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Mormon cricket

Mormon cricket
Copyright © 2001 Ryan Jordan. Used by permission.

Dinosaur Monument Study May Help Stop Mormon Cricket Scourge

By Amy Spillman
June 7, 2002

Data from a study commencing this July at Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado may help scientists predict which areas are most at risk for invasion by bands of Mormon crickets, according to an ecologist with the Agricultural Research Service.

Mormon crickets, which are actually a species of katydid, can cause widespread damage to agricultural areas when their numbers swell. Under outbreak conditions, bands of up to 100,000 flightless crickets roam across the land, devouring crops, grasses and ornamentals they encounter. They can travel as far as a mile and a half per day.

During the study, researchers will use a combination of radio telemetry and harmonic radar to keep track of migratory cricket bands in and around the Colorado park. They hope to discover the environmental cues that determine which direction the bands will move in, how fast they’ll go, and how far they’ll travel.

The new study is a collaborative research project between ecologist Greg Sword of ARS’ Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, Mont., and Darryl Gwynne and Pat Lorch of the University of Toronto at Mississauga in Ontario, Canada.

The researchers chose to base their study at Dinosaur National Monument because it is a protected habitat. Control efforts by ranchers and other federal agencies are prohibited, so the scientists will be able to study the insects’ natural behavior and movements.

If the scientists can gather enough data, they may be able to develop models for predicting band movements during future outbreaks, according to Sword. These models would help increase the efficiency of pesticide applications and reduce pesticide exposure of nontarget species.

Last year, Mormon crickets caused more than $25 million in damage in Utah alone. Experts believe this year’s losses could be even worse because of the huge numbers of nymphs--or young crickets--counted after this year’s hatch.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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