Friday, April 24, 2009

Town Fights Mormon Crickets With Rock Music

Okay, the crickets in this story have to be the country's second scariest looking crickets:
TUSCARORA, Nev. -- The residents of this tiny town, anticipating an imminent attack, will be ready with a perimeter defense. They'll position their best weapons at regular intervals, faced out toward the desert to repel the assault.
Then they'll turn up the volume.
Rock music blaring from boomboxes has proved one of the best defenses against an annual invasion of Mormon crickets. The huge flightless insects are a fearsome sight as they advance across the desert in armies of millions that march over, under or into anything in their way.
But the crickets don't much fancy Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones, the townspeople figured out three years ago. So next month, Tuscarorans are preparing once again to get out their extension cords, array their stereos in a quarter-circle and tune them to rock station KHIX, full blast, from dawn to dusk. "It is part of our arsenal," says Laura Moore, an unemployed college professor and one of the town's 13 residents.
In flyspeck villages like Tuscarora, crickets are a serious matter. The critters hatch in April in the barren soil of northern Nevada, western Utah and other parts of the Great Basin, quickly growing into blood-red, ravenous insects more than 2 inches long.
Then they march. In columns that in peak years can be two miles long and a mile across, swarms move across the badlands in search of food. Starting in about May, they march through August or so, before stopping to lay eggs for next year and die.
In between, they make an awful mess. They destroy crops and lots of the other leafy vegetation. They crawl all over houses, and some get inside. "You'll wake up and there'll be one sitting on your forehead, looking at you," says Ms. Moore.
I can't imagine how horrible that is.
Following an unseasonably warm winter, some in Elko County fear a big crop this year of Mormon crickets, known more precisely as shield-backed katydids, or Anabrus simplex. State entomologist Jeff Knight is using computer models to document when the crickets will hatch, and "once they have hatched, we will start going in and mapping where all the crickets are," he says.
Towns in their path aren't waiting to find out. Elko County officials have stored tons of poison bait, which they'll soon start handing out. Placed properly, it can help. In 2003, which was a bad year, residents organized a bucket brigade to lay poison bait in the countryside, luring many bugs to their doom.
But last year Diana Bunitsky sprinkled the bait too close -- right outside the rural diner she runs, Lone Mountain Station -- and crickets swarmed onto her property to gobble it. Ms. Bunitsky ran outside and sprayed them with a garden hose, "but when I looked back, they had gone around and were all over my walls," she says.
How did the townspeople figure out how to fight off these horrifying pests? History:
But when a throng of crickets began to advance ominously on Tuscarora in the spring of 2006, Ms. Parks, the artist, dug up a 1934 article in the Elko Free Press about a woman who had used a Chinese gong to drive them away. That led to the modern adaptation of a boombox perimeter. [...]
The theory was they'd hate heavy metal," Ms. Parks says. Indeed, locals report, in 2006, at least, many of the bugs stopped in their tracks. Says Mr. Knight, the entomologist: "The vibrations may deter the bugs, but I don't know of any research that says yes or no."
For those who think fighting off hordes of crickets would be no big deal, here's a picture of the Mormon cricket.
Why do I call it the second scariest cricket in America? Well, I know it's a matter of opinion, but I still think these guys, whom I encountered in North Carolina, are scarier.

Entomologists give it the popular name "camel cricket." I call it "hideous mutant cricket-spider bug." If the townspeople of Nevada feel the same way about their Mormon crickets, I'm amazed at their restraint in limiting their weapons to bug poison and rock music; by now I'd be going for boiling oil or flamethrowers. Or both, used together. Or, more likely, moving to a place far, far away from the hideous invaders.


John Thayer Jensen said...

Well, I have to see that wetas are freakier ( - but thank God they don't swarm! They just hide down inside your gumboot that you are about to put your foot into. Some of them get 10cm long.

Francisco said...

I, for one, welcome our new Cricket overlords!

Rebecca said...

We had an invasion of Jerusalem crickets, which look like huge overfed evil bumblebees, my freshman year in college. Very nasty, slow-moving things. You couldn't walk from one building to another without seeing several. I never ever listen to rock music, but if I were those people in those towns, I'd be dusting off the Zeppelin albums too.

Dymphna said...

Camel crickets aren't so bad once you get over the shock.

Marianne said...

I would like to know why they have been called Mormon crickets.

Red Cardigan said...

Marianne, the original article says this: "The critters got their name in the 19th century after a throng of them ravaged the crops of a Mormon settlement."

LarryD said...

I see a movie in this somewhere...

Anonymous said...

Jerusalem crickets are uglier. We had a three-inch one come in the front door last summer. It was my fault, really, because I opened the door and it was on the step skittering around and I freaked and screamed like a girl since I had never seen one before. I guess it thought my "Ahhhhgh!" was an invitation. Thank goodness my husband was brave enough to deal with it.
Some bugs are cool, but some are just plain creepy.

rob said...

There was a movie about them in the 1930s. It was about Brigham Young. And the crickets are in it. Forgot the name of it however.

Ouiz said...

Those camel crickets are disgusting. We have them around here and we (in my house) call them "sprickets," since they seem to be some sort of hideous spider/cricket mutation.


music business said...

i thought those things only happen in films...