They’re crawling up the sides of houses, swarming driveways, munching crops and generally causing a creepy nuisance around town.
Mormon crickets have invaded Arlington this year in startling numbers, with residents trying desperately to figure out how to keep the exploding population under control.
“We’re just overrun,” said Jessica Gossett, who works at the local library. “Now my kids won’t even go out to play.”
The problem has gotten so bad in recent days that roughly 50 people turned out Friday for a community meeting at the Arlington City Council chambers to discuss possible solutions, which ranged from poisons to predators to building a physical barrier around local homes.
Jordan Maley, extension agent for Oregon State University in Gilliam County, said it is already too late to have much of an effect on this year’s Mormon cricket outbreak, but he encouraged everyone to come together later this winter to collaborate on a long-term treatment plan.
“We want to develop a strategy for taking care of these things,” Maley said. “They may be around for a while.”
In the short-term, residents are left to hose the insects off their garage doors and sweep them off their sidewalks. One woman said she has been scooping up the bugs and drowning them in a bucket.
Mormon crickets are not actually crickets, but members of the katydid family. They take their common name from Mormon settlers in Utah, who encountered them while pushing westward. They can grow up to 2-3 inches as adults, hatching from their eggs in the spring and undergoing seven stages of development known as instars, where they essentially outgrow and shed their skin.
“If you’ve ever seen one of these things, they’re horrendous looking,” Maley said.
Females are capable of laying more than 100 eggs during the summer months, according to Paul Blom, an entomologist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Blom, who is responsible for 18 Eastern Oregon counties, attended Friday’s meeting to share a few thoughts about withstanding the infestation.
A multitude of birds and animals naturally prey on Mormon crickets, Blom said, including seagulls, crows, chickens, turkeys, rodents and coyotes. Physical barriers can also work, he added, since Mormon crickets are flightless.
As for chemicals, Blom gave a few options such as carbaryl — commonly sold in stores as Sevin bait. Because Mormon crickets are cannibalistic, the poison kills not only the insect that took the bait, but others that prey on it as well.
Whatever the treatment plan, Blom said the problem needs to be dealt with collectively by the community. Otherwise, the insects will just keep coming.
“If you’ve treated your section and no one else does, you’ve gone nowhere,” Blom said. “You guys really have to coordinate and treat it as a big block issue. You will be more successful if you do.”
Apart from being a real nuisance in town, the sheer volume of Mormon crickets this year may pose a threat to crops as well. Charlie Anderson, who farms wheat up Blalock Canyon west of Arlington, said this is the most Mormon crickets he’s seen over the past decade. And, what’s more, they’ve started chowing down on his fields.
Anderson figures he’s already lost 1 percent of his crop, and at the rate it’s going it could be as much as 5 to 10 percent.
“There’s too many of them,” he said. “I don’t think there’s enough product to treat this now.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, does have a Western rangeland grasshopper and Mormon cricket control program that covers federal lands. According to Blom, APHIS will occasionally help state and private landowners, though they are required to split the cost.
Maley said landowners need to be on the lookout this growing season so they can formulate a community-wide plan of attack moving forward.
“Hopefully through this growing season we can build up enough information to find out where these things are, and what we’re dealing with,” Maley said.
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0825.