Mormon crickets, which have a place in the heritage of the pioneers that will be celebrated next week in Cache Valley, have made an unexpected appearance between the towns of Dayton and Oxford in Southeast Idaho’s Franklin County.
Franklin County Extension educator Bracken Henderson said he’s never known the insects to amass in large numbers in Franklin County, but this month they have reportedly arrived in a big way.
“They can be found in localized hoards climbing walls, fence posts and even power poles in the area,” Henderson wrote in a column for the Preston Citizen newspaper. “Fields are being inundated as rivers of the near mouse-sized insects flow from the higher elevations into the foothills.”
Seagulls can be seen eating the insects, and Henderson said some landowners have been spraying in critical locations.
“The hoards are by no means being controlled at this point, and we don’t know how the summer will progress,” he wrote. “Swarm movement and magnitude is unpredictable at best.’
The Mormon crickets, Anabrus simplex, are not actually crickets but what are what are known as the shieldbacked katydids. They come in several colors, ranging from black to red, and are usually only seen in low numbers around the region. Occasionally, however, Mormon cricket populations explode, resulting in large roving bands of the insects numbering in the millions.
According to an article in Wikipedia, the factors that trigger these infestations are poorly understood but are thought to be weather-related.
Latter-day Saints know the insects well through a dramatic episode experienced by Mormon pioneers in the second year of settlement in the Salt Lake Valley, following the trek west. In his book “The Mormon Experience,” historian Leonard J. Arrington begins his account of the episode as follows:
“Just when the prospect of an abundant spring harvest in 1848 lifted pioneer spirits, hordes of crickets — ‘wingless, dumpy, black, swollen-headed, with bulging eyes in cases like goggles, mounted upon legs of steel wire ... a cross of the spider on the buffalo’ — swarmed over the sprouting grain.”
As the story goes, men, women and children raced to their fields armed with whatever they could grab in an effort to save their crops, but they barely made a dent in the swarms of ravenous pests. After two weeks of battle and prayer, an event that Latter-day Saints have long considered a “miracle” occurred.
On June 9, 1848, flocks of seagulls appeared and began feasting on the insects, saving the crops from total destruction.
In his Preston Citizen column, Henderson noted the Idaho Department of Agriculture operates a bait distribution program to help control grasshoppers and Mormon crickets. A Carbaryl bait can be given to landowners if they have more than five acres of agricultural land and have submitted a “Grasshopper Mormon Cricket Complaint Form” available on the ISDA website at bit.ly/2xTcdxR. Infestation levels must also meet certain minimum criteria.
“If you see Mormon crickets in other locations in the county, it is helpful to start control early,” Henderson said. “Please report locations to the Extension office 208-852-1097 or submit a complaint form to the ISDA website.”