Mormon crickets and cicadas are both well-known insects, often striking curiosity in people due to their unique behaviors and appearances.
With the buzz surrounding these insects, it’s important to understand the differences between them to correctly identify and discuss these creatures.
Are Mormon Crickets Cicadas?
Mormon crickets, scientifically known as Anabrus simplex, are actually not crickets at all but rather a type of katydid.
They are native to North America’s western regions and are known for their large size, long antennae, and remarkable swarm-like migration behavior.
On the other hand, cicadas are insects belonging to the order Hemiptera, which includes true bugs such as aphids and leafhoppers.
These insects are famous for their distinctive, loud buzzing songs and emerge en masse in periodic intervals, typically 13 or 17 years apart.
Despite their similar popular presence, Mormon crickets and cicadas differ in various ways, such as their taxonomy, life cycles, and behaviors.
Understanding these differences can help one appreciate the fascinating lives of these intriguing insects.
Differences Between Mormon Crickets and Cicadas
Mormon crickets are, in fact, not actual crickets. They are a type of shield-backed katydid called Anabrus simplex.
These insects resemble fat grasshoppers that cannot fly, have long antennae, and a smooth, shiny exoskeleton in various colors and patterns ^1^.
On the other hand, cicadas are a completely different group of insects belonging to the order Hemiptera.
They have large, transparent wings with prominent veins and are known for their distinctive, loud songs.
|Insect Group||Shield-backed Katydid||Hemiptera|
|Flight||Cannot fly||Can fly|
|Wings||Short wings||Large, transparent|
Mormon cricket nymphs hatch from eggs in spring and develop through a series of instars, shedding their exoskeletons until they reach adulthood.
Meanwhile, their orthopteran counterparts, grasshoppers, have a similar development process but can fly as adults.
Cicadas have unique life cycles. They develop underground as nymphs for several years (from 2 to 17, depending on the species) before emerging, molting, and becoming adults.
As adults, their primary focus is mating and laying eggs before they die shortly thereafter.
In summary, Mormon crickets and cicadas are distinct insect groups with different features and life cycles. While Mormon crickets are flightless katydids, cicadas are flying hemipterans known for their songs and unique life cycles.
Distribution and Habitat
Mormon crickets are native to the western United States.
Their range extends throughout the western parts of North America including Idaho and other states such as Utah, Nevada, and California. They are commonly found in the following regions:
- Southwest Idaho desert
- Sagebrush-steppe ecosystems
- High-elevation forests
Populations of these flightless insects can vary greatly from year to year. They may experience:
- Low population years with scattered individuals
- High population years with mass migrations
Factors that affect their population include:
- Weather conditions
- Availability of food sources
For example, wetter years may lead to an increase in their numbers due to an abundance of food and favorable habitat conditions. In contrast, drought conditions may lead to a decline in their populations.
Mormon crickets feed on various types of plants, such as:
- Native herbaceous perennials (forbs)
- Cultivated forage crops
In high population years, their feeding can cause:
- Reduced forage for grazing wildlife and livestock
- Soil erosion
- Poor water quality
- Nutrient depleted soils
Behavior and Survival Strategies
Mormon crickets form migratory bands that move together in large numbers. Swarming helps them:
- Find food sources
- Avoid predators like gulls, coyotes, and crows
Swarming behavior can cause:
- Crop damage
- Soil erosion
Mormon crickets exhibit cannibalism when facing limited food sources. This survival strategy has pros and cons:
- Provides necessary nutrients, especially protein
- Promotes population control
- Increases aggression among crickets
- Contributes to swarming behavior
Mormon Crickets vs. Cicadas
|Predator avoidance||Migratory bands||Camouflage &noise from wings|
|Impact on agriculture||Crop damage & soil erosion||Minimal, feed on tree sap|
Mormon crickets and cicadas have distinct behaviors and survival strategies that make them unique and fascinating insects.
Impact on Agriculture and Wildlife
Damage to Crops
Mormon crickets are known for causing damage to forage plants on rangeland and cultivated crops in the path of their migrations.
They can consume large amounts of plant material, which can lead to economic losses, especially during periods of drought.
Effects on Livestock
High populations of Mormon crickets can cause ecological losses to rangeland forage necessary for feeding livestock and wildlife.
