Fox News Weather Center

Crickets Boom in Southwest US as Drought Worsens

The expansive drought in Nevada has sparked an increase in Mormon crickets in places that haven't seen these crickets since the last major drought there in the mid-2000s.

"There have been several sites across northern Nevada where we found crickets this year for the first time in five-plus years. It should be stressed that this year there are no real threats currently in Nevada from Mormon crickets," Nevada State Entomologist Jeff Knight said.

"And only a possibility exists that we may see more next year, not a fact. A lot depends on this year's weather and next year's spring."

The appearance of the crickets comes as central and western Nevada is under extreme to exceptional drought conditions, covering nearly 60 percent of the state, Western Weather Expert Ken Clark said.

The last time there was a major outbreak of the Mormon crickets was in 2004 and 2005 when they infested about 12 million acres.

It caused crop and forage losses, both in terms of quantity and quality, and an invasion of urban areas, Knight said. It also created road hazards with large bands of crickets crossing roads and making roads slick.

There were several vehicle crashes in Nevada attributed to crickets in the peak years. Mormon crickets are cannibalistic and as one is killed on the road, several come to eat it and so on, Knight said.

Mormon crickets, also known as Anabrus simplex, are a native insect in the family Tettigonidae (shield-backed katydids and totally different than house and field crickets). As adults, they are 1.5 to 2 inches long, Knight said.

They can be prevalent in northeastern California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and parts of New Mexico, Montana and the Dakotas.

Crickets have a single generation a year; therefore, what hatches in the very early spring is what you have for the rest of the year, Knight said.

"None of what we have seen this year are treatable or of any great concern, other than the fact that it may signal an increase in populations for future years," he said.

Western states have Mormon cricket and grasshopper monitoring programs. It is not for eradication but rather for control as part of the monitoring.

"The methods vary depending on the situation, numbers of crickets [number per square yard] and on the state/federal entity overseeing the program," Knight said.

It isn't clear whether there is a connection between drought and increased numbers of crickets.

"Although there is no scientific proof of it yet, some believe they have observed this [an increase in crickets in drought]. There is currently some research aimed at studying this with USDA-ARS (United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service) in Sidney, Montana," Knight said. "And we are again starting to see increased numbers of crickets after the drought last year. There are also some beliefs are they are on roughly a five-year cycle, but there is no good scientific proof of this either."

Hope remains on next winter to help reverse the drought and not likely any time before then, Clark said.

"This is the time of year when we do not see any help usually to relieve drought. Yes, there will be episodes of monsoonal thunderstorms, but this is not usually widespread or heavy enough to help out," Clark said.