The rural town of Elko, Nevada, has fallen siege to thousands upon thousands of Mormon crickets, a flightless insect that has blanketed roadways, can devastate crops and, when squished, smells similar to that of burning flesh.
The red, plump insect usually hatches from March to May and is fully mature about two months after hatching, according to Washington State University (WSU). While not technically a cricket (the pest is actually a shield-backed katydid), its common name is based on the insects’ invasion of crops in the 1800s, which devastated Mormon settlers in the Salt Lake area.
Mormon crickets are native to the Great Basin and Intermountain West region of the United States, and peak outbreaks can last from five to 20 years if conditions stay right, WSU says. Photos and videos of northeastern Nevada show residents fighting off the Mormon cricket surge with any tool in their disposable—including vacuums, leaf blowers and brooms—to move the 2-inch-long insects without having to squish them.
“It’s almost like a biblical plague,” Dana Dolan told the Associated Press last week, who’s lived in Elko for six years.
According to AP, the pests’ favorite hangout spot is often the roadways, where Mormon crickets have no problem eating their dead. The outbreak has caused the Nevada Department of Transportation to use plows to clear highways for better road traction, and the department is warning drivers of potentially slick road conditions.
Jeremiah Moore, who lives in Elko County, described to AP that driving on the blankets of crickets feels “almost like an oil slick.”
“I … was coming home and as I came around the corner, I came around a little too fast and I about ended up in the ditch full of water,” Moore told the outlet. “It was pretty intense.”
“As we squish them, they just eat, because they eat everything,” Lincoln Graves, a fellow Elko resident, said to AP. “Anything in their path, they’ll eat, including each other.”
Mormon crickets have blanketed everything from roads to homes in certain parts of northern Nevada for weeks.
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 20, 2023
Nevada’s State Entomologist Jeff Knight told AP that adult Mormon crickets lay a new heard of eggs during the summer months, and eggs are intended to hatch in the spring the following year. However, some eggs will lie dormant for up to 11 years, and especially dry weather conditions, such as the drought in Nevada this spring, can lead to a massive number of eggs hatching all at the same time. Infestations will last until the insects are brought back under control by predator species.
While the insects are flightless, they travel together in large groups called “bands” looking for food, and, as WSU puts it, often end up “devastating everything in their path.” According to Knight, residents will likely not see relief from the invasion until mid-August at the earliest.
Newsweek has reached out to Knight via email for more information.
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