I have watched for Mormon Crickets for years—probably about six years. However, when I started writing a spread for them in my nature journal, I discovered something totally new about them! In all those years, I never knew the true identity of the Mormon Cricket: a shield-backed Katydid!
Discovering new facts about old friends happens frequently for me when journaling about them. I never looked very closely at the color of Mormon crickets either. The one I spotted last fall on a trail near Vail, CO had speckles on its abdomen. Before, I just thought of them as dark brown or almost black.
Due to COVID-19, I decided to look back into my photos from the past. As an avid journal keeper, I had written some notes about this hike. Since I spent a bit of time attempting to photograph this Mormon Cricket, I wrote a bit about it and what I found it doing. Sometimes life gets in the way of timely journal entries, but it often makes for more fun later going back to remember!
- Western species are usually shades of brown or black
- Long antennae
- Females have a large ovipositor, so long it almost doubles the length of the insect
- Extremely short, underdeveloped wings or wingless
- Extended thorax on top that appears shield-like
- Males chirp in a manner similar to crickets
- Oval shaped white egg
- Nymph stage similar to adult stage, but no wings at all
- Adults grow to 1.5-2 inches
- Common name came from swarms invading Mormon farmland outside of Salt Lake City
- Feeds on many grasses and shrubs
- Only one generation per year
- Mates in early spring, sometimes summer
- Females lay eggs that hatch the next spring
- Known agricultural pest
Rangeland, grasses, farmland, and orchards primarily.