?I?ve got a war on my hands here,? says Scott Overson of the USDA, referring to the recent plague of crickets in Utah. ?They?re cannibals. They?ll eat anything, including each other.? Just one Mormon cricket can consume up to 38 pounds of forage in its brief life of several months.
Utah Governor Michael O. Leavitt has declared an agricultural emergency to help combat the infestation of crickets and grasshoppers that have affected 1.5 million acres and caused at least $25 million in crop damage.
?We?ll never get rid of them, says Edward J. Bianco, the state?s head entomologist. ?We?ll be fighting them for 200 years. But the ultimate goal now is to control their population to where there is no economic damage to farmers.?
The infestation is partially due to the recent mild winters in the area, probably caused by global warming. When female crickets are not exterminated by the cold, they can lay up to 180 eggs each season, which mature into tiny eating machines. ?Couple of weeks ago, I saw a band of them crossing a road,? says Overson. ?The road was black with them, and they were 3 feet deep on top of each other.
?What I?d like to do,? he adds, ?is box up a bunch of these bugs and dump them in a Congressional office. That would create some chaos. Then maybe we can get some more help.?
This spring, crickets and grasshoppers invaded Idaho and Nevada, as well as Utah. Hordes of grasshoppers began appearing in California in April. Their arrival is costly for homeowners, as well as farmers, since they?re fond of ornamental plants and trees.
?When there?s a huge migrating population, they overwhelm whatever controls you put down,? says Ed Perry, a horticulture specialist with the University of California. ?They will strip the plants pretty clean. I have heard from people who spent thousands of dollars on landscaping, only to have grasshoppers come in and eat it all.?
Meanwhile, in Scotland, environmentalists have called for an urgent investigation of a possible pollution incident after the discovery of pink grasshoppers at a wildlife center. ?We need to take this as an early warning that there is a change in the environment,? says Dr. Richard Dixon, of Friends of the Earth. ?We must not ignore this and we need to study whether it is a legacy of contaminated land or if there is a current leak from the factories.?
Dr. Derek Cosens, an entomologist at Edinburgh University, agrees. ?The coloring indicates that during its early stages the grasshopper has been affected by something in its local conditions. DNA mutates if there is something very solvent in the air and this could indicate that a chemical is floating in the atmosphere.?
?We don?t know what it is, but we are expecting thousands of visitors to see this phenomenon,? says Helen Sadler, of the Jupiter Urban Wildlife Center. ?It could be because we have red clover here, maybe they have mutated to blend in with it.?
To read more about the California infestation, click here. To read the Scotsman’s story about pink grasshoppers, click here.
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