The Heat Is Online

Cricket Plague Follows Years of Drought, Mild Winters

Utah cricket infestation worst in recent history

Reuters News Service, June 14, 2003

They're back again and this time the Mormon cricket, so called because of the heartache it once brought early settlers, is devouring acres of wheat, barley and oats, Utah officials said Friday.

This year's infestation, which also affects Idaho and Nevada, might be the worst in recent history.

''No one who works for our department has seen it this bad,'' Larry Lewis, spokesman for the State of Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, said.

For the sixth year in a row an estimated 5 million to 6 million acres of farm and ranchland in Utah are infested with crickets and grasshoppers, Lewis said.

Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt recently declared a statewide agricultural disaster based on the the continued drought, insect infestation and high winds.

Meanwhile state officials have asked for help from the federal government that could lead to low-interest loans for farmers and ranchers if a disaster declaration is made.
According to Utah state officials crickets and grasshoppers have caused $25 million in damages from lost crops.

''If it's not drought it appears to be crickets this year. Farmers are having to suffer a double whammy of bad luck,'' Lewis said.

According to officials, wheat, barley, oats and alfalfa are the main crops affected by the insect infestation with most of the damage occurring in rural and central Utah.

State officials say one cricket can consume 38 pounds of forage during its lifetime.

Utah has a long and colorful history of problems with the insect dating back to the early days.

When Mormon settlers attempted to harvest crops in 1848 hordes of crickets swarmed the area destroying the crops.

According to state history, failed attempts to fight the crickets sent the Mormon pioneers to their knees in prayer.

Thousands of sea gulls appeared and devoured the crickets and saved the crops. On historic Temple Square in Salt Lake City visitors can see a monument to the sea gull that reads: ''In grateful remembrance of the mercy of God to the Mormon Pioneers.''

Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited

Mormon crickets devour crops, turn roads ''blood red''

Reuters News Service, June 15, 2003

Mormon crickets, the plague of the western United States, are on the march again, ravaging farms and turning roads ''blood red.''

Farmer Duane Anderson said the bugs are at times so thick that he could kill 10 crickets with a single step on his 3,200-acre spread in Dog Valley about 100 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Officials in Utah, Idaho and Nevada say this year's infestation may be the worst in recent history.

The grasshopper-like insects have become a traffic hazard, rendering some hilly roads impassable as they become caked with crushed bug carcasses. During one recent drive in his truck, Anderson said he came upon a road that was ''blood red from smashed crickets.''

But for Anderson and other farmers, the bigger concern is economic. Mormon crickets and grasshoppers have for six years in a row wreaked havoc in Utah and exacerbated the drought of nearly the same duration.

''They've raised hell with my livelihood,'' said Anderson, 72, who has spent a lifetime farming in the state.

He has already has lost 15 percent of his crops to this year's invasion. In recent years, due to lack of water and sparse crops he also has been forced to cut his herd of cows to 60 from 135.

''Last year I had a total disaster. Nothing was green: the drought, and then the crickets,'' he said.

FARM LOSSES

This year's cricket infestation already has caused $25 million in damages from lost crops in Utah, officials said. Last month, Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt declared a statewide agricultural disaster based on the triple-whammy of insect attack, drought and high winds.

State officials said a single Mormon cricket, which is actually a katydid, during its lifetime can consume 38 pounds of plants -- targeting everything from sagebrush and weeds to alfalfa and vegetable crops.

Utah has been afflicted by Mormon crickets and grasshoppers hroughout its history, as many parts of the state are ideal breeding and hatching grounds.

Mormon crickets were so dubbed after the chewing insects destroyed the crops of Utah's Mormon pioneers in 1848. According to state history, their unrelenting attack was finally shut down by thousands of sea gulls, which answered the religious settlers' prayers by consuming the crickets and sparing their crops.

The insects, which cannot fly, vary in color from light green to red-brown and may grow to 2 to 3 inches in length.

