article by: Rebecca Dias

Mormon Cricket Anabrus simplex. That's the scientific name of the only bug in the western US to cause as much terror and anxiety as the locust in Africa. At just under three inches long, it swarms out of the mountains to ravage alfalfa fields, invade towns, slow trains, and cause interstate highways to shut down for hours.

The first recorded occurrence of the 'Mormon cricket' was the invasion of Utah in 1848. The newly settled Mormons' crops were ready to harvest when millions of crickets descended from the nearby mountains. Quickly, the crickets ravaged one field after another. Nothing the settlers could do stopped or even slowed down the insect onslaught. The Mormons prayed for a miracle. As the story goes, they received one in the form of sea gulls …thousands of them. The gulls began to eat the crickets and the crops were saved.

Mormon crickets range from Northern California to Montana, Colorado and parts of Wyoming. Nevada seems to be the focus of their attention. In 1868, a train traveling through Nevada was derailed by a passing swarm. In 1939, a larger-than-usual invasion caused tremendous crop loss in Nevada. In 2001, Reno was inundated. The next year was called the 'worst in 50 years' because of the crickets. Winnemucca and Elko were the targets for 2002 and 2003.

Mormon crickets are not really crickets. They are more closely related to katy-dids. They have small wings, but cannot fly. Their hind legs are long, like a grasshopper, but their ability to jump is quite limited. At best they can hop 9-10 inches high. They will, however, bite if held too tightiy. Females have a long 'stinger' which is actually an ovipositor or egg depositor. She will push it into the ground about an inch and lay 3-4 eggs, in a season, she will lay up to 150 eggs.

Rebecca Dias with a mormon cricket. Cricket eggs hatch in the mountains as soon as the ground temperature reaches 40 degrees, which is usually in late February or early March. The hatchlings stay in the immediate area for about 3 months, molting 5 or 6 times and then begin to move as a group that can number in the thousands. When on the move, the crickets stop to eat at dusk and then rest overnight only to continue moving once the day warms up.

Molting, or the shedding of their skin, is how insects grow. Their skeleton in on the outside of their bodies and is hard and rigid. In order to grow, the insect must shed its skin. Mormon crickets do this 7 times in their lifespan. When they have completed thier last molt, mating usually occurs. The male will deposit a sperm sac on the female's genital opening. She will then carry it around with her until it is completely absorbed. By that time it is late summer and the crickets begin to move back up into the mountains to lay eggs. When this is accomplished, the crickets die.

And so the cycle begins again.

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