Mormon crickets' cyclical visit stains roads red in southern Idaho (2024)

The view on the drive to Fairfield from Gooding still includes rolling green hills and a vast blue sky — but the road quickly turns a greasy red as swarms of Mormon crickets cross Idaho Highway 46.

“All you have to do (to see them) is go on a drive,” said Shannon Young, Gooding County’s 4-H coordinator. “The road is red.”

People heading toward Camas County for summer activities or simply going home are experiencing a Mormon cricket massacre. Known as the Anabrus simplex, swarms of the native species emerge nearly every year in southern Idaho and northern Nevada after eggs hatch in early spring. They migrate in large groups to irrigated agricultural land and begin feeding.

Mormon crickets' cyclical visit stains roads red in southern Idaho (1)

“It’s a pretty bad year,” said Nic Zurfluh, invasive species bureau chief with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. “There are landowners who are experiencing extensive damage and we’re providing a lot of assistance to other areas of the Magic Valley.”

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The ISDA’s Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket Program assists the state’s agriculture industry and landowners when outbreaks of grasshoppers and Mormon crickets cause economic damage to their crops. To qualify for assistance, landowners must own or manage at least five acres of agricultural land and meet or exceed the requirement of having three Mormon crickets per square meter or eight grasshoppers per square meter.

The program has received more than 90 requests for aid from Elmore, Cassia and Gooding counties since early June.

The invasion has been destructive.

“We’ve got a three-to four-inch barley sprout coming up and then you’ve got this migration of Mormon crickets on the side of the field or you can start to see damage occur,” Zurfluh said. “And what I mean by damage is a Mormon cricket will entirely strip down a barley plant.”

The ISDA deploys scouts to gauge the severity of the outbreaks between March and May before the Mormon crickets hatch. Mormon crickets lay eggs in dry rangelands during late summer to late fall.

In the 2023 season, the ISDA distributed more than 75,000 pounds of insecticide bait to landowners who qualified for assistance, without any charge, according to an ISDA press release.

Mormon crickets' cyclical visit stains roads red in southern Idaho (2)

Although every cycle varies, neighboring Owyhee County expects them every year in massive amounts.

“Owyhee County has probably been hit the hardest almost every year,” Andy West, University of Idaho horticulture educator for Twin Falls, said. “It’s such a rural county — lots of range land — and so I mean they just have thousands of acres that they just go through.”

Another common location for the Mormon crickets is along U.S. Highway 93, where large numbers of the critters can make the road dangerous.

“I’ve actually seen it some years where the state highway department will come through a snow plow to clean off the roads because of the smashed insects,” West said.

Although the insects collect in masses, they are harmless to humans — they try to jump away when people get close to them.

When Trampas Robinson of Fairfield tried to get a good look at the enormous creatures, they crawled away to find their next meal. Robinson first noticed them jumping on the roads near Fairfield during the first week of June.

Mormon crickets' cyclical visit stains roads red in southern Idaho (3)

“When you’re driving, it feels like running over bubble wrap — like listening to rice krispies snap, crackle, pop, crunch... You name it,” Robinson said.

Since his initial encounter with the Mormon crickets, he’s been collecting them with a butterfly net as feed for his 60 chickens. He also gathers grasshoppers during the season.

“It’s a good source of protein for them — gives them something else — which really helps them through those winter months,” Robinson said.

Mormon crickets made up a portion of diets in native tribes of southern Idaho, eastern Nevada and regions of Utah.

Mormon crickets' cyclical visit stains roads red in southern Idaho (4)

When encountering Mormon crickets, people need to change their perspective.

“These bugs are only an inconvenience to humans so put the human side away for a minute and let the bugs pass,” Robinson said. “The birds, rock chucks — you name it, they eat it.

“Maybe some humans might. You hungry?”

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Mormon crickets' cyclical visit stains roads red in southern Idaho (2024)

FAQs

Where are the Mormon crickets in Idaho? ›

Currently, ISDA is reporting outbreaks in Cassia, Oneida, Power and Franklin counties. More information can be found on the mitigation program here. Not everyone is grossed out by the insects, some even finding a use for their high levels.

