internet crickets, I decided to retape the box and store it in a secure location until I had time to deal with it.
Besides my wife, Briana, and I, our house is home to 5-year-old twins, a 1-year-old, three large cats, one beagle-basset mix and one lizard. There was only one place where I thought I could put the cricket box without it getting overturned or split open by a child or an animal: the bathroom adjacent to our kitchen. I put the crickets in the cabinet above the toilet and went back to work. For about 20 minutes, everything was quiet.
Just as I was about to file my story, I heard Briana, in the kitchen, utter the following words: “Where do these crickets keep coming from?” I should point out here, I told her offhandedly that I had bought crickets online, but I hadn’t told her when they’d arrive and she hadn’t been around when FedEx came.
At this point, I reasoned there was no crisis, she had probably encountered one or two stray crickets that hopped out when I initially opened the box. So I decided to keep working.
In retrospect, once again, this was a mistake.
As I was making final edits to the story, I continued to hear increasingly frantic cricket-related outbursts from the kitchen. Briana later told me she first realized something was terribly wrong when one of the cats suddenly leaped on to a pumpkin pie warming on the countertop. It was going after an unusually large cricket munching the filling.
Eventually the commotion was too much to ignore. I went to the kitchen. Briana whipped around to face me, wild-eyed.
“So uh, remember when I said I ordered some crickets?” I said. “They got here toda–”
“YES, I SEE THE CRICKETS ARE HERE,” she said. “WHY ARE THEY ALL OVER THE KITCHEN?”
“Huh,” I said. “That is weird. Let me check something.” I walked over to the bathroom. I opened the door.
There were crickets. Everywhere.
Crickets on the floor. Crickets on the walls. Crickets in the sink. Crickets in the toilet. A clump of at least 12 crickets were attempting to cram themselves underneath the baseboard. A cricket jumped at me from the stack of folded washcloths on the shelf. Two crickets appeared to be chasing each other around the plunger. The crickets in the toilet were propelling themselves around the bowl at an astonishing speed.
The only thing I could think to do is flush the toilet and close the door. “Don’t come in here!” I yelled. My voice was unnaturally high from trying to force myself to sound nonchalant.
Evidently, I had not resealed the box as well as I should have. Later inspection also revealed in my haste to ascertain the crickets’ condition, I had opened the box from the wrong side, despite the presence of large arrows indicating the proper side with an all-caps warning that read, “SEE INSIDE FLAP FOR CARE INSTRUCTIONS!”
There was nothing to do now but execute the Spare Fish Tank Protocol on an emergency basis. I threw on my boots, ran out to the shed and grabbed the spare tank. I brought it back to the bathroom, threw the box inside it, and began scooping up the strays wherever I could find them.
Roughly 45 minutes later, the bathroom was clear. But in the interim, the earlier escapees had begun migrating elsewhere. There were crickets in the kitchen closet. Crickets in a pile of shoes. Crickets making their way downstairs to the kids’ playroom. The cats were in a state of high alert, having what I can only imagine was the greatest day of their lives.
I tried to collect all of them. It was like the world’s worst game of Pokémon. Well after the initial cleanup concluded, crickets kept turning up in inconvenient locations throughout the day. They were in the playroom and under the couch. There’s presumably a contingent somewhere in the walls. At one point I heard a 5-year-old shout gleefully from the bathroom, “There’s another cricket in the toilet!”
I shared this story on Twitter last night as a form of life insurance: I told my followers that if they did not see any tweets from me this weekend, they should assume it was because my wife murdered me after finding a cricket in our bed in the middle of the night. It resonated well beyond what I expected; perhaps this is because, as writer Nicole Cliffe observed, “in every relationship there is the accidental cricket-releaser person and the where-are-all-these-damn-crickets-coming from person, look in your soul and ask: which am I?”
I’m happy to report as of Saturday afternoon, I am alive. The lizard is well-fed. The cats are sleeping deeply. The Ingraham household is finally still.
But something’s chirping in the bathroom.