The Mormon cricket, Anabrus simplex, is a large insect, growing up to 8 cm in length and so-called due to the near destruction of Utah settlers’ crops in 1848. These insects are not true crickets but belong to the shieldbacked katydid family, Tettigoniidae. They live throughout the American northwest, beginning in southern Canada and ranging south to northern New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California, in ecosystems dominated by forbs and sagebrush. Mormon crickets live only 60 to 90 days, hatching when temperatures reach 40 degrees and reaching maturity in late summer when they will mate, lay eggs and then die. Adults can migrate 1/2 to 1 mile per day, moving up to 50 miles in a season, traveling during the daytime for the most part. While they would naturally feed on indigenous plants they will devour any cultivated agricultural crops encountered, such as; alfalfa, wheat, barley, clover and vegetables. Populations experience a sigmoid growth curve, with naturally cyclical booms and busts, with the possibility of either stage lasting several years. (http://www.accem.org/mormoncrickets.html)
Originally described by Mormon settlers in Utah as a “cross between a spider and a buffalo”, the insects ravaged their newly planted crops of wheat and corn. Driven by drought conditions, an infestation of Mormon crickets lasted in Nevada from 2000 to 2008 with the peak occurring in 2005 when it was reported that 12 million acres of land were covered by crickets across the state. In 2003 in Elko County, Nevada commissioners were forced to declare a state of emergency when the invaders were found infesting hospitals and crushed insects covering the roads made driving slippery and perilous.
Drought conditions and mild winters contribute to the vigor of cricket populations; warmer winters allow for eggs to overwinter and survive, possibly for several seasons. When drier conditions persist, these pests hatch and multiply. Officials are finding Mormon crickets making their way across the desert about 100 miles north of Reno, while they aren’t yet a problem, they are closely monitoring populations. The region has been experiencing a drought for the past 3 years and it is not yet clear whether these conditions are setting the stage for another massive infestation. Right now they are not in an area where they can affect people, property or crops and only 1 cricket per 5 to 10 square yards is being seen, however, conditions can change quickly and measures need to be in place. Crickets are on the march and they are moving east….