Imagine driving your car and coming across a section of road where there are so many insects that the road and landscape becomes a swarming, writhing mass of moving legs and darkness. You might stare on and drive through the throng in horror as you hear them crunch, or you may turn your car around, go back to your hotel and hope it was a bad dream. During certain times in the American West, you will find this surging scene to be a reality.
Big Juicy Bugs
Meet the Mormon cricket. Its chitinous body can be black, brown, red, green, or even purple. Mormon crickets are a big, juicy insect. If one crawled up your pant leg, you might second guess the idea of smashing it. They look like a bloated grasshopper and are longer than your index finger. Now imagine a wriggling swarm numbering in the millions. They would cover everything you could see for miles. Vast blankets of Mormon cricket swarms do not occur every year. Weather conditions need to be just right. Often severe cricket outbreaks will occur after a number of drought years followed by a warm winter.
The Cricket Concern
The only way you will suffer a bite from a Mormon cricket is if you decide to grab it and give it a nice hardy squeeze. You will feel a pinch. The real problem with Mormon crickets is their swarm. When millions begin their hopping stampede across roadways, cars run over them. Smashed cricket ichor turns the road into a frothy blood red mixture and it is slick. Very slick. The problem gets worse because the crickets will cannibalize their smashed kin, adding to more layers of slippery slime. And they just keep on coming.
If you have ever driven on snow packed roads with patches of black ice, you understand. Accidents and pile-ups increase. Roads and freeways have been shut down for hours until the swarm moves onward.
Car Accidents are not the only problem. A swarm can destroy alfalfa, corn, wheat and other crops. Bad years can result in tens of billions of dollars in damage. Entire fields can be stripped bare. When they move through rangeland, they consume all of the forage feed for cattle. Little can be done to stop the swarm. Some farmers have been forced into bankruptcy. You might think that is tough news for farmers and ranchers, yet you are affected as well. If the destruction is widespread and severe, it can increase the cost of the food you purchase to feed your family. Mormon crickets can reduce your spending power.
The Mormon Cricket has a Place in History
If you have ever wondered about the term, the Mormon cricket got its name from a moment in history. When early Mormon settlers were ready to harvest their first crops, billions of crickets descended out of the mountains. Despite every effort, the settlers could not stop the swarm. Miraculously, thousands of seagulls descended on the insects and saved the crops. The cricket has held the name ever since.