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Mormon cricket infestations return to Utah

Mormon crickets
Posted at 4:57 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 20:01:39-04

SULPHURDALE, Utah — Like a Biblical plague, the crickets march across the fields at Amy Marshall's family ranch.

They devour crops. They cover the roads.

"We baited all around our fields and then we couldn’t control them. At all," she told FOX 13. "There was just too many. When they start what they call their march? You can’t control them."

Mormon cricket infestations have returned, adding to a list of problems the state is facing. Left unchecked, the crickets can devastate crops and deliver a significant blow to Utah's agriculture industry.

"We’re going to be at a 50% loss," Marshall said of her family's alfalfa fields.

FOX 13 accompanied state agriculture officials who surveyed lands in Beaver and Millard counties, which are the epicenter of the pestilence. Right now, state agriculture commissioner Logan Wilde said they are working to get a handle on them to prevent it from being worse next year.

The state has recorded Mormon cricket hot spots in Beaver, Millard and Sevier counties. There are also grasshopper infestations in Piute, Uintah and Duchense counties. They are expected to spread over the next year.

"We’re seeing crickets over here by I-15 and covering these alfalfa fields," said Mark Nelson of Utah State University's Extension Service. "They start out on the BLM grounds and as it dries out, and we’ve been dry down in this area, they come in to this irrigated area and feed."

"Mormon crickets," as they're known, are a part of Utah's history. Pioneers who moved into the area reported crop-destroying infestations until "the miracle of the gulls," when seagulls swept in and helped devour the bugs. Today, the state relies on more modern methods -- they spray for them and place bait around fields.

But they can only do so much. Because of environmental issues, Utah's Department of Agriculture and Food cannot spray on federal lands. Marshall had her land sprayed with some success.

"What is concerning with this is if we don’t prepare for next year, these crickets will multiply tenfold," Commissioner Wilde told FOX 13.

Mormon cricket infestations also cause more than just crop damage -- they become traffic problems. Insects in the roads are run over by vehicle tires, then others rush to cannibalize the bodies and it creates a driving hazard.

"In the early 2000s we were having problems with huge populations of Mormon crickets and they would be migrating in their bands and they would go across highways and state highways and roads," said Robert Hougaard, UDAF's plant inspector. "And there were so many that would be squished, there were actually some accidents, it would be so slick."