When food sources in rangelands are reduced due to Mormon cricket infestations, livestock may face malnutrition or starvation.
Mormon crickets serve as prey for various predators such as birds, rodents, and other insects.
However, when their populations reach outbreak levels, they can disrupt food chains in the ecosystem.
Here’s a quick comparison table illustrating the differences between Mormon crickets and their close relative, cicadas:
|Classification||Insects (order Orthoptera, family Tettigoniidae)||Insects (order Hemiptera, family Cicadidae)|
|Diet||Herbivores (plants, crops, and grasses)||Herbivores (plant sap)|
|Life cycle||Egg, nymph, adult||Egg, nymph (underground), adult|
|Migratory behavior||Yes, can move in large bands causing crop damage||No|
|Impact on humans||Agricultural pests, can cause significant crop loss||Generally harmless, known for their loud singing|
Prevention and Control Methods
Insecticides and Barriers
Insecticides can be used to control Mormon cricket populations. Some common insecticides include the chemical carbaryl and the biological control agent, Nosema locustae.
However, it’s essential to consider the benefits and hazards while using insecticides.
- Effective in reducing insect infestations
- Protects vegetation from damage
- Potential hazard to non-target species
- Environmental concerns
Barriers can prevent Mormon crickets from entering specific areas, like homes or gardens.
Using vertical barriers constructed out of slippery materials can prevent them from climbing up the surface. For example, a plastic sheet or net can be used to create a barrier.
Besides, some biological control methods can help reduce their population, such as natural predators like wild birds and poultry.
Road and Infrastructure Protection
Mormon crickets can cause problems on roads and infrastructure during their migrations. In some cases, their massive swarms can lead to accidents, blocking highways, or even causing floods.
To protect roads and infrastructure from Mormon cricket infestations, here are some approaches:
- Regular road maintenance, including the removal of vegetation that may attract the crickets
- Spraying insecticides on roadsides, keeping in mind the potential hazards and drift mitigation measures
- Using barriers to prevent crickets from crossing roads or invading specific infrastructure
Comparison Table: Insecticides vs. Barriers
|Insecticides||Reduces infestation||Hazards to non-target species/environment|
|Barriers||No chemical use||Less effective than insecticides|
In conclusion, a combination of insecticides, barriers, and regular maintenance can help prevent Mormon cricket infestations and protect roads, infrastructure, and vegetation.
Historical and Cultural Significance
Role in Mormon History
Mormon crickets are not true crickets, but rather shield-backed katydids that are native to the western United States.
Their historical significance dates back to the mid-1800s when they nearly wiped out the crops of Mormon settlers in the Great Salt Lake Basin in Utah.
This event is best described in a historical quotation from Bancroft.
Miracle of the Gulls
Following the devastating infestation of Mormon crickets on the settlers’ crops, a flock of California gulls swooped in and devoured the insects, saving the remaining crops.
This event, now known as the Miracle of the Gulls, is considered an intervention by God in Latter-day Saint history.
|Mormon Crickets||California Gulls|
|Appearance||Shield-backed katydids||Medium-sized birds|
|Habitat||Western United States||North America|
|Relation||Pest to early settlers||Miracle to early settlers|
Mormon Cricket Characteristics:
- Also known as shield-backed katydids
California Gull Features:
- Medium-sized birds
- Predators of insects like Mormon crickets
- Influential in the Miracle of the Gulls event
The intertwined history of Mormon crickets, Mormon settlers, and California gulls showcases both the struggle and triumph of the early settlers in Salt Lake City and continues to hold historical and cultural significance today.
In conclusion, while both Mormon crickets and cicadas belong to the insect world, they are distinct species with contrasting characteristics.
Despite their similar appearance and periodic swarming behavior, their biological classifications and life cycles diverge significantly.
Mormon crickets are katydids, known for their migratory patterns and occasional crop damage, whereas cicadas are known for their distinct sound and periodic emergence from the ground.
Clarifying the differences between these two fascinating insects is essential for a comprehensive understanding of their roles in ecosystems.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about Mormon crickets. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Mormon Cricket
What species of Anabrus?
Location: Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado
August 5, 2011 3:53 pm
I caught this specimen in 2005. Only knew it as a ”Mormon cricket.” However, I know it’s an Anabrus sp..
