Do Mormon Crickets Bite? Debunking the Myths and Facts

Mormon crickets, despite their misleading name, are actually a type of shield-backed katydid known as Anabrus simplex. They are notorious for causing damage to forage plants on rangeland and cultivated crops during their migrations. With their large size and seemingly relentless march, some people might wonder whether these insects have the ability to bite humans.

While Mormon crickets are not known for biting humans, they do have powerful jaws capable of gnawing through vegetation. Being primarily herbivores, they pose no direct threat to people. However, it’s important to remember that these insects can still cause problems due to their feeding habits and mass migrations. For example, they can cause significant damages to agricultural lands and create a cleanup cost in residential areas when their populations grow out of control.

Do Mormon Crickets Bite?

Bite Mechanics

Mormon crickets are primarily herbivores, feeding on a variety of plants such as grasses, shrubs, and cultivated forage crops1. However, they sometimes resort to cannibalism and eating other invertebrates, especially when protein sources are scarce2.

Bite to Humans and Pets

While their diet mainly consists of plants and occasionally other insects, Mormon crickets have not been known to actively bite humans or pets. They do possess the ability to cause some damage with their mandibles, but generally, they are not considered a threat to people or animals in terms of biting3.

In summary:

  • Mormon crickets are primarily herbivores
  • They eat grasses, shrubs, and cultivated forage crops
  • Sometimes resort to cannibalism or eating other invertebrates for protein
  • Not known to bite humans or pets

Physical Characteristics of Mormon Crickets

Appearance and Coloration

Mormon crickets are large insects belonging to the shield-backed katydid family. They exhibit a variety of colors, including black, green, and brown.

  • Black: Commonly found in populations with a protein-rich diet that inhabit areas with fewer invertebrates.
  • Green and Brown: Mostly found in sagebrush-grass environments and are adaptive to their surroundings for better camouflage.

The exoskeleton of these crickets holds a unique feature called a pronotum which extends backward like a shield, covering the abdomen.

Wings and Antennae

Mormon crickets possess small, non-functional wings which prevent them from flying. Instead, they rely on their strong, long legs to hop or crawl across the ground. Their antennae are long and slender, helping them with sensory perception.

Feature Mormon Crickets Other Bush Crickets
Wings Non-functional Fully-functional
Antennae Long and slender Varying lengths

These physical characteristics set Mormon crickets apart from many other bush crickets and contribute to their unique identity and behavior.

Mormon Cricket Lifecycle and Behavior

Breeding and Reproduction

Mormon crickets belong to the Animalia kingdom, Arthropoda phylum, Insecta class, and Tettigoniidae family. These insects go through a mating process, where the male deposits a spermatophore in the female’s ovipositor. The eggs are laid in the soil and require the right temperature and moisture conditions to hatch 1.

Some characteristics of their reproduction process are:

  • Eggs laid in the soil
  • Temperature and moisture sensitive
  • Spermatophore for fertilization

Nymphs and Instars

After the eggs hatch, the young Mormon crickets emerge as nymphs. They go through several instar stages, shedding their skin multiple times as they grow. These nymphs are similar in appearance to adult crickets but are smaller and have undeveloped wings.

During this stage:

  • Nymphs resemble adults but smaller
  • Multiple growth instar stages
  • Skin shedding for growth

Migration and Swarming

Mormon crickets form large migratory bands, moving together in search of food and suitable habitat. These infestations can cause damage to crops and trigger outbreaks. During their migration journey, they may exhibit cannibalistic behavior, feeding on weaker individuals to avoid starvation 2.

Cannibalism behavior includes:

  • Feeding on weaker individuals
  • A result of food scarcity
  • Occurs during migration

Mormon crickets interact with the environment through various actions such as chirping and jumping. Chirping is thought to be used for communication, while jumping allows them to move and escape predation. Moreover, they may carry diseases that can potentially affect crops or other insect populations.

