Mormon crickets invade northern Nevada neighborhood

The Associated Press

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Mormon crickets have returned for the second year in a row to the Red Rock area north of Reno, eating just about everything in sight and jangling the nerves of residents.

The crickets are related to the long-horned grasshoppers that nearly destroyed the crops of Utah’s Mormon settlers in 1848. Now they’re crawling across yards and driveways in north Red Rock, covering roads and gardens and grossing people out.

”They’re really nasty little creatures,” Chris Burress said this week as she watched thousands of insects crawling outside her front door.

Jeff Knight, an entomologist with the Nevada Department of Agriculture, said infestations in the Red Rock area this year and last were the most significant since the crickets swarmed the same place in 1971.

”There are definitely more than last year,” Knight said. ”It’s in the millions, easily.”

In the early 1990s, hordes of Mormon crickets infested some 1.2 million acres near Winnemucca in the worst such invasion there since the 1930s.

Experts said back-to-back mild winters are likely responsible for the recent outbreak.

Next week, Knight and colleagues hope to determine how many insects are crawling through the Red Rocks area. The insects travel in bands that can be a couple hundred acres in size with up to 25 crickets per square yard.

They’re not migrating to a specific destination. ”These things just sort of wander around,” Knight said. ”Just eating. And growing.”

And they do have an appetite.

”They’re eating everything in sight out here,” said Sharon Moiola, who with her daughter and son-in-law planted about $200 worth of bedding plants at their home last weekend. By Wednesday, the tender vegetation was gone.

”They’re just down to nubs,” Moiola said.

At her place, the bugs feasted on petunias. Down the road, they cannibalized other crickets crushed on the road. Burress has watched them devour a pile of horse dung overnight.

The Department of Agriculture is providing some residents with insecticide bait, but Knight said that would protect only small areas such as individual gardens.

People can also encircle gardens with metal or plastic sheeting at least 14 inches high, which serve as barriers, experts suggested.

On the Net:

Nevada Department of Agriculture entomology laboratory:

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