The Washington area is in the midst of The Great Cricket Invasion of 1984, according to agriculture experts, who say that cricket complaints are up.

Crickets generally are killed off by the first freeze, said Dr. Lee Hellman, a University of Maryland entomologist , but because of the unseasonably warm fall the insects have had more time to infiltrate.

"We get this every year as the crickets try to come in from the cold, but this year has been worse than usual," said Hellman. "The cooler it gets at night, the harder they try to come inside."

And once inside "they can do some damage," according to Dave Innes of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Crickets will eat just about anything they come across, including book bindings, wool rugs and even clothing, he said.

Innes said the department has received 25 to 30 calls recently from people asking what to do about their unwanted visitors.

"I have had crickets in my house before, but never as many. And I never had any in my basement. But this year, I did," said Joyce McCray, a Northeast Washington resident who works at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Services.

"It scared the devil out of me when it hopped out in front of me," McCray said of one encounter with a cricket. "And when I tried to catch him, he hopped so fast I couldn't."

Officials generally offer these tips: Capture the insects and toss them back outside. Swat them. Spray them with regular household insect spray. Spray a 4-to-5-foot barrier of diazinon around the outside of your house, especially around doorways and other openings.

The crickets invading Washington area homes are of two basic types, U-Md. entomologists said. One is the small, black, noisy field cricket, which can become a pest because of its eating and singing habits.

Hellman described field crickets as "opportunists" that will nibble on whatever they find on the ground, outdoors or indoors: "Somebody leaves their pajamas on the ground -- chomp, chomp. If there is a newspaper, they will eat that, too."

Some people also complain about the noise. "People don't like to hear it," said Hellman. He said the chirps are produced by the male as it rubs its front wings together in hopes of attracting a female.

The other is the larger, lighter-colored, spindly legged camel cricket, which is silent and doesn't pose the same kind of problems.

"The camel cricket doesn't eat paper and fabric the way the field cricket does; the camel cricket doesn't make any sound that I know of," said Hellman. "The camel cricket is just big and gross and awful to look at. And it scares some people, because they think it is a spider."

Since the cricket population typically is wiped out by the first heavy freeze, last night's low temperatures may have halted the invasion, at least until next year.