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Mormon Crickets: How a Pesky Bug May Be a Traffic Hazard in Nevada

Mormon Crickets are a large flightless insect native to areas in North America that are arid and have native sagebrush—so it’s unsurprising of their dominant presence in Nevada, the Sagebrush State. A hallmark of these pesky creatures is their appearance in massive clusters, thus densely covering areas such as the side of buildings or roads. While the presence of these crickets have somewhat decreased in Southern Nevada, the Department of Agriculture says that the Mormon Cricket populations have remained quite high in certain Nevada counties, specifically Eureka and Elko [1]. These crickets can be pesky to Nevada residents, and over Memorial day weekend they proved to be a major traffic safety concern.

Chaos on Nevada Highways

Over Memorial Day weekend, a dense cluster of Mormon crickets spread across the highway in parts of Elko and Eureka causing several car accidents in their wake. This required Nevada Highway Patrol, as well as the Nevada Department of Agriculture, to respond and assist in the removal of the bugs on the roads. When crushed, the crickets leave behind a foul sludge which when on the road can create extremely slick and unpredictable stopping conditions. This, mixed with possible rainy conditions over the summer, can result in further reduced traction and create an even more dangerous situation. [2] The congregation of crickets resulted in several motor vehicle accidents, including a turnover of a semi-truck, jackknifing of trailers and other larger motor vehicles, as well as bumper to bumper collisions.

A factsheet released by the Nevada Department of Agriculture suggests that right after sunrise and two or three hours before sunset is a common time when the crickets will venture onto Nevada roads, and by sunset they typically retreat to their shelter. This is in part because Mormon crickets come out of their shelter to bask in the sun when the soil they shelter in becomes too hot [3]. So what does that mean for you as a driver? It means that you can expect to see a cluster of crickets on the highway during the mid-day, so look out for posted signs from NDOT, and local law enforcement, especially during these times. [4]

Staying Safe While Driving

So how can a driver stay safe if they come across a swarm of Mormon crickets while traveling Nevada Highways this summer? The following are some things to keep in mind when driving on the possibly slick roads:

  • Turn off cruise control—Cruise control is super helpful when driving long distances, especially in the summer. If you come across a potentially slippery area however, it is important to have all the steering control you can get, and this is best done with cruise control off.
  • Avoid Changing Lanes or Braking Quickly—changing lanes or braking quickly on slick roads often results in a loss of control of the vehicle, and also puts other drivers at risk of having to brake quickly as well. Similar to icy conditions, it is best to pump the brakes slowly and ensure you have plenty of space for a lane change in slick conditions.
  • Keep a Safe Following Distance—Slick conditions can result in hydroplaning, not just of your vehicle, but the ones in front of you. Thus, is best to keep at least 120 feet or more of space between you and the drivers ahead.
  • Don’t Accelerate Quickly—surprisingly, even when driving slowly on a slick road, your car can lose traction. It is recommended to keep your speed under 35 mph and reduce as many abrupt accelerations as possible in the event of swarming cricket sludge.

If you notice that your vehicle has begun to skid, or is hydroplaning, it is important not to panic. While this is easier said than done, there are a couple techniques which can allow you to maneuver your vehicle to safety. First, it is important to take your foot off the gas, avoid using the brake and then gently steering your vehicle until you feel your vehicle regaining its traction.

NDOT has placed slow-down reminders in area where drivers may potentially encounter slick roads. Additionally, they noted that workers will be on standby to plow and sand highways as needed to create better traction after the insects infest the roads. With this being said, it is likely that there will be increased NDOT workers and law enforcement officers on the road, so be mindful and give them appropriate space so they can safely clear the area of the sludge these Mormon crickets can leave behind.






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