By Sarah Schrock
The zombie apocalypse has arrived. They are invading homes, gardens, ranches and just about anything that gets in their path. Grab your children, your pets and your garlic because these monsters will eat anything, even each other. Their sheer numbers and menacing chirps and screeches are enough to drive one to madness.
At least that’s how residents up Newby and Poorman creeks feel about the Mormon crickets that are swarming in great numbers in isolated outbreaks throughout the area.
Pam Floyd knows all too well how cohabitating with these katydid relatives can be trying on the nerves. These flightless grasshopper-like arthropods have devoured her landscaping and garden, broken into her home via doors and windows, and scaled the stovepipe of her Poorman Creek home. Pam carries a broom in her car to sweep them away just to enter her house. She is confined to indoors because their pestilent presence is downright creepy. While she’s not typically squeamish when it comes to nature’s share of bugs, slugs, snakes or rodents, these crickets are downright grossing her out and trying her nerves. She’s exhausted trying to fight them off, but likely it’s the waiting game that will be the only defense as the swarm usually lasts 8–10 years, then moves on.
Similarly, Kari Bown, who normally farms up Newby Creek, has been forced to relocate her vegetable gardens to friends’ properties because the bugs devoured her garlic, stripped her carrot seed crop, and even ate poisonous delphiniums. Despite their menacing screeches, creepy armor and cannibalism, Kari has embraced the presence of the zombie crickets, a colloquial euphemism for the Anabrus longipes, or Osoyoos cricket (which is really a katydid closely related to the Mormon cricket). Humbled by their tenacity and magnitude, the natural cycle of the swarm, and ebb and flow of their attacks, Kari has come to terms with the fact that these creatures belong here just as much as we do.
Still, they are an alarming sight to see. Driving up to Black Pine Lake via Poorman Creek, the road is polka-dotted with them. At first glance one might mistake the 2-inch bugs for leaves or debris from the forest canopy. But on closer examination, they hop, jump, and intertwine — interlocking legs and wings in an awkward somersaulting dance; a deadly embrace or is it a love dance? It’s hard to know. It’s hard not to be in awe of them. This is the third year I have seen them on the road to Black Pine, and by far their range has expanded. For nearly the entire length of road from the cattle grate to the lake, the road is besieged with them, giving it the textural impression of chocolate chip ice cream.
Word is they are edible, having been a food source for Native Americans throughout the West. For sure they constitute a major protein source, and there’s no shortage of them. Maybe chicken owners could bring their flocks and let them have at it. In fact, eradication via avian predation is what Mormon folklore portends to do the trick.
The history of these bugs and their name hails from an outbreak during the time of great Mormon exodus to Utah. Mormon settlers, homesteading the rugged wilderness, were overwhelmed by repeated swarms, and were losing their crops. The pioneers were on the brink of famine. That is, until a flock of seagulls directed by divine intervention descended upon the swarm, picked and scratched, and ate them until abolition.
Normally associated with sagebrush ecosystems and somewhat related to drought weather patterns, cricket outbreaks across the West are common, and are becoming more regular in the past decade. Here, up Twisp River, the populations seem to be congregated in forested drainages adjacent to sage lands. So if you have a hankering for a crunchy snack, a have flock of hungry chickens, or just like witnessing one of nature’s strange phenomena, take a slow drive up Twisp River’s western drainages. You just might find yourself amidst the zombie apocalypse …