Farmers in the US West face a creepy scourge every eight years or so: swarms of ravenous insects that can decimate crops and cause slippery, bug-slick car crashes as they march across highways and roads. Per the AP, experts say this year could be a banner one for Mormon crickets—3-inch-long bugs named after the Mormon pioneers who moved West and learned firsthand the insect's devastating effect on forage and grain fields. The Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reports "significantly higher Mormon cricket populations" on federal land in southwestern Idaho, agency spokeswoman Abbey Powell writes in an email, noting that it's not clear why the populations are so much larger this year. "In Idaho, in a few locations, we have seen populations as high as 70 per square yard."
The bugs can start to be detrimental to rangeland and crops when they number about eight per square yard, state officials say. The agency says the bugs—actually katydids, an entomological cousin to grasshoppers—are stretched in a band across southwestern Idaho; concentrated around Winnemucca, Nev.; and sprinkled throughout Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and Colorado. Out-of-control swarms can mean big economic losses for states. The bugs are juicy when squished, and when swarms cross the road, they can make the pavement as slick as ice. "Most people don't know they are coming" until their car is almost on top of the swarm, an Idaho State Police officer says, warning that drivers who see pavement that looks like it's moving should slow down and drive as if they are on icy roads. (Read more bugs stories.)