What is the problem with Mormon crickets? ›

In addition to Mormon crickets causing trouble on roadways, they pose problems for agriculture. Swarms of crickets can devour fields of crops. Oregon has also had issues with Mormon crickets and announced the Mormon Cricket Suppression Program in 2022 to devote more than $4 million to halt the cricket outbreak.

Are Mormon crickets red? ›

Mormon crickets can grow to almost 8 cm (3 inches) in length. Individuals vary in coloration: the overall color may be black, brown, red, purple or green.

Do Mormon crickets destroy crops? ›

Mormon crickets become pests very sporadically (about once or twice in a decade) when numbers build to high levels and they migrate over large areas. If an alfalfa field is in the path of a migration, Mormon crickets can cause severe damage by devouring the plants.

How do you get rid of Mormon crickets? ›

Chicken wire or sheet plastic can be installed around crop areas to create a barrier that discourages crickets from infiltrating. These barriers should be secured tightly to prevent any gaps or openings that could allow crickets to access the crops. Another effective method is killing the cricket eggs in the fall.

Why are they called Mormon crickets? ›

Mormon crickets got their name during a mid-19th century migration into the Salt Lake area in Utah where they destroyed the crops of Mormon settlers. As they feasted, they chirped like crickets. These invaders, though, are not invasive.

What eats Mormon crickets? ›

Western Red-tailed Hawk. This hawk, the commonest of the large buteos, fed almost exclusively on Mormon crickets, especially in the regions of heaviest infestation, where insect bands sometimes spread as marching armies over several square miles.

Does the Bible say you can eat crickets? ›

Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. But all other winged creatures that have four legs you are to detest. "`You will make yourselves unclean by these; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening.

How long do Mormon crickets stay around? ›

Mormon crickets have a migratory habit, staying at one site usually three or four days. As flightless insects, they crawl and hop, moving during favorable conditions, mainly in daylight hours when skies are clear and temperatures range between 65°F to 95°F.

Can Mormon crickets bite you? ›

While Mormon crickets do not bite or sting humans, the impact of a Mormon cricket infestation can be devastating. As they migrate, slowly traveling in large formations, they consume and destroy local vegetation and crops, potentially costing farmers millions.

Can humans eat Mormon crickets? ›

Native Americans long valued these ugly bugs for their nutritional value, herding them to gather, roast and grind into a flour of sorts, making edible cakes that pioneers called "desert fruitcakes". If you're not a native Utahn, you may not have heard the famous tale of the 1848 cricket invasion.

What attracts Mormon crickets? ›

As noted by Raffelson (1989), Mormon crickets are omnivorous insects, feeding on over 400 species of food plants (Swain 1944). Crickets are known to prefer succulent forbs to grasses, which partly explains why cultivated crops such as alfalfa are more vulnerable than rangeland plants (Cowan 1929, Swain 1944).

Where are the Mormon crickets now? ›

Mormon crickets are a species of insect that has seen a resurgence in recent years due to drought and are out again this year in full force in Northern Nevada and some parts of Utah. SPRING CREEK, Nev. — They're not aggressive toward humans, and they don't last forever, but they are gross and annoying.

How often do Mormon crickets come around? ›

They are generally found at lower densities, but as populations congregate, outbreaks occur on average 3 out of every 10 years. These outbreaks can last for consecutive years though. Many factors are at play in Mormon cricket population ecology including weather cycles, predation and disease.

Where are the Mormons in Idaho? ›

Their predominance in the eastern part of the state isn't too surprising; Utah is just below the border, and Mormon missionaries began arriving in Idaho as far back as 1860. Cities such as Idaho Falls and Rexburg are almost entirely Mormon, with temples that dominate both religious and political life.

Can people eat Mormon crickets? ›

Native American tribes historically hunted and ate the wingless Mormon cricket as a staple protein, and today Thai bars and restaurants serve deep fried crickets with beer. Additionally, over 80% of the world today incorporates insects into various cuisines. In Ghana you may be served roasted termites.

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