by Sarah Gilman
"A metabolic wildfire": That's how entomologist-nature writer Jeffrey Lockwood of the University of Wyoming describes a grasshopper outbreak. At high densities — say 30 per square yard — a swarm can obliterate rangeland vegetation like "a maniac on a riding mower." And with last year's bumper crop of grasshoppers and the potential for a warm, dry spring, federal officials predict this summer may see one of the worst grasshopper outbreaks in the West since the mid-'80s.
1848 Gulls devoured a swarm of Mormon crickets that was decimating early Mormon settlers' crops — probably why Utah eventually made the California gull its state bird.
1875 A dense swarm of crop-annihilating Rocky Mountain locusts around 1,800 miles long, 110 miles wide and one-quarter to one-half mile deep appeared over Nebraska — the largest ever recorded.
1938 19 million acres in 11 states were infested with Mormon crickets this year, the peak of a 17-year outbreak that began in 1931.
1985-86 The feds sprayed 14 million acres with insecticide the first year and 8 million the second, during one of the worst grasshopper outbreaks in the West since the 1930s.
2003 During a Mormon cricket infestation of millions of acres across Nevada, Idaho and Utah, the bugs piled so deep near Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, that the transportation department posted signs on Highway 55 warning drivers of cricket slicks. They can be, one official told CBS at the time, "worse than black ice."