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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Ravenous Mormon Crickets Found in New Mexico

LAS CRUCES - Mormon crickets, the large grasshopper-like insects that swarmed over Utah rangelands in large numbers, have now been found in several New Mexico counties, a New Mexico State University specialist said.

Carol Sutherland, entomologist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, said Mormon crickets have been spotted in Torrance, Sandoval and Rio Arriba counties, and could become a problem on rangelands and in farm fields when eggs begin to hatch early next spring.

"Mormon crickets are severe pests. They're strictly associated with plants that grow on the ground and they are well known for their abilities to feed on a wide variety of vegetation including range grasses of all kinds, shrubs, forbs, garden plants and crop plants," Sutherland said. "The Mormon crickets in New Mexico right now are ready to finish up their life cycle, but we might see large numbers of the insects as they hatch early next spring."

Mormon crickets closely resemble crickets, but are a member of the katydid family that includes grasshoppers. The crickets are black and very large, about the size of a human thumb. They have long hind legs adapted for crawling and jumping in addition to long, hair-like antennae as long as the insect's body. Male Mormon crickets have a peanut-shaped abdomen with a rounded end, while females have a long, sword-like appendage called an ovipositor used to inject eggs into the soil surface around host plants.

The name Mormon cricket is derived from the ravenous behavior of the insects in Utah about 150 years ago as Mormon settlers established farms in the area.

"Farmers at that time were appalled at seeing millions of black crickets crawling on the surface of the ground, literally engulfing everything they planted. The insects were so numerous and hungry that in some cases, they were reported to even chew the clothes off the clotheslines and chew up hoe handles," she said.

Currently, Sutherland is working to collect the crickets for documentation and insect specimens to determine if a treatment plan is needed to control the Mormon cricket population in New Mexico.

Sutherland urges individuals who find Mormon crickets crawling in pastures or across highways to capture a few insects in a tin can or jar and bring them to their county Extension office. The crickets can bite, so she recommends individuals use caution when collecting the insects. Because Mormon crickets are also cannibalistic, collected insects should be kept in separate containers.