Key actions:

  • Chirping for communication
  • Jumping for mobility and escaping predators
  • Possible disease carriers

Mormon Cricket Diet and Predators

Feeding Preferences and Foraging

Mormon crickets, native to the western United States, primarily consume a variety of vegetation, such as:

  • Native, herbaceous perennials (forbs)
  • Grasses
  • Shrubs
  • Cultivated forage crops

These crickets’ foraging habits can lead to problems in agriculture, as they reduce feed for grazing wildlife and livestock, and contribute to soil erosion and nutrient-depleted soils1.

Natural Enemies and Parasites

Mormon crickets have several natural predators and parasites, including:

  • California gulls
  • Hawks
  • Crows
  • Rodents
  • Digger wasp (Palmodes laeviventris)

Despite having parasites, they do not appear to have much control over the cricket population2. Diseases can also affect Mormon crickets, with the microsporidian Vairimorpha producing high spore levels in many tissues of the crickets3.

Comparing Mormon Crickets and Locusts

Feature Mormon Cricket Locust
Scientific group Orthoptera, long-horned grasshoppers subgroup Orthoptera, short-horned grasshoppers subgroup
Habitat Western United States Worldwide, primarily in arid and semi-arid areas
Diet Forbs, grasses, shrubs, cultivated forage crops Vegetation, with a preference for grasses
Pest impact Localized damage to vegetation Large-scale damage to crops and vegetation

Significance of Mormon Crickets in History

Mormon Settlers and Miracle of the Gulls

Mormon crickets played a significant role in the early history of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) settlers in Utah. In 1848, massive swarms of these insects threatened to devastate the settlers’ crops. In a miraculous event, flocks of California gulls appeared and feasted on the crickets, ultimately saving the crops and helping the settlers survive. This event is now known as the Miracle of the Gulls and is an important part of LDS history.

The California gull, which played a key role in saving the crops, was later designated Utah’s state bird. This shows how important this event was in shaping the identity of the state.

Swarming and Urban Encounters

Mormon crickets are native to various regions in the western United States, including:

  • Utah
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • The Great Basin
  • Wyoming

During the swarming phase, these insects can cause several problems in urban settings.

Home gardens can be severely impacted by large swarms, as Mormon crickets are known to be voracious eaters. They have a particular appetite for plants, consuming massive amounts in a short period of time.

Traffic disruptions can also occur due to swarms. When Mormon crickets cross roads in large numbers, they can create slippery patches that may lead to accidents. Some localities install cricket fences to prevent these encounters and keep the insects away from urban areas.

Region Issues Caused by Mormon Crickets
Utah Crop damage, traffic disruptions
Nevada Home garden invasions
Oregon Wildlife ecosystem disruption
The Great Basin Economic impact on agriculture
Wyoming & Rocky Mountains Native species competition
  • Mormon crickets impact various aspects of life in these regions
  • Swarming may cause crop damage, traffic disruptions, and affect the ecosystem

While Mormon crickets can be a nuisance, it’s important to remember they’re a part of the natural ecosystem. Understanding their historical significance and their role in the landscape can help us address the challenges they sometimes pose.

Mormon Cricket Habitats and Distribution

Rangelands and Sagebrush Regions

Mormon crickets are native to the western United States, where they mainly inhabit rangelands and sagebrush regions. These areas are characterized by:

  • Grasses: Mormon crickets primarily feed on grasses and other native plants, which are abundant in rangelands and sagebrush regions.
  • Livestock: These areas serve as grazing lands for wildlife and livestock, which can be affected by the crickets’ feeding habits.

Forests and Grasslands

Mormon crickets also inhabit forests and grasslands, including those located in higher altitudes like mountain habitats. Some important environmental factors that affect their distribution include:

  • Drought: Drier conditions can increase their populations, leading to outbreaks and mass migrations.
  • Environmental factors: Factors like temperature, humidity, and the availability of food sources can influence their densities and movements.
Habitat Description
Rangelands/Sagebrush Characterized by grasses, sagebrush, and grazing wildlife.
Forests/Grasslands Found in higher elevations, affected by environmental conditions.

