Mormon Crickets

Mormon Cricket female Anabrus-simplex Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Mormon Cricket female
Anabrus-simplex
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Children’s author George Selden described the impact of a cricket’s chirping in the bustle of a subway station in his book “The Cricket in Times Square” like this: “Like ripples around a stone dropped into still water, the circles of silence spread out. …Eyes that looked worried grew soft and peaceful; tongues left off chattering; and ears full of the city’s rustling were rested by the cricket’s melody.” Combine this musical talent with Jiminy Cricket’s gentle reminder to always listen to my conscience, and it is no wonder that I would drift to sleep on summer evenings enamored with cricket songs. How, I thought, could such a beautifully-sounding insect be the villain in Utah’s legend we know as the Miracle of the Gulls, memorialized in Minerva Teichert paintings and Temple Square monuments?

Decades later, near Fremont Indian State Park, I met a Mormon cricket for the first time. I cringed as I watched thousands of these creatures hopping across the mountain path that afternoon, and I understood how merciful those California gulls must have seemed, swooping in to gobble up the insects, as the Mormon pioneers struggled to develop a defensive, crop-saving plan as newcomers to this land.

Mormon Cricket female Anabrus-simplex Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Mormon Cricket female
Anabrus-simplex
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Utah settler Mrs. Lorenzo Dow Young captures a bit of the incident in her 1848 journal entry: “May 27: …today to our utter astonishment, the crickets came by millions, sweeping everything before them. They first attacked a patch of beans…, and in twenty minutes there was not a vestige to be seen. They next swept over peas…; took everything clean.” These hordes of insects were not new to the area, however, as we know that explorer Peter Skene Ogden noted “crickets by millions” in his 1825 journal account over 20 years earlier.

Did you know that Mormon crickets are not crickets, grasshoppers, or cicadas, but large shield-backed katydids that walk or hop rather than fly? Their smooth, shiny exoskeleton can be a variety of colors and patterns, like the reddish-brown female I chased and studied this summer in Fishlake National Forest. They have long antennae, and each female has what looks like a long curving stinger extending from her abdomen. This ovipositor allows her to deposit 100 eggs or more that look like gray or purple rice grains just below the soil surface. The males, on the other hand, lack this structure, but they “sing” as a way to attract females, and reward their mates with protein-packed spermatophore prizes.

Katydid or bush cricket Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Katydid or bush cricket
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
These insects can be solitary mountain-dwellers but make headlines when they swarm in huge bands, marching in one direction as omnivores, in search of anything to eat: cultivated crops, succulent forbs, sagebrush and other shrubs, other insects, and even their own kind. Researchers tracking migrations determined they can travel more than 50 miles in a summer, perhaps a mile a day, and for many, including those early Utah settlers and others hoping to shield crops from Mormon cricket devastation, it is a sign of relief to see the last one for the season. They do make for a great story, though.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Shannon Rhodes.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Anderson, Rebecca. Miracle of the Crickets. Utah Humanities. 2011.
https://www.utahhumanities.org/stories/items/show/223

Capinera, John and Charles MacVean. Ecology and Management of Mormon Cricket. Department of Entomology Colorado State University. 1987.
http://www.nativefishlab.net/library/textpdf/17378.pdf

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Crickets and Seagulls. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/crickets-and-seagulls?lang=eng

Cowan, Frank. Life History, Habits, and Control of the Mormon Cricket. United States Department of Agriculture. 1929. https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/CAT86200155/PDF

Hartley, William. Mormons, Crickets, and Gulls: A New Look at an Old Story. 1970. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume38_1970_number3/s/107089

Kent State University. Study Reveals Mass Migration Of Mormon Crickets Driven By Hunger, Fear. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily.com, 2 March 2006. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060302174524.htm

National Geographic. Giant Swarm of Mormon Crickets. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy3dQJYquoY

Palmer, Matt. Get a Jump on Mormon Cricket and Grasshopper Management. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/slideshows/ppt/03sh-insects-mc.pdf

Selden, George, and Garth Williams. The Cricket in Times Square. New York: Ariel Books, 1960. https://www.amazon.com/Cricket-Times-Square-Chester-Friends/dp/0312380038

