TW: it's a scene straight out of a horror movie, but this is no fiction. Millions of insects, known as Mormon crickets, have invaded Nevada, causing mayhem and fueling nightmares amongst residents.
Videos shared on social media show thick carpets of bugs slowly making their way across six counties in the state. The infestation has also led to dangerous driving conditions as roads become slick with crushed bugs. Jeff Knight, an entomologist for the Nevada agriculture department, warns that "we’ve had a number of accidents caused by crickets." Despite their name, these insects are not biologically crickets, but technically large shield-backed katydids that closely resemble grasshoppers. They lay eggs in the summer, which lie dormant in the winter and then hatch in the spring. But this year, due to an unusually rainy winter, the hatchlings were delayed. Knight explains that the large number of insects moving across Nevada can remain at their peak for four to six years before being brought back under control by other insects and predators. He's been treating Nevada's farmland for Mormon crickets since 1976 and has experienced about 40 outbreaks in that time.
These bugs are not just alarming for humans but also pose a threat to crops. Mormon crickets have been a thorn in the side of farmers in the American west for over a century. They earned the name because swarms of the insects destroyed the fields of Mormon settlers in Utah in the mid-19th century. Since then, they have continued to devastate corn, oats, wheat, rye, and barley, some of the state's most profitable crops, according to Utah State University. The US agriculture department has been charged with helping states stop grasshoppers and Mormon crickets from destroying rangeland and crops since the 1930s. Western states like Montana, Utah, and Idaho have spent millions of dollars on suppression.
a plague of crickets in nevada— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) June 14, 2023
the end is nighpic.twitter.com/8sWhk9ErFp
The infestation in Nevada is a reminder of how vulnerable our ecosystems can be. While Knight has seen this before, it doesn't make this current invasion any less daunting. "It’s like seeing waves coming at the beach. You know they’re coming, you can see them, but there’s not much you can do about it," he says. While we can only hope for the infestation to end soon, it's a stark reminder of the importance of understanding and managing ecosystems.