LAS VEGAS (KLAS)— With recent grasshopper sightings in the Las Vegas valley, many locals are concerned there may be a repeat of 2019. Grasshoppers swarming high-traffic areas, blotting out streetlights, and causing general unease to those fearful of bugs.
However, experts aren’t convinced that a repeat of the 2019 invasion is on the horizon.
“There may be a burst from the heavy monsoon rains a month ago,” said Professor Allen Gibbs of UNLV’s Department of Life Sciences, “but I do not expect millions to appear on the Strip like they did in 2019.”
What attracted them to Las Vegas?
That outbreak, Gibbs said, was most likely caused by heavy spring rains, then lots of plant growth. But, beyond plant growth, there’s something else in Las Vegas that attracts bugs by the thousands. Light.
Grasshoppers, and insects more generally, are attracted to light, particularly ultraviolet light, according to Jeff Knight, state entomologist for the Nevada Department of Agriculture. This is why Las Vegas, the brightest place on earth, is so enticing to hoards of grasshoppers.
One tip Knight gives to those fearful of swarms surrounding their homes is to replace their lights. “If you change the light to one that produces less ultraviolet, then the grasshoppers won’t be attracted to it,” Knight said.
Thousands of grasshoppers encircling a brightly lit ultraviolet light may give some people the heebie-jeebies, but is there any real danger present? Knight says no. “There’s nothing they’re really going to do to people other than be scary.”
The grasshoppers responsible for the 2019 takeover are not considered pests. They don’t carry diseases, they don’t bite, nor do they severely damage crops, all things Knight says define pests. “They’re a pest only because they’re in big numbers, not because they’re doing anything.”
Knight says that Nevada has 103 species of grasshoppers, and only nine are considered pests. But the particular species that took over the valley in 2019, as noted, are not considered such.
What exactly were they?
The pallid-winged grasshopper is what took over the Las Vegas strip in 2019. It is a common species native to the deserts of western North America.
A common misconception is that locusts were the insects swarming the valley, however, all grasshoppers are locusts, but not all locusts are grasshoppers, according to Knight.
He said locusts are grasshoppers that have undergone morphological changes, commonly resulting in bigger, longer wings.
“Locusts are basically a few species of grasshopper that can form swarms when they are overcrowded and start running out of food,” noted Gibbs.
Gibbs said the classic examples are in Africa, where they can wipe out crops over large areas.
Gibbs also mentioned that many of the current sounds and sightings may not even be grasshoppers, but rather, crickets. “From online reports and personal conversations about chirping, I think a lot of the recent buzz is about crickets,” Gibbs said. “Grasshoppers are pretty quiet, except for a buzzing sound when flying.”
Are they just a nuisance, or do they have a greater purpose?
While thousands of bugs crowding lights and people’s homes may be frightening, it’s not all bad.
For many birds, lizards, coyotes, and other animals, these insects are a valuable food source. Knight also notes that grasshoppers can be valuable sources of nutrient recycling. A process in which the bugs eat plant material that can ultimately be used by plants again.
Knight says it’s no different than using manure or compost on plants. So, despite the small size of these insects, their contribution to plant life is considerable, especially when taking into account the sheer number of them.
Will we see them again?
While many locals have already reported seeing swarms of grasshoppers, it’s nothing close to what happened three years ago.
Knight says around this time of the year, the adults are dying off, but have laid their eggs. The eggs usually hatch in spring. So, whether we’ll see a repeat in 2023 has yet to be determined.