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Mormon crickets swarm the West

The chirp about Mormon crickets is on the rise. You may have never even heard of this insect before and, depending on where you live out west, you may or may not even run into them. Let’s dive a little deeper into this pest and find out if you need to worry about walking outside to a swarm of these insects in your backyard.

Black and grey Mormon cricket on a tan rock

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What are Mormon crickets?

Mormon crickets aren’t actually crickets. These large insects are shield-backed katydids. Katydids, crickets, and grasshoppers all belong to the same order of insects – Orthoptera (Orthos means 'straight' and Ptera means "wings"). Crickets and katydids are much more closely related to each other than they are to grasshoppers. These insects are wingless and cannot fly like some other katydid, cricket, and grasshopper species can.

These pests get their cricket name because, well, they look like crickets! They get their full name, Mormon cricket, because they destroyed the crops of Mormon settlers in the 19th century.

Orange and brown colored Mormon cricket wandering through grass.

What do they look like?

Mormon crickets can grow to up to three inches in length – terrifying, we know. They vary in color, ranging from black to brown, to purple, to red, or even green. These insects do have wings, but (thankfully) don’t fly as they have a shield that covers their wings. Though they may not be able to fly, they can travel a little over one mile a day eating all shrubs, flowering plants, grasses, trees, and other insects in their path.

Birds eye view of a Mormon cricket on a white background.

Where are Mormon crickets found?

Endemic to the western United States, these insects are found in the rangeland in areas with lots of shrubs and grasses. They are often found throughout the Pacific Northwest and are common in states like Montana, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, and Nevada.

Black and white map of the United States with the western states highlighted in grey

Most of the time, Mormon crickets are low in density in an area. Weather, along with other conditions, which are not yet fully understood by entomologists, leads to their swarming migration. And a swarming migration can consist of millions.

When do Mormon crickets swarm?

Mormon crickets swarm as the weather gets hot, hot, hot. These insects will swarm like locusts during seasons of drought and very warm temperatures. A Mormon cricket swarm can migrate up to 50 miles, destroying crops, vegetation, and fruit, as well as creating slippery road conditions causing hazards for vehicles. Mormon cricket outbreaks typically wax and wane, but serious outbreaks can last five to 10 years.

Old farm buildings in a green rangeland in Idaho with a blue sky as the background.

Do they bite?

Mormon crickets don’t bite humans, but they are cannibalistic. Shield-backed katydids devour all plant material in their path and any insects they come across, including other shield–backed katydids. They migrate in search of sources of protein and salts. They are voracious cannibals and, when swarming, have to continually keep moving forward to prevent attacks and cannibalism from the Mormon crickets behind them.

Should I worry about Mormon crickets?

Homeowners don’t really need to worry about Mormon crickets. Though they do swarm, they rarely infest houses. These insects don’t really pose a threat to humans other than looking creepy and making roads slippery. 

However, they do cause a lot of damage to crops and vegetation. In the past, they have destroyed millions of acres of rangeland throughout the west.

Sun setting over a field of crops with one lonely tree in the background on a blue sky day.

The Technicians at Western Exterminator are always here to answer any questions you have - Mormon cricket related or not. Feel free to DM us on Facebook and our tech team will calm all of your pest-related worries!

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