Oklahomans: Cricket swarms really stink

CNN
Friday, September 6, 2013 - 11:00pm

Chris McBee can now call himself a "swarm chaser."

The storm-chasing tour guide and car dealership employee in Norman, Oklahoma, is used to tornadoes and wicked weather. But on Tuesday, he found himself rushing after chirping hordes of crickets in store parking lots near his home.

"The crickets have been thick for a couple of days now," he said Wednesday. "It's worst at night where there are large lights, but they seem to be everywhere. There are carcasses everywhere in the morning too. It's pretty gross."

He had stopped by local businesses to collect video of the cricket explosion in western Norman when the bright lights of parking lots were like a beacon in the night for the creatures.

McBee, 32, said he has lived in Oklahoma all his life and never seen anything like this. He remembers seeing large numbers of crickets at a train station in Dallas about 10 to 15 years ago, but that's about it.

"There are always a few crickets around in the summertime, but never a swarm like this," he said.

Pictures of Oklahoma's crickets have been all over social media this week, dotting Instagram feeds and hopping around Twitter. McBee's own video became popular on CNN iReport.

He noted that numbers were dwindling a bit by Friday. Now, he said, he occasionally catches a whiff of their rotting carcasses, which are leaving a lingering, rotten smell in the brightly lit areas where the crickets were congregating like outside grocery stores.

"You can definitely smell dead crickets if there's enough of them in the parking lot," he said, describing the stench as unpleasant, but not quite as intense as a rotting animal.

Rick Grantham, an entomologist at Oklahoma State University, said a similar swarm of crickets occurred last year. Although the situation is reminiscent of a biblical plague, it's hard to define the so-called invasion of crickets as a plague, per se.

"I suppose if you have 10,000 dead crickets staring at you, they might seem like a plague," he said.

This year, Grantham said, a weather pattern of prolonged dryness followed by rainfall in July and August may be to blame. Similar patterns were observed in Dallas and the southern Great Plains.

Thus, the region provides good egg-laying conditions, shelter, safety and plenty of food. Since they have short lifespans, the crickets tend to rush to reproduce when the conditions are right in the air -- and on the ground.

"The wetter and looser the soil, the easier it is for them to lay those eggs," he said. "Boom, you just go into a huge mating frenzy."

While the crickets are not considered an agricultural pest, Grantham said they are definitely a problem when they swarm, especially in commercial areas with bright security lights.

"You have the nuisance call and the high numbers and the dead bodies," he said. "They might dive bomb you at a football game."

To get rid of them, Grantham recommends cleaning out trash dumps, checking window and door seals, and removing nighttime light sources at home, if possible. Sprays or aerosols applied to hiding places are another possibility.

The chirping bugs may have appeared a few weeks earlier this year than last, said Brian Jervis, Tulsa County Extension Horticulturalist. He knows because he has personally observed them.

"We were shopping Sunday and underneath the storefront, there would be hundreds of them," he said. "People would have to go under them."

In 2012, Jervis noticed them arriving at the end of September, which coincided with the Tulsa State Fair.

"With all the lights around, people were having to dodge them," he said. "That was a frenzy."

Jervis said he is seeing an increase in calls from people wanting to know what to do about crickets. He suggests vacuuming loose crickets and varying the times that lights are on.

Stomping on the bugs may seem like a good idea, but Jervis said that can backfire and cause the population to grow.

"We want to kill them to keep them from moving, but when you kill them, the other ones are going to come in and eat the dead ones," he said.

Grantham said crickets will eat just about anything, including plant material and each other.

"Sometimes when they're younger, they do practice cannibalism, and when they get older, they do eat dead crickets," he noted.

When will they be gone? Grantham said to give it another week, but some Oklahomans would say the sooner, the better.
 

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