Al Akhawayn University Mole Cricket Makes Surprise Aboveground, Daytime Campus Visit
Ifrane, April 1, 2011 - Al Akhawayn University staff members today made a long-awaited announcement describing the recent sighting of a mole cricket crawling toward Building 17 in an surprising, aboveground, full daylight, campus exploration by the normally subterranean insect. The sighting confirms the presence of a thriving mole cricket population on the Al Akhawayn campus, boosting community pride in the rich biodiversity of the University's environment.
The mole cricket was about 10 cm long and was spotted on March 25, 2011, by Al Akhawayn staff member Amina Lahbabi on a walkway near the University's main auditorium. Lahbabi, who was performing an advance site inspection before a VIP campus tour, had a camera at hand and quickly photographed the creature before it returned underground.
"Strange," wrote Lahbabi in an email alert that was validated by an expert task force in advance of the April 1 announcement.
"Strange,” Lahbabi explained, “because even though mole crickets are relatively common, they are nocturnal critters and spend almost all their lives underground in extensive tunnel systems -- it's extremely rare to see one of these fellows during the daytime; pretty uncommon for their lifestyle. Al Akhawayn should count itself privileged!"
Al Akhawayn is indeed fortunate; in some places mole cricket numbers are declining due to soil erosion and habitat destruction.
The mole cricket, known scientifically as Gryllotalpa Brachyptera, lives on every continent of the world, except Antarctica, and is usually found in agricultural fields, lawns, and golf courses. The mole cricket’s easily recognized chirping song is amplified in the underground burrows the crickets carefully sculpt into the shape of double exponential horns, which act as megaphones. To hear a sample of the sound, click here.
A second University staffer, Adel Elbouzagaoui, confirmed the March 25 Al Akhawayn sighting. "I saw it too," he said. "You can hear them at night, but I thought they only emerged, rarely, in the dark," he mused. "Like Batman."
Mole crickets compose the family Gryllotalpidae, a group of thick-bodied insects usually about 3-5 centimeters long, with large beady eyes and shovel-like forelimbs highly developed for burrowing and swimming. These forelimbs so closely resemble human hands that some experts say that mole crickets are the only insects with hands.
Mole crickets can also fly: an adult may take to the skies for as far as 8 kilometers during mating season. They are omnivores, eating worms, grass, larvae, and more.
The announcement of the unusually large Al Akhawayn mole cricket seen out in the daytime has spread quickly around campus, sparking excitement among faculty, students, staff, and administrators alike in the wide variety of animals that share Al Akhawayn's richly forested Middle Atlas location with humans. Foxes, cats, the occasional wild boar, snakes, toads, turtles, scorpions, and many more species abound. And well over a hundred varieties of birds inhabit the University campus as well, as detailed in the best-selling 2010 book Birds at Al Akhawayn.
One Al Akhawayn student in the School of Business Administration said, "It's great that mole crickets feel safe coming out in the daytime here. Our campus is so secure, even for animals, and there are so many fascinating living things to see and learn from," she added excitedly.
"I even saw a worm the other day, shining quietly in the sunrise after a rainstorm, right in the middle of the street! You don’t see that in Casablanca often,” she sighed.
Faculty member Kolin Goncalves, an expert on local flora and fauna and a member of the project team preparing the forthcoming Al Akhawayn University Hiker’s and Walker’s Guide to Ifrane and the Middle Atlas,enthused at the news.
“Not since the legendary mole cricket viewing of 2006 has there been such an exciting event in the arthropod world at Al Akhawayn,” he declared.
The latest mole cricket sighting has come to be known in certain circles as the Building 17 Mole Cricket Sighting. With a seating capacity of 650 and widely admired for its distinctive ornamental wood- and plasterwork decorations, Building 17 remains known only by its number pending the identification of a major donor able and willing to grace it with a name.
Given its soaring popularity, some members of the University community are suggesting that the mole cricket be named the official Al Akhawayn University mascot, instead of the Atlas (Barbary) lion.
To view a photograph of the mole cricket, please click here.