ELKO, Nevada (KLAS/NEXSTAR) — It may only be a few inches long but it’s cannibalistic and can create disgust and disruption. A small Nevada town is being overrun with the so-called Mormon crickets.
“When we looked out here the whole wall was just covered,” Colette Reynolds said. “That really, really freaked me out.”
“Biblical” is how some are describing this infestation of millions of insects. They are blanketing the ground, crawling up walls, infesting buildings, and terrorizing some of the residents of Elko, a small town in northeastern Nevada.
“They’re moving and crawling and the whole road is crawling and it just makes your skin crawl. It’s just so gross,” Stephanie Garrett said.
Despite its name, the large insect is a flightless katydid which is a subfamily of bush crickets and is harmless except to crops which they will gladly devour. Not only is it an agricultural pest, it’s also a traffic hazard. The Nevada Department of Transportation is plowing and sanding roads because the smashed bugs are making the roads slick.
According to entomologists—the people who study insects—Mormon cricket infestations happen in the western U.S. and there’s not much residents can do besides just wait it out. Outbreaks are likelier during drought conditions, explains the University of Nevada, Reno. Once an outbreak begins, they generally last between 5 to 21 years, the school says.
Many western states have allocated funding to suppress Mormon cricket populations, including Oregon, which designated over $6 million to the effort in the past few years. The recommended treatment for landowners is aerial spray of diflubenzuron, an insecticide that works to prevent nymphs from maturing.
And in case you’re wondering where they got the name from, the creatures were well known to terrorize Mormon farmers in Utah. Brittanica explains an 1848 cricket outbreak was diffused by the arrival of a sea gull flock that ate the insects.