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Cold, wet spring may limit cricket numbers

By Sandra Chereb

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, June 12 2011 6:03 p.m. MDT

CARSON CITY, Nev. — A cold wet spring that had northern Nevadans grumbling about the weather could have an upside — it just might keep things a little less creepy this summer.

Jeff Knight, entomologist with the Nevada Department of Agriculture, said he expects about an average year for the numbers of Mormon crickets that travel in bands and eat everything in their path.

"They have better survival when it's a warm, dry spring," Knight said.

The wet weather has prevented staff from getting out in the desert to take a good look at the situation, and Knight said he expects they'll find a "pocket or two" of the crawling insects that can ravage crops and forage, cover houses, eat each other and make roadways a gooey slick of bug juice.

"We're always going to have crickets. They're a natural part of the Great Basin ecology," Knight said.

The insects, which are actually shield back katydids, "don't function real well below 50 degrees," Knight said.

Wet weather also spurs disease, helping to keep their numbers in check.

The insect was made infamous by nearly destroying the crops of Utah's Mormon settlers in 1848. According to lore, flocks of seagulls arrived to eat the bugs and save the crops.

In 2005, Mormon crickets infested about 12 million acres in Nevada. The infestations have been subsiding since.

But while the damp spring may help keep Mormon crickets in check, it could mean a spurt in another insect — grasshoppers.

"Grasshoppers, if they hatch out and there's a lot of forage, do really well," Knight said.

That could foretell an even big grasshopper outbreak next year, depending on eggs laid by adults this year that won't hatch until next spring.

"It's not so much what we'll have this year, but survival for next year," he said.

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