Examples of Mormon cricket habitat features:

  • Prefers environments with ample food sources like grasses and crops.
  • Can be found in areas with varying elevations and climate conditions.
  • Often associated with western U.S. states like Nevada and Wyoming.

Characteristics of Mormon cricket habitats:

  • Native plant species provide essential food sources.
  • Exposure to drought and other environmental factors can influence population densities.
  • Potential for mass migrations can lead to devastating impacts on agriculture, such as corn and wheat crops, as well as livestock feed in affected regions like Winnemucca.

Mormon Cricket Prevention and Control

Pest Control Strategies

Mormon crickets are flightless insects that can cause damage to crops and landscapes. To prevent infestations, follow these strategies:

  • Apply chemical treatments like carbaryl when population levels are high.
  • Use bait stations with protein and salt to attract and eliminate them.

Pros of chemical treatments and bait stations:

  • Effective in reducing cricket populations
  • Quick results

Cons of chemical treatments and bait stations:

  • Potential environmental impact
  • Safety concerns with the use of chemicals

Environmental and Biological Methods

Consider these environmentally friendly control measures:

  • Encourage natural predators like California gulls, hawks, and crows.
  • Use biological control agents such as the digger wasp, Palmodes laeviventris.

Pros of environmental and biological methods:

  • Eco-friendly
  • Sustainable long-term solutions

Cons of environmental and biological methods:

  • Slower results
  • Limited effectiveness during large infestations
Control Method Pros Cons
Chemical treatments and bait stations Effective, quick results Environmental impact, safety concerns
Environmental and biological methods Eco-friendly, sustainable Slower results, limited effectiveness

Remember to monitor Mormon cricket populations regularly and implement prevention strategies before their numbers become unmanageable.

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.unr.edu/publication.aspx?PubID=2346 2 3

  2. https://www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/sidney-mt/northern-plains-agricultural-research-laboratory/pest-management-research/pmru-docs/mormon-crickets/ 2 3

  3. https://www.uwyo.edu/entomology/grasshoppers/field-guide/ansi.html 2

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Mormon Cricket

 

NOT A QUESTION; I noticed that you don’t have a picture of a mormon cricket so I am sending you one (if you want it)
I was up from Austin visiting my dad in Idaho Falls, Idaho, while we were driving the quad I noticed this big shiney black bulb looking thing so I went and got him and my daughter and we drove to the spot and stopped to see what it was, we saw that it was an ugly bug with it’s butt in the ground (I am guess it was laying eggs). He told me it was a mormon cricket ( I know that probably isn’t the real name), I didn’t see one on your sight so I took a picture. On our way back to camp we saw one with it’s horn sticking out about to lay eggs so I took a picture of that one too. I hope this is something you can use! USA Northwest (southeast Idaho)
Jen

Mormon Cricket
Mormon Cricket

Hi Jen,
It is amusing that you sent your letter right after we posted a letter with a lengthy response about the Mormon Cricket. Did you try using our search engine? We also have several submissions buried in the archives.

Letter 2 – Mormon Cricket

 

I Want My Wife Back, I Bugged Her with a bug
This has got to be the strangest jumping – stinger tailed – almost grass hopper I’ve ever seen. It does not have wings, has a long stinger looking thingie with something else protruding out of its hind end above the long stinger. Perhaps that is a suit case or is it just me wondering if my wife will ever return to our mountain Cabin in Utah with those things crawling around. I saw this critter crawling on the ground and naturally called my sweetie to come and have a look at it. When it jumped, she did too and hasn’t quit slapping her legs with her hands ever since for fear there are others crawling up her pant legs. I put it in a plastic cup and it climbed right up the side. I figure I’ll be rather famous for discovering this never before seen bug (at least by us) and could use the notoriety as I’m not too tallented in any other area. I’m not too good of a cook and I’m going to get pretty hungry up there if you don’t respond and tell her it is completely harmless. If you’ve never seen one either, just lie a little so I can get her to cook up some grub, and I don’t mean worms. Either way, she won’t believe me when I explain to her that it is quite tame and slow moving. There she goes, slapping at her legs again.
Wasatch Mountains, Oakley, Utah
Cabin Fever and Slap Happy, NOT!

