Lesson 13.5: Science Connection

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When Is a Cricket Not a Cricket?

They wipe out farmers' fields, have become a public health problem, and even cause automobile accidents. For the past few years, Utah, Idaho, and Nevada have been under attack by — the Mormon cricket!

Although not really a cricket at all, but a kind of 2-1/2-inch-long katydid related to the grasshopper, the Mormon cricket cannot fly. Yet, it can cover a lot of territory, as much as 1 mile a day.

“We just want to find out what makes them do what they do,” said Greg Sword, a research ecologist on the team.

Mob Movement

Mormon crickets move in swarms, all in one direction. Sometimes, they go through a field and eat only the weeds. Other times, they eat everything in their paths. In one recent year, the crickets wiped out the vegetation on 6,000,000 acres across Nevada!

Farmers are not the only ones to suffer the effects of the crickets. When Mormon crickets are on the march, many businesses do not open because people do not want to leave their houses. Roads and buildings can be completely covered by crickets. And, when huge numbers of crickets are run over by passing vehicles, the roads become dangerously slick, causing many accidents.

Government Action

One Nevada congressman applied for federal money for the application of pesticides to cut down on the numbers of Mormon crickets. Congressman Jim Gibbons began his letter to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service this way:

As you may know, Nevada is currently experiencing one of the worst Mormon cricket infestations in decades. This natural disaster has been devastating to my constituents in Northern Nevada, and I firmly believe that the time has come for additional federal assistance in Nevada to prevent such disasters in the future.

What Is the Cause?

What is responsible for the enormous numbers of these creatures? Drought, or lack of rain is to blame. The wild grasses that the Mormon crickets usually eat dry up. Then, the creatures begin to eat anything — and everything — they can find!

Word Wise

swarm:
A great many insects moving together: Swarms of bees return to their nests late in the afternoon.

pesticide:
A chemical used to kill animal pests: Small planes are sometimes used to spray pesticide over the fields.

infest:
To overrun so as to be harmful: Carpenter ants infested our old oak tree.

natural disaster:
A destructive event caused by something in nature: The hurricane was the biggest natural disaster to hit the state in 50 years.

devastate:
Cause to become very upset: The children were devastated when their cat ran away.

constituent:
A citizen who elects a political representative: The senator's constituents expect her to vote for bills that will be helpful to them.

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Activity

Natural disasters can take many forms. The article “When Is a Cricket Not a Cricket?” describes a natural disaster caused by insects. The sentence that follows the definition of “natural disaster” on this page refers to a natural disaster caused by harsh weather.

Research other kinds of natural disasters. Find out about a disaster involving insects, other kinds of animals, or weather. Look in an encyclopedia or do research on-line to find facts about the natural disaster you chose. Report on your findings to the class.

Data Hunt

Have you ever heard crickets chirp on a warm summer night? If so, perhaps you wondered just how warm it actually was.

Add 40

One way to find out the approximate temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) is to add the number of times a cricket chirps in 15 seconds to the number 40.

This means that, if you could count 46 chirps as you watch a clock's second hand for 15 seconds, you should think: 46 + 40 = 86 So the outdoor temperature would be about 86°F.

Use a Formula

Here's another method you can use to find the temperature. Suppose you know the number of times (n) a cricket chirps in 1 minute. You can use this formula to find the approximate temperature. F = 1/4n + 40

If a cricket chirps 92 times in one minute, you would write:
  • F = 1/4n + 40
  • F = 1/4(92) + 40
  • F = 23 + 40
  • F = 63
So the outdoor temperature would be about 63°F.
  1. What is the temperature if the number of times a cricket chirps in 1 minute is:
    • 112
    • 204
    • 167
  2. Two methods of determining the temperature are described above. Is there a relationship between the two methods? Write your answer in a math journal or discuss it with a classmate.