It’s not common to see insects on National Weather Service radar images, experts say.
The National Weather Service’s radar caught a swarm of locusts moving into northwest Utah late last month, but experts say the swarm isn’t a major problem.
The flock of insects was captured around 6:00 p.m. on June 21 en route northeast toward the Great Salt Lake. Scientists identified the radar movement as insects because the group was very “uneven” and meteorological events — like raindrops and snowflakes — tend to have a more even shape, meteorologist Alex DeSmet said.
“Not an everyday thing”
State entomologist Kris Watson manages Utah’s insect and pest program at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Watson said he heard about the crush from a colleague but hadn’t heard any complaints from local food producers or voters.
He couldn’t estimate the exact number of insects detected on the radar, but said it must be a “large crowd.”
“It’s not common,” Watson said. “Locusts themselves are common, but for them to show up on radar detection — to my knowledge, that’s not very common.”
Watson said the species of insect in the swarm wasn’t a common rangeland pest either, but couldn’t say exactly what type of locust it was. The Department of Agriculture and Food has a locust and Mormon cricket control program for producers who need help controlling pests, he said.
The northeastern Nevada town of Elko recently faced a Mormon cricket invasion, with millions of the blood-red insects covering parts of the town, The Associated Press reported.
“There are about six different species that are problematic for producers, depleting their resources, range and food,” Watson said, “but from my understanding, this species wasn’t one of them.”
Utah has a long history of locusts, and the insects are cyclical. They all have six to eight “bust” and “boom” cycles years, and sometimes populations will show “infestation type levels,” Watson said.
“As growers in the agribusiness, we should always be vigilant … and make sure we don’t have locusts there early,” Watson said. “Don’t just kill the locusts. We want to help get the problem under control so we don’t have persistent populations in the years to come.”
This year’s most popular hopper is the clear-winged grasshopper, Watson said. But he doesn’t suspect that this species is behind the swarm.
The only unique thing about this year’s insect population is their delayed emergence due to the cooler spring the state was experiencing, Watson said. This means much of the state’s beetle population is lagging behind its typical population growth by about three weeks.
“They can be a nuisance pest — any insect, no matter what it is, if it’s in large numbers, people aren’t going to like it,” Watson said.
For example, according to an official with the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District, the mosquito population in Salt Lake City has skyrocketed after wet winters and springs that created more stagnant water for the biting insects to breed in.
A nuisance pest is not the same as a rangeland pest, which can have the potential to destroy fields and crops, Watson said, “to the point of losing their production.”
Watson is more concerned about invasive pests – like the emerald ash borer, the Japanese beetle and the sponge moth.
“These are some of our biggest trapping programs or surveillance programs — invasive pests that we don’t have here and we don’t want here,” Watson said. “Early detection of these pests is critical to conducting the best possible control and potentially preventing them from establishing themselves in the great state of Utah.”