SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Utah is no stranger to Mormon crickets swarming communities in biblical proportions. Just 20 years ago, nearly two-and-a-half million acres were infested. Tooele County was one of the worst-hit areas. Elko, Nevada is currently under siege. As Elko residents wait for some relief, experts say Utah might steer clear of a similar situation.
The pavement seems to ripple in Elko. What is the cause? The movement of thousands, if not millions, of Mormon crickets.
“Three minutes later my husband called out and they were completely all over our property,” Elko resident Julie Holling told ABC4. “We have two-and-a-half acres, and they were marching in the front and in the back, through my garden and everywhere.” Holling said this all started while she and her husband were gardening on Memorial Day.
The problem hasn’t let up much since that day. Holling added: “When you bate them on your property they keep coming and they keep eating the ones that were there before them that have passed, and they smell horrible and they’re slimy.” She said in the morning, before the sun heats up the pavement, the crickets seem to be the most tranquil. Due to that, the family walks their dog earlier in the morning to avoid the worst of the crickets.
It almost seems almost like there is no immediate relief in sight for those living in eastern Nevada. Will Utahns soon face the same reality?
“Don’t fear,” State Entomologist and Insect and Pest Program Manager for Utah Department of Agriculture and Food’s Kris Watson reassured. “Mormon crickets are an ugly critter but yet they are here, they are an important part of our ecological system.”
Watson explained that Mormon crickets (Anabrus simplex) are native to the state, like they are in many neighboring states, and that normally they do not pose a threat. In fact, he said they are a crucial part of the food chain for many of Utah’s animals. However, about every 20 years, he said, there is a population boom. With the boom, problems may arise.
“They do eat a lot of rangelands, so people who are grazing the rangelands, there is nothing to eat out there because they’ve grazed it all and now, they’re starting to move into the farmlands,” Matt Palmer told ABC4. Palmer is a professor for Utah State University Extension. In 2002, he was in Tooele County when the Mormon cricket infestation hit the area hard. That year was big for Utah’s cricket population, which infested nearly 2.5 million acres statewide.
“It can be pretty eerie,” Palmer recalled. “I was out there, and I wanted to see how big this group was, and I was out walking around in the rangelands, and it was really long; about 100 yards long and 50 yards across.” He continued, “They’re all lined up going in a certain direction. You’ll walk out there and they’ll kind of go around you, but they’re traveling.”
Watson said that typically, the crickets do better in drought years. Eggs that are laid at the end of the summer need moisture, but not too much moisture, in order to survive over winter. With Utah’s wet and cool spring, Watson said only a few small infestations have been reported in the state. Utah may not face the same Mormon cricket infestation issues as Nevada this year, but if farmers do seem to have one on their land, Watson said they are encouraged to call the Department of Agriculture. “We have a program to help producers to be able to suppress populations, but there are no efforts to remove these pests from the Great State of Utah.”
According to USU Extension, for it to be considered an infestation, there needs to be eight or more grasshoppers (or crickets) per square yard of land.