Are Mormon Crickets Cicadas? Uncovering the Truth Behind These Intriguing Insects

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Are Mormon Crickets Cicadas

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

Distinguishing Features

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.

Comparison Table:

FeatureMormon CricketCicada
Insect GroupShield-backed KatydidHemiptera
FlightCannot flyCan fly
AntennaeLongShort
WingsShort wingsLarge, transparent

Life Cycles

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.

Are Mormon Crickets Cicadas?
Mormon Cricket

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

Range

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

Population

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
  • Predators

Mormon Cricket

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)
  • Grasses
  • Shrubs
  • 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

Swarming

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

Cannibalism

Mormon crickets exhibit cannibalism when facing limited food sources. This survival strategy has pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Provides necessary nutrients, especially protein
  • Promotes population control

Cons:

  • Increases aggression among crickets
  • Contributes to swarming behavior

Mormon Crickets vs. Cicadas

 Mormon CricketsCicadas
SwarmingYesNo
CannibalismYesNo
Predator avoidanceMigratory bandsCamouflage &noise from wings
Impact on agricultureCrop damage & soil erosionMinimal, 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.

Mormon Cricket

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.

Predator-Prey Relationships

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:

FeatureMormon CricketsCicadas
ClassificationInsects (order Orthoptera, family Tettigoniidae)Insects (order Hemiptera, family Cicadidae)
DietHerbivores (plants, crops, and grasses)Herbivores (plant sap)
Life cycleEgg, nymph, adultEgg, nymph (underground), adult
Migratory behaviorYes, can move in large bands causing crop damageNo
Impact on humansAgricultural pests, can cause significant crop lossGenerally 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.

Pros

  • Effective in reducing insect infestations
  • Protects vegetation from damage

Cons

  • 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

MethodProsCons
InsecticidesReduces infestationHazards to non-target species/environment
BarriersNo chemical useLess 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.

Comparison Table:

 Mormon CricketsCalifornia Gulls
AppearanceShield-backed katydidsMedium-sized birds
HabitatWestern United StatesNorth America
RelationPest to early settlersMiracle to early settlers

Mormon Cricket Characteristics:

  • Flightless
  • Ground-dwelling
  • 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.

Conclusion

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.

Reader Emails

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.
Thanks!!
Signature: Fish Seal

Mormon Cricket, we presume

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

Cave Cricket?
Hi again,
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)
Thanks,
Andre

Hi Andre,
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

katydid Species
Hello,
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?
Thanks
Karl

Hi Karl,
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.

Daniel:
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!
Eric

Update: (07/03/2008) Katydid IDs from Piotr Naskrecki
Hi,
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

Bug Identification
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

Mormon Cricket
Mormon Cricket

Hi Katherine,
This is a Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex, a species of Shield Backed Katydid.

Correction from Eric Eaton
Daniel:
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.
Eric

Letter 5 – Mormon Cricket

Identification Request
Location:  Colorado
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

Mormon Cricket

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.
Susan MEyer

Hi Susan,
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.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Mormon Crickets

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