RENO — Mormon crickets are once again on the move across Northern Nevada, but an expert with the state Department of Agriculture predicts the bug problem should be far better than years past.
A wet, cool spring slowed development of the large insects, and ongoing control programs are helping curtail them, state entomologist Jeff Knight said Thursday.
“The biggest concentration is north of Elko, Independence Valley, up toward Owyhee, Mountain City, Jarbidge,” Knight said, “where things were pretty much last year.”
He said a crew of six will be stationed in Elko County in early July to monitor and combat problem areas as they arise.
The infestation began in Nevada about eight years ago and peaked in 2005, when roughly 12 million acres of the state were overtaken by the large, cannibalistic bugs.
Since then, their numbers have eased off.
The scope of the infestation was down to about 1 million acres last year, and Knight expects this year to be about the same.
“Eight years ago, when this outbreak first started, we had no equipment,” he said. “It took us a year or two to get ramped up.
“Now, we’re trying to stay ahead of the curve.”
The agency has purchased a tractor to spread bait in accessible areas, and to help haul and load pesticides in remote areas.
It also has a stockpile of chemicals used to battle the crickets.
The agency uses two kinds of control options, depending on the location: a growth inhibitor that is sprayed from a plane and an insecticide that is applied on the ground.
Last year, efforts cost about $280,000 and he expects 2009 to cost around the same or a little less.
In the worst years, Knight said the efforts cost about $1.2 million.
Large bands in those years have invaded rural neighborhoods, crawling over homes and leaving sidewalks and roads covered in a gooey slime.
The insect was made infamous by nearly destroying the crops of Utah’s Mormon settlers in 1848.
Growing up to 2 inches long as adults, the crickets swarm in groups thousands strong, devouring lawns, gardens, livestock forage and crops.
Knight said experts don’t know what conditions cause infestations to be better or worse than others.
“The onslaught in the state and a number of outbreaks through history have been related to droughts,” he said. “But what makes them continue or what makes them drop off, nobody really knows.”