‘Just disgusting’: A Nevada city confronts millions of smelly Mormon crickets

“It’s been insane,” said Charles Carmichael, owner Battle Born Pest Control. “It’s been wild. I haven’t sprayed this many houses for crickets in a long, long time.”

Millions of Mormon crickets have arrived in Elko, Nevada, the spindly copper creatures blanketing parts of the city, so staff members at the Shilo Inns Elko on Saturday discussed ways to combat them.

Hotel workers poured a hot-water mix of vinegar, bleach and dish soap.

They even aimed pressure washers at the brown clusters of exoskeletons. Still, the jumpy insects kept coming.

Finally, Kimmy Hall, general manager of Shilo Inns, told her overwhelmed staff: “We can’t win against them. But we can hold them off.”

(Rick Bowmer | AP) A cricket climbs a brush during the migration of Mormon crickets, Saturday, June 17, 2023, in Spring Creek, Nev.

Such has been the mood in Elko, a city of roughly 20,000 residents, as it has been infested with Mormon crickets, which have recently hatched and are in a migratory phase.

Although the crickets have been moving through the area, about 300 miles northeast of Reno, for a few years, millions this month are springing across densely populated neighborhoods and high-trafficked roads. As vehicles drive over the crickets’ bodies — which crack easily like potato chips — their guts spill out.

The more crickets that are run over, the thicker the layers that accumulate on the road, leaving a viscous, clay-colored mixture that can create slick driving conditions, the Nevada Department of Transportation warned on Twitter.

The quantity and spread of the crickets on the road is so pervasive that the department is using plows to clear the slimy brown remains.

Mormon crickets, which are not actually crickets but shield-backed katydids, are ground-dwelling insects native to the Western United States. They feed on grasses, shrubs and crops, which can contribute to soil erosion and nutrient-depleted soils, according to the University of Nevada, Reno.

The Southwest is experiencing a severe drought, which the university said “encourages Mormon cricket outbreaks” that may last five to 21 years and “cause substantial economic losses to rangeland, cropland and home gardens.”

The name Mormon crickets is derived from how the insects would invade Mormon settlers’ crops in Utah’s Great Salt Lake area around the mid-1800s, according to Washington State University. Males chirp like other crickets, “hence the incorrect common name,” the university said.

Since the 1990s, the Mormon cricket population has been surging, particularly in Nevada, said the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2006, Mormon crickets infested about 10 million acres in the state.

The crickets, which are about 2 inches long and have plump bodies, are turning brick homes, front lawns and beige sidewalks a darker shade of russet. They do not bite, but they do induce squeamishness, especially among some newer residents.

“It’s been insane,” said Charles Carmichael, owner Battle Born Pest Control. “It’s been wild. I haven’t sprayed this many houses for crickets in a long, long time.”

In suburban stucco homes, he has seen Mormon crickets crawl along exterior walls, moving like aliens in a retro arcade game.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Mormon crickets make their way over a Jersey barrier during the migration of Mormon crickets Saturday, June 17, 2023, in Spring Creek, Nev. Outbreaks of Mormon crickets, which are native to the Great Basin and Intermountain West, have been recorded throughout history across the west, from Nevada and Montana to Idaho, Utah and Oregon.

The crickets have devoured gardens, entered homes and somehow made their way into people’s backpacks and hair, prompting shrieks, Carmichael said.

He has limited weapons at his disposal. Many chemical deterrents do not work. The best he can do is place smooth plastic fencing around gardens because the crickets cannot climb smooth surfaces.

Still, as Hall knows well, killing the crickets can lead to smelly results: The remains stink like fish or dog feces.

“Just disgusting,” Hall said.

Chris Gomez, store manager of Big 5 Sporting Goods in Elko, said Mormon crickets have covered the sidewalk by the store and the entrance in recent days. Most customers “tough it out” and race inside, he said. But not everyone.

“We had a couple of little kids cry when they tried to get in,” Gomez said. “You know, they’re a little scared.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.