Ravenous adults can cover a mile a day and up to 50 miles in a single season, devouring everything in their migration path, according to the Grasshopper Hotline Web site operated by Utah State University and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

''It's a serious problem. The crickets eat in the field until it's bare and hey they move on,'' said Jeff Banks, who advises farmers as part of Utah State University's Extension Agent Program.

Mormon crickets invade the West, creating slick, disgusting mess

The Associated Press, June 12, 2003

PALOMINO VALLEY, Nev., June 12 -- Swarms of Mormon crickets are marching across the West, destroying rangeland and crops, slickening highways with their carcasses and leaving disgusted residents in their wake

''It's yucky,'' said Amy Nisbet of Elko in northeast Nevada, where this year crickets made their first appearance in recent memory. ''You drive down the street and they pop like bubble wrap.''


Mild winters and three years of drought have provided ideal conditions for the insects, which hatch in the spring and feed through the summer. Experts say this year's infestation in Nevada, Utah and Idaho could be the worst in decades.


Five million acres are infested in Nevada with the 2½-inch long creeping insects, said Jeff Knight, entomologist with the Nevada Department of Agriculture.


''I've seen them eat weeds in a field but leave the alfalfa,'' Knight said. ''Other times, they'll just strip the crop bare.''


Their voracious appetites take in anything  sagebrush, alfalfa, wheat, barley, clover, seeds, grasses, vegetables. At a density of just one cricket per square yard, they can consume 38 pounds of forage per acre as they pass through an area. They don't fly, but can hop and crawl a mile in a day and up to 50 miles in a season. And before they die in the fall, they lay the eggs that will become next year's swarm.


The Mormon cricket actually is a katydid, similar to a grasshopper. It got its name in 1848 when swarms invaded the fields of Mormon settlers in Utah. According to lore, the settlers prayed for divine assistance that arrived in the form of gulls, which ate the insects and saved the crops.

Though Knight couldn't provide an economic damage estimate, he said this year's infestation is twice as widespread as last year. The bugs are showing up in places they haven't been seen before, such as Elko's city limits and Palomino Valley north of Reno.


Last week, Elko County commissioners declared a state of emergency because of the worsening two-week infestation. Officials in southwestern Idaho say the infestation there is the worst since World War II.

''They've been building up there on the Boise front for several years, but last year was the first year everything seems to have coalesced and really erupted,'' said Mike Cooper of the Idaho Department of Agriculture.


''They're cyclic and they build up over a number of years, kind of peak, and then usually some kind of natural disease comes in and starts taking them down,'' Cooper said.

In Utah, agriculture officials estimate 6 million acres  more than double last year's plague  will be infested before the crickets die off.

Dick Wilson of the Utah Department of Agriculture said the dismal predictions were ''all true. (My staff) are all out in the field, working seven days a week'' fighting the bugs.

Earlier this spring, Nevada treated about 66,000 acres with an insecticide that kills the insects before they mature. But as the treatment cuts down their numbers in one area, they pop up somewhere else.

The chief weapon is carbaryl, an insecticide commonly known as Sevin. It is mixed with bran and spread before the crickets as they advance. Crickets lured to the bait quickly die. The poisoned carcasses are consumed by cannibalistic fellow crickets, which also die.

State officials said their priority is to protect public lands, crops  and motorists. In Idaho the state has posted warning signs on State Route 55. Crickets smashed by cars create a mush slicker than ice.

''We're doing our best to keep them off the highway,'' said Martin Larraneta, a state entomologist coordinating cricket controls in Elko. ''It can be like a grease slick.''
So far there are no reports of accidents caused by the crickets.


While serious, this year's outbreak isn't the most severe in Nevada history, experts said.

A 1939 state publication noted an infestation in Eureka County in 1882, when trains were unable to travel the main line of the Central Pacific Railroad ''due to the rails being so thoroughly greased with crushed crickets,'' state archivist Guy Rocha said.


In the 1930s, a band of crickets 12 miles long and at times several feet deep was reported in Elko County, Rocha said.


The crickets have existed for millions of years and were once a food source for American Indians. But the swarms covering fields and roads and houses horrify modern residents.

''When it comes to something that's six-legged, people have a big problem with that,'' Knight said.