RENO, Nev. Mormon crickets have begun hatching in northern Nevada, marking what state agriculture officials say is the longest infestation in recent memory.
Mormon cricket infestations generally last two or three years. This is the seventh the large insects that munch their way across the landscape have invaded northern Nevada.
"This, I'm sure, ranks as the worst infestation in a long, long time definitely over the last 50 to 60 years," said Jeff Knight, Nevada state entomologist.
Made famous by nearly destroying the crops of Utah's Mormon settlers in 1848, the crickets grow to 2 inches long or more as adults. They move in large bands, eating lawns, gardens and crops. When starved for protein and salt, they eagerly gobble up one another.
At the infestation's peak in 2005, 12 million acres of Nevada, stretching from the California to Utah state lines, were covered with crickets. The insects also swarmed over large parts of Utah and Idaho.
The amount of infested land decreased to between 8 million and 10 million acres in Nevada last summer, and Knight expects close to the same amount of land could be affected this year.
Knight said reports of hatching crickets began this week.
Now about the size of "a large grain of rice with legs," the insects begin eating, and growing, immediately after hatching, Knight said.
The Nevada Department of Agriculture again plans aerial spraying of public lands where crickets are hatching.
Since the infestation began, Knight said about $6 million has been spent by the federal and state governments to eradicate Mormon crickets. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week said additional money to fight crickets is included in supplemental disaster relief funding he is seeking for the state.
"Where are the seagulls when you need them?" Reid said, referring to the legendary avian rescue of cricket-besieged Mormon settlers.
Knight said there's still a chance cold, wet weather could hinder this year's cricket crop.