April Aamodt likens it to the zombie apocalypse.
It was about this time last year when hordes of hissing, cannibalistic Mormon crickets began swarming the small town of Arlington, climbing up the sides of houses, marching down the streets and devouring local crops.
“It was awful,” said Aamodt, who lives in Arlington along the Columbia River in north-central Oregon. “My land was infested with thousands of them. I was working from 5:30 in the morning to 9 at night trying to kill crickets.”
The community is now bracing for round two, but this time Aamodt said they have a plan. With help from Oregon State University Extension and the Oregon Department of Agriculture, residents are mapping hot spots of Mormon crickets and targeting the grotesque insects with an arsenal of pesticides and bait.
Aamodt, who works for the Gilliam County District Attorney’s Office, is at the forefront of the battle, hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s creepy, crawly invasion.
“Everyone has to do their part to prevail against this infestation,” she said.
Mormon crickets are not actually crickets, but flightless members of the katydid family, closely related to grasshoppers and crickets. Their name comes from the Mormon settlers in Utah, who encountered the pests while pushing westward in the 1800s.
The insects can grow up to 2-3 inches long, emerging in the springtime and undergoing seven stages of development — known as instars — before reaching adulthood, usually after 60-90 days.
Jordan Maley, OSU Extension agent for Gilliam County, said hatchlings began to surface roughly a month and a half ago, and it will be several weeks before adults are on the move.
“They consume anything that is in their path,” Maley said, highlighting the risk to agriculture.
Mormon cricket populations are cyclical, though longtime Arlington resident and rancher Dick Krebs claimed it was the worst infestation since 1942. A public meeting was called in June 2017 to deal with the nightmare, though by that time it was too late.
Instead, Maley said they turned their attention to the next year, plotting a comprehensive strategy to keep the pesky bugs at bay.
“We’re doing whatever it takes to get these things under control,” he said.
Using Google Maps, landowners and townspeople have been able to report sightings of Mormon crickets right from their smartphones. Workers from ODA have also spent the last two weeks scouting for crickets on the hilly rangeland surrounding town.
The highest concentrations of crickets seem to be about a mile west of Arlington in Jones Canyon, Maley said. In some cases, the crickets are “too numerous to count accurately,” as many as 200 per square yard.
By mapping the hot spots for Mormon crickets, Maley said they can make the best use of their limited resources.
“We’re just trying to make sure we’re being effective,” he said.
Outside city limits, the county has agreed to pay $105,000 for an aerial applicator to spray Dimilin, a pesticide that targets younger, smaller crickets and inhibits their growth.
Charlie Anderson, a wheat farmer up Blalock Canyon, was hit especially hard by last year’s infestation, as crickets devastated 50 acres on the outskirts of his fields. He was the first to conduct aerial spraying around his property on April 24, and so far the treatments appear to be working.
“Those crickets are gone,” Anderson said. “There’s not a sign of them.”
Once the Mormon crickets become adults and Dimilin is no longer effective, Maley said they will begin applying 4,000 pounds of grainy Sevin bait, donated by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, to kill the oncoming swarm.
In town, residents are already spraying Tempo, a general use insecticide that is considered safe to use around children and pets. The city of Arlington and Gilliam County also joined together to bring in a herd of goats to eat overgrown grass on steep, tricky hillsides where crickets might hide.
To prevail against the infestation, Aamodt said everyone is going to have to do their part.
“I do think that people are working together,” she said. “I receive phone calls and messages every single day.”
Maley said it is unrealistic to think they will solve the problem in one year, but is optimistic they are on the right track.
“We had that outbreak last summer, which was really horrendous and pretty much ruined the summer for Arlington,” he said. “We got organized, and I think we’re going to put a dent in it this year.”