However, I find on bug guide that A. simplex is found on the E slope of Colorado. This specimen was caught in Dinosaur National Monument on my way to field work there.
I’m thinking it’s not A. simplex because of the sheer size (my thumb is about 2” long) and dark carapace.
Signature: Fish Seal
Dear Fish Seal,
We would not attempt to conclusively identify this Shieldbacked Katydid beyond the genus level of Anabrus, however, if you did not express such specificity in your letter, we would have been perfectly comfortable identifying it as a Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex.
It is a nearly identical visual match to this individual, also a female from Colorado, that is posted to BugGuide.
Thank you. I had checked BugGuide, but I did not see that photograph. I would have to concur that it is indeed A. simplex. Thank you so much for all you do!!
Letter 2 – Mormon Cricket
My students and I went on an overnight camp in a gravel pit and they found this “little” guy there. It was really huge for a cricket! We think it might be a cave cricket can you confirm this for us? (Saskatchewan, Canada)
We thought this looked like a Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex, but we checked with Eric Eaton before responding. Here is what he has to add: “Yeah, looks like SOMETHING in the genus Anabrus anyway (there are more species than just the Mormon “cricket.”) These insects are actually large, wingless katydids, not true crickets. “
Letter 3 – Female Shield-Backed Katydid from Washington
I found this specimen in a pile of Cardboard boxes under the porch at the fossil site that I work last year in late July. The site is in republic, Ferry County Washington, which is in the northeast portion of the state about 30 miles from the Canadian border and at about 2000′ in elevation.
I believe that it was about 2 inches long. Do you know anything about what species it may be?
This is some species of Shieldback Katydid. It would take a true expert to get you an exact species, but in searching for your answer, we were led to an awesome website devoted to the Singing Insects of North America.
If you examine her genitalia, and use the maps provided, you might be able to key out to the species your lovely female amputee beyone the Subfamily Tettigoniinae.
The green shield-backed katydid is quite possibly a green form of the mormon cricket, Anabrus simplex, or at least a species in the genus Anabrus, and a female (sword-like ovipositor). Keep up the great work!
Update: (07/03/2008) Katydid IDs from Piotr Naskrecki
I have been looking at the page with unidentified katydids (Katydids 2), and thought I could help with some ID’s. From top to bottom they are: Anabrus cerciata (not A. simplex)
Letter 4 – Grig
October 14, 2009
Photographed this bug found on my tent tarp in the morning. I was camping in early July in Kootenay National Park in the Marble Canyon campground.
The bug was about 2 inches long and remained motionless even as we tried to move it from the tarp.
Thank you! Katherine
British Columbia, Rockies
This is a Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex, a species of Shield Backed Katydid.
Correction from Eric Eaton
The “Mormon cricket” from British Columbia is actually a different insect altogether. It is one of the “hump-winged grigs” in the genus Cyphoderris.
They represent an entire family by themselves (Prophalangopsidae). Neat find.
Letter 5 – Mormon Cricket
October 15, 2010 8:08 pm
We were walking the trail this August 2010 at Piney Lake which is in the Gore Range of the Vail Valley Colorado. This bug was ON the path. I photographed it. It was huge – close to 3” in length & 1” wide.
At first we thought it was a plastic toy a child had dropped. On the way back, darn if it wasn’t on the path again so I got a second photo. What I didn’t think to do was put my foot or something in the picture to show how big it really was.
I’m also including a picture of the Piney Lake habitat. I am thinking it looks like some kind of giant cricket but cannot find it anywhere on the internet ID sites. Please do not share my email address. Thank You for your consideration.
Signature: S. Meyer
Dear S. Meyer,
This is the second photo of a Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex, that we have posted today. Despite being called a Cricket, a Mormon Cricket is actually a Shieldbacked Katydid.
Daniel thank you so very much for your response. We have spent many hours outdoors in our aging lives & never seen the likes of this “Mormon Cricket” (wonder how it got THAT nickname?). I am curious where the other post was found. Also at altitude?
I will search for more info on the Shieldbacked Katydid, Anabrus simplex.
The name Mormon Cricket dates back to the mid nineteenth century when the first Mormon settlers in Utah were in danger of having their wheat crop destroyed because of the insect.
Flocks of gulls flew in from the Great Salt Lake and devoured the insects, and the “miracle” resulted in the common name Mormon Cricket.