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Mormon Crickets march through the Owyhee rangeland

Posted at 1:29 PM, Jun 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-04 15:29:01-04

SILVER CITY, Idaho — Swarms of Mormon Crickets are marching through the Owyhee rangeland and this year, Silver City experienced a hatch of this insect that actually isn't a cricket, but a shield-backed katydid.

"There are just billions of them it looks like the whole road surface is moving," said Clarence Orton the President of the Silver City Property Owners. "It's quite a sight to see if you have never seen it."

The crickets have moved on from Silver City according to Orton, but these pests can do serious damage to crops, in fact, the Mormon Cricket got its name back in 1847 when this insect decimated the crops of Mormon settlers in Utah.

This is a big concern in Owyhee County as a quarter of the population works in agriculture which produces sales of $127 million every year.

However, there are government programs that help protect private landowners through the Idaho State Department of Agriculture invasive species program, even though these crickets are native to Idaho.

On the federal level, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has its own program for southern Idaho, they work with the Bureau of Land Management to protect the Owyhee rangeland.

"The crickets can lead to a total loss of a crop and they can also incur additional costs for ranchers when their rangeland is negatively affected and they are forced to acquire supplemental feed," said Brian Marschman of the USDA.

The USDA put together an environmental assessment in May of 2020, the Owyhee Cattleman's Association and the Idaho Cattleman's Association both preferred option three which calls for reduced agent area treatments with an adaptive management strategy for the crickets.

"The biggest tool that we will use is carbaryl bait," said Marschman. "They are cannibals and whether it is feeding on their own dead or along roads and highways the dead crickets attract more crickets."

The crickets won't harm you but they do tend to creep people out, we talked with some people who were heading into the Owyhees in ATV's and they told us they just run them over.

People do need to be aware that if the crickets make it to the highway and get crunched by cars that can make the road very slippery.

"They do they cake on the highway, they cake on your vehicle then they dry up like concrete on your car and they stink," said Orton. "They are just nasty."

Orton also wanted to know what role these crickets play in the ecosystem and it made us curious as well.

Marschman told us the crickets provide food for birds and other animals and they play an important role in the Owyhee ecosystem as long as they don't overrun the crops and the grassland.

He also told us their population is cyclical depending on several different factors and we saw them a few years ago when they took over the town of Murphy.