University of Wyoming. Mormon Cricket Biology and Management poster. https://owyheecounty.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/MormonCricketbiologymgmtposteruofWYB1191.pdf

The Wild Episode. Mormon Cricket: The Cannibal Swarm.
​​https://thewildepisode.com/2020/12/11/mormon-cricket-the-cannibal-swarm/

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: California Gull, Courtesy and Copyright 2003 Jack Binch - All Rights Reserved
Callifornia Gull
Larus californicus
Courtesy and Copyright 2003 Jack Binch
All Rights Reserved
Hi, I am Dick Hurren from Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Utah’s state bird is is commemorated as the seagull, more accurately the the California Gull. Known in Utah for having saved the pioneers from the Mormon cricket invasion of 1848 and subsequent years, gulls hold a hallowed place in local history.

Seagull is a generic term referring to gulls of all types. Gulls we are familiar with range from the small 11-inch Bonaparte’s gull with a 32-inch wingspan to the 20-inch Herring gull with a 55-inch wingspan. They are white, grey and some have black heads. Young go through phases giving them different appearances as they mature over two to four years depending upon the species.

Many Gulls migrate to parts of Utah and some pass through in their migration to more northern regions. Ring-billed gulls are here during the fall, winter, and spring. The occasional Herring or Thayer’s gull may visit us in winter. A few black-headed Bonaparte’s gulls pass through reliably in spring and fall during migration. Upon rare occasions, we are even visited by Herrman’s, Western, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Mew, yellow-footed , Sabine’s, Iceland, and lesser black-backed gulls.

In spring, the California gulls and the much smaller and black-headed Franklin’s gulls return to nest. They migrate from southern states or the pacific coast and raise their young locally on islands in fresh and salt water.

Gulls clean up. They frequent garbage dumps, and irrigated, plowed or manure-covered fields. These carnivores eat insects, worms, crustaceans, fish and the occasional french fry in a parking lot. Opportunistic, they watch and raid unprotected nests of other birds, eating eggs and young. Sometimes flying singly, they are more often found in flocks. In flocks they defend against predators by harassment and intimidation.

Thayer’s and Herring gulls have been known to use tools. They have been seen dropping shellfish on asphalt or concrete roads to crack them open and eat the contents.

At the store, take a moment to think about our state bird. In the dump, and in waterways, gulls can become entrapped in six-pack rings. Do your part to prevent this by cutting up these plastic rings before disposing of them. Or better yet, buy cans loose or in boxes instead of rings.

For Wild About Utah, this has been Dick Hurren

This Wild About Utah episode originally broadcast in August 19, 2008, In Memory of Dick Hurren.

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: Credits

Photos: Courtesy and © copyright 2003 Jack Binch, as found on www.Utahbirds.org
Additional Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver, Wild Sanctuary, Special Collections
Text: Lyle Bingham and Richard(Dick) Hurren, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Voice: Richard(Dick) Hurren, Bridgerland Audubon Society
A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: Additional Reading:

Utah Symbols – California gull

Thatcher, Linda, Utah State Bird – Sea Gull(The California gull, Larus californicus), Utah’s State Symbols, Utah History Encyclopedia, Utah’s Online Library, Utah State Library Division, Utah Department of Heritage & Arts, https://www.uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/u/UTAH_STATE_SYMBOLS.shtml

Bonaparte’s Gull, Larus philadelphia

Bonaparte’s gull Larus philadelphia, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0600id.html

Bonaparte’s Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bonapartes_Gull

Herring Gull, Larus argentatus

Herring gull Larus argentatus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0510id.html

Herring Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Herring_Gull

Herring Gull(Flying Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsD-K/HerringGull3.htm

California gull, Larus californicus

California gull Larus californicus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0530id.html

California Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/California_Gull

California Gull(Adults Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsA-C/CaliforniaGull.htm

California Gull(Close-up Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsA-C/CaliforniaGull2.htm

Franklin’s gull, Larus pipixcan

Franklin’s gull Larus pipixcan, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0590id.html

Franklin’s Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Franklins_Gull

Thayer’s gull, Larus thayeri
(Note: Reclassified in 2017 as Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides)

Thayer’s gull Larus thayeri, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0518id.html

Iceland Gull (Thayer’s), eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://ebird.org/species/thagul

Iceland Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Iceland_Gull

California Gull(Juveniles Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/ThayersGull2.htm

Handbook of the Birds of the World 3: 609. Lynx Edicions. Larus thayeri (TSN 176828). Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved on 10 March 2006.

Ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed gull Larus delawarensis, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0540id.html

Ring-billed Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ring-billed_Gull

Mew Gull, Larus canus

Mew gull Larus canus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0550id.html

Mew Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mew_Gull

Mew gull(Front Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsL-R/MewGull.htm

Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescen

Glaucous-winged gull Larus glaucescen, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/infocenter/i0440id.html

Glaucous-winged Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Glaucous-winged_Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull(Adults Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsD-K/GlaucousWingedGull.htm

Sabine’s Gull, Xema sabini

Sabine’s gull Xema sabini, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/infocenter/i0620id.html

Sabine’s Gull(Breeding Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/SabinesGull.htm

Handbooks & References

Bridgerland Audubon Checklist of Birds, http://www.bridgerlandaudubon.org/checklist.htm

Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America ISBN 0-679-45121-8 Bull, John; Farrand, Jr., John (April 1984).

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Western Region. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN-10: 0679428518.

The Migratory Locust in North America; a post mortem

The Migratory Locust in North America; a post mortem
Rocky Mountain Locust were similar
to this Large Grasshopper
Melanoplus sanguinipes
Photo#215400
Copyright © 2008 Lynette Schimming
As found on www.bugguide.net

Vast migratory swarms of flying grasshoppers, or locusts, have periodically scoured arid parts of Africa and the Middle East since Biblical times, devastating crops and causing famine. But did you know that during the 19th century, American homesteaders were likewise plagued by migratory swarms of grasshoppers? The largest swarm passed through Nebraska in June of 1875; it was 110 miles wide, 1800 miles long and more than a 1/4 mile thick, taking five days to pass overhead. It remains the world’s largest recorded insect outbreak.

Here in Utah, at the time of the transcontinental railroad, migratory locusts periodically descended on the homesteads of Mormon settlers, laying up to 1 billion eggs per acre. These ravenous swarms devoured crops, vegetation, even laundry hung out to dry. Around the Great Salt Lake, drowned pickled grasshoppers would wash ahore in vast drifts. Native peoples gathered these salty, sun-dried hoppers for food, a rich source of protein and fat.

Why are we no longer plagued by locust swarms? It appears that the Rocky Mountain locust, went extinct at the turn of the 20th century. Entomologist Jeffrey Lockwood reports that the DNA of specimens preserved in the ice of glaciers in the Wind River Range are like no other grasshopper alive today. The cause of the locust’s abrupt extinction may never be known with certainty, but Lockwood believes that these outbreaks originated in the mountain meadows of the northern Rockies. By the 1880s, these public lands were packed with cattle and sheep, far more than the land could sustain. In a few short years, livestock stripped bare the very core habitats needed by the Rocky Mountain locust, leading to its abrupt extinction and the end of locust swarms in North America.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy & Copyright © 2008 Lynette Schimming (As found on www.bugguide.net)

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading:

Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier, Jeffrey Lockwood, Basic Books, 2004,ISBN:9780738208947, http://www.amazon.com/Locust-Devastating-Mysterious-Disappearance-American/dp/0465041671

Read more: 1. http://historyphilosophybooks.suite101.com/article.cfm/locust_by_jeffrey_lockwood#ixzz0IVh4qXFR&C

First and annual report of the United States Entomological commission for the year 1877 relating to the Rocky Mountain locust and the best methods of preventing its injuries and of guarding against its invasions Digitized by Google Books from Harvard University

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locust

Pestiferous Ironclads: The Grasshopper Problem in Pioneer Utah, Davis Bitton and Linda P Wilcox, Utah Historical Quarterly, 46 #4 as found on “Utah History to Go” http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/pioneers_and_cowboys/pestiferousironclads.html