Mormon Cricket
Mormon Cricket

Dear Cabin Fever and Slap Happy, NOT!,
You should have learned in the third grade not to chase girls with spiders and snakes and Mormon Crickets, but we believe we can provide you with enough historical information to entice your wife back to your rustic cabin. Your Shield-Backed Katydid known as a Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex, though BugGuide indicates there are other members in the genus and exact identification may be difficult with the examination of the specimen. Legend has it that when the first Mormons arrived in Utah in 1848, they were saved from famine when seagulls suddenly appeared and ate the swarm of Mormon Crickets that was about to devour the first wheat crop. The Wikipedia page on the Mormon Cricket has plenty of good information, and you might also want to visit the Wikipedia page on the Miracle of the Gulls
. With regards to the “stinger” you mentioned on your specimen, it is actually the ovipositor of the female Mormon Cricket. She uses the ovipositor to deposit her eggs deep in the soil. Since Wikipedia mentions that Native Americans consumed the Mormon Cricket, we will include it on our edible insect page and we expect that David Gracer, whose Sunrise Land Shrimp webiste is devoted to edible insects, will probably add a comment to this posting. Should you and your wife be living in your secluded cabin after a natural or man-made catastrophe (is there really a difference these days?), you may need to survive by eating the Mormon Crickets. Your wife may want to begin experimenting with the culinary possibilities soon. Should your wife not return to you, you may be eating these succulent morsels yourself. It appears as though the individual in your photo has been injured.

Update: David Gracer’s Input
Hi Daniel,
Congratulations on your overhaul. It must have been a lot of work. Regarding those crickets/katydids, this species might have been the most important kind of edible insect traditionally utilized by American Indians. Euro-American observers have written many pages describing the collection methods and preparation techniques concerning this species; nearly all of that documentation occurred in the mid 1800s. I’m told that the ones which have eaten cultivated alfalfa taste a good deal better than those which have consumed wild sagebrush, but thus far I haven’t had the opportunity to sample this species for myself. Best regards, Dave

Letter 3 – Mormon Cricket

 

Some type of cricket….
I spotted these large crickets at a rest stop near Winnemucca, NV. Their bodies resemble the cave crickets or camel crickets but the legs are not so long and are not striped. Their bodies were between 2-3 inches long. They are large and sturdy, and that ovipositor is pretty amazing. The birds liked ’em even more than I did. The last picture with my foot is just to give a sense of scale. What kind of cricket are they, anyway? Thanks!
Michelle

Hi Michelle,
This is a Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex. It is found from Missouri to Southeastern California and north to Alberta. It will devour many types of grains. According to legend and the Audubon Guide: “This common cricket got its common name after thousands suddenly attacked the Mormon pioneers’ first crops in Utah in 1848. Fortunately, many California gulls arrived in time to devour the crickets and save the crops.”

Letter 4 – Mormon Cricket

 

what is it
We came across several of these bugs on gravel roads in Silver City, ID, a semi-ghost town in the mountains. They are quite big, about 2 inches long. What is it?
Mark

Hi Mark,
This is a Mormon Cricket, Anabrus simplex. It is actually a flightless katydid that got its common name when swarms of them attacked the Mormon’s first crops in Utah in 1848. The crops were saved when seagull arrived to devour the Mormon Crickets. Your specimen is a male. The female has a long curved ovipositor.

Letter 5 – Mormon Cricket

 

Subject:  Mormon Cricket?
Geographic location of the bug:  North Fork Sauk River Trail between White Pass and Red Pass south of Glacier Peak
Date: 08/17/2021
Time: 01:46 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found sitting in the middle of the trail in August. Appreciate any assistance you can provide with ID!
How you want your letter signed:  Thanks?

Mormon Cricket

We believe you have correctly identified this Mormon Cricket.

Authors

    by
  • 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.

  • 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.

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