The small town of Elko, Nevada, has become a scene of chaos and discomfort as an infestation of cannibalistic crickets has plagued the area. Dana Dolan, a resident of Elko, initially mistook the swarms for a gory crash, but soon realized that the ground was covered in these large insects. The invasion, reminiscent of a biblical plague, has been causing significant disruptions in northern Nevada.
The onslaught of tens of thousands of Mormon cricket eggs began hatching in late May and early June. These Cannibalistic Crickets have infiltrated various parts of the region, including Elko, a gold mining town with a population of around 20,000. The presence of these big red bugs has resulted in an unbearable stench similar to burning flesh, prompting residents to plug their noses while driving. The Cannibalistic Crickets adhere to tires and shoes, leaving their carcasses scattered everywhere, even in gyms. Their movement sounds like rain, amplifying the eerie atmosphere.
Efforts to eliminate the Cannibalistic Crickets by using brooms, leaf blowers, pressure washers, and snow plows have proven futile, as they keep returning. To warn drivers about the slick highways caused by the insects, authorities have erected signs throughout Elko County. The Cannibalistic Crickets are known for consuming their dead counterparts, creating a macabre cycle of destruction.
These red creatures cover highways and crawl over barriers in search of food. Under the wheels of trucks, they crackle and pop, resembling an oil slick. One resident, Jeremiah Moore of Spring Creek, experienced a close call when his vehicle slid off the road after encountering the Mormon crickets. The situation has become so severe that a hospital in the area employed four temporary, part-time employees dedicated to clearing the premises of crickets, allowing patients to enter. This group, self-dubbed the Cricket Patrol, is committed to keeping the insects in constant motion.
Even when the Cricket Patrol is off duty, other hospital staff members pitch in. For example, a medical worker in the cardiology unit, still dressed in black scrubs, takes breaks between patient visits to swat away crickets with a broom. The IT specialists also assist with clean-up efforts.
Throughout history, outbreaks of Mormon crickets, which are shield-backed katydids rather than true crickets, have occurred across the western United States. From Nevada and Montana to Idaho, Utah, and Oregon, these insects have wreaked havoc on crops and landscapes. According to entomologist Jeff Knight, infestations dating back to the 1930s have been documented. The name “Mormon cricket” originated from the devastating effect they had on crops cultivated by Mormon settlers in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley. Legend has it that seagulls were divinely sent to eat the crickets, leading to the seagull becoming Utah’s state bird.
To combat the problem, Oregon lawmakers have allocated significant funding to assess the issue and establish a Mormon cricket and grasshopper “suppression” program. These insects typically travel in groups, referred to as “bands,” which can cover areas ranging from 5 acres to hundreds of acres. However, the timing of this year’s invasion in Elko is unusual rather than its size.
The delayed hatching of the crickets can be attributed to an unusually wet spring and snowy winter in northern Nevada. Typically, the crickets born in the spring would mate and lay eggs in the soil for the following year. However, some eggs can remain dormant for up to 11 years until triggered by a drought, resulting in a simultaneous hatching. This cyclical pattern continues as the eggs accumulate in the soil over time.
Jeff Knight, who has served as the state entomologist for the Nevada Department of Agriculture for nearly 40 years, recalls four major invasions throughout his career. The early 2000s witnessed the most significant infestation in terms of scope. Knight vividly remembers driving from Reno to Utah on Interstate 80, surrounded by a swarm of red crickets for the entire journey. Between 2008 and 2019, the presence of crickets in the region diminished significantly.
Unfortunately, Elko’s residents must endure the presence of these red invaders until at least mid-August. But what happens to the crickets when they finally leave? Knight explains that the male crickets die after mating, while the female crickets perish after laying their eggs, effectively putting an end to the infestation.