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Mormon Crickets

Summary: Keeping a close eye on Mormon crickets will help prevent an outbreak. If the land becomes infested it may be destroyed by the insects.

Despite its name, the Mormon cricket is actually a short winged katydid which is closely related to grasshoppers. The name originated in 1848 when crickets invaded crops of Mormon settlers in the Salt Lake area.

The wings of a Mormon cricket are much smaller than a field cricket and can not be used to fly. Mormon crickets are found in western North America including California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Idaho and New Mexico.

Mormon crickets only live two to three months. They mate in early summer and the female deposits up to 80 eggs, singly, on the ground. The eggs begin hatching the following spring when soil temperatures reach 40 F. The nymph  stage, wich is similar to an adult, but it doesn't have wings, is when the insect grows to maturing during the summer months.

The adult will grow to approximately two inches long with the female being usually larger than the male. Most Mormon crickets are brown, but they may also be red, purple, green or black. Mating begins approximately two weeks after reaching the adult phase.

When the Mormon cricket is ready to molt it will climb up a plant and hang its head down. It will then fasten itself to a leaf using all six legs. The molting process takes approximately 10 to 20 minutes total. During the next few minutes the skin darkens and hardens. Most of the time the insect will eat the skin that it has shed, before crawling away.

During its early life the Mormon cricket moves around a lot in search of food and shelter. However, it tends to stay in the general area, not traveling far. The Mormon cricket prefers to eat flowers and seeds from plants. It will strip the leaves from the trees and feed on the fruit.

Mormon crickets swarm in large groups, eating crops, lawns and gardens. They will even eat each other, especially those that are killed by cars as they cross the roadway. Mormon crickets can create havoc and cause economic losses, as well as creating a greater amount of destruction when accompanied by a drought.

Various birds and mammals prey upon the Mormon crickets, including seagulls, coyotes and crows. Unfortunately, there are no known predators that feed specifically on Mormon crickets, which helps explain their large population.

The Mormon cricket population builds slowly, like grasshoppers. It is easy to predict if they will become over populated. During outbreaks, Mormon crickets will migrate year after year. They may not be able to fly, but they are able to travel a little more than a mile a day in their swarming phase.

When it is determined there is an infestation the most economical treatment is using an airplane to dust the crops for grasshoppers and Mormon crickets. Aerial spraying is usually more effective and has a better success rate than other methods.

If you experience Mormon crickets in large numbers, you may want to contact the USDA Agriculture (the United Sates Department of Agriculture) , as they are the ones responsible for controlling economic infestations of grasshoppers on western rangelands.

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