Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.
Note: No Mormons are mocked in the making of this posting.
In a Linda Richman-esque turn of events, Mormon crickets are neither Mormon, nor crickets. In reality, they're katydids whose religious proclivities (if any) remain unknown. The bugs' association with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints comes from stories told by early Mormon settlers in Utah about how thousands of the creatures swarmed in to devastate crops before being miraculously stopped by the arrival of a pack of ravenous seagulls. God worked in mysterious ways.
And continues to do so, apparently. Mormon crickets are still a periodic threat to farmers out west. Every so often (possibly prompted by weather patterns, but nobody's exactly sure), millions of Mormon crickets will band together into a pack--dense as 100 bugs per square meter--and march forward, devouring every scrap of plant life in their path. The flood of bugs can be nigh-on impossible to staunch. Besides eating up crops and lawns, they've been known to stop traffic, and come stomping right through people's homes. Discover magazine's Discoblog quotes a resident of Tuscarora, Nevada:
You'll wake up and there'll be one sitting on your forehead, looking at you
And you thought the scutigera coleoptrata was bad.
But the townsfolk of Tuscarora have found a Mormon cricket defense system almost as miraculous as the bugicidal seagull brigade. They blast the pests with rock. Yes, much like Manuel Noriega, the Tuscarorans claim Mormon crickets can be beaten into submission via thrashing guitar solos. According to Discoblog, entomologists aren't sure why this works, or even if it actually does. Although, if bugs really don't like Led Zeppelin, that would explain why my house was suddenly pest free that summer the neighbor kid spent learning "Smoke on the Water".
Interestingly, Mormon crickets have also invaded Washington D.C. political discourse. According to the Washington Post, a $1 million earmark, meant to help farmers protect their livelihoods from the all-devouring Mormon cricket masses, has been publicly mocked as unnecessary pork by none other than John McCain's Twitter account, which asked:
Is that the species of cricket or a game played by the brits?
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Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.