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Grasshoppers Might Spit On You, But They're Harmless

If you’ve been anywhere near the Strip or even just on social media, you’ve heard about the grasshoppers.

They’re everywhere around the Valley, but they seem to be concentrated near the bright lights of the Strip. Over the weekend, they jammed up lighting fixtures, they landed in pools, and even entered casinos to land on blinking slot machines. 

And it turns out, they might be here for a while.

“They’re basically coming into the city because they’re attracted to the lights of the city, particularly the ones that have a higher ultraviolet spectrum,” state entomologist Jeff Knight told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Knight explained that because of the wet winter and spring, the grasshoppers' food sources in the desert were higher so more eggs and grasshoppers survived the natural predators that usually keep the population down.

“They’re in such numbers that they basically start kind of moving to find more food or moving northward," he said

Interestingly, the grasshoppers won't find a lot of food in the Las Vegas valley to their liking. Knight said they will ignore their hunger to swarm the lights. 

“I know the numbers have increased dramatically since I first saw the ones last week down in Las Vegas," he said. "A lot of those are probably going to die on the Strip or in the parking lots. As soon as the sun comes up and it gets hot, they’re not going to be able to survive.”

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Knight said these types of swarms arrive every seven to 10 years depending on the weather. And while climate change is affecting a number of insect species, he said this year's swarm isn't related to that.

“In this case, we can go back into the '60s, '50 or '60 years ago and it was happening,” he said. Knight said it was probably happening long before anyone called the Southwest home.

Knight said the grasshoppers are not dangerous. They don't carry diseases and they won't bite or sting. He said the biggest danger is someone panicking when one jumps into his or her car. He advises people to remain calm and let the insect jump out again.

“If you handle them, you might get a little stuff on your hands,” he said.

That "stuff" is a protective mechanism where the hopper regurgitates on a foe. It's commonly referred to as "tobacco juice" for its dark brown color.

In some areas of the world, grasshoppers are an important part of the diet. In some parts of Mexico, seasoned and roasted grasshoppers are a common snack. 

“This species has an awful lot of wing to it," Knight noted of the valley's current invaders. "The wings are going to be a little tough to eat." 

As for how long they'll stick around, Knight can't say for sure. but judging from past invasions, he estimates a couple of weeks.  

Guests

Jeff Knight, state entomologist, Nevada Department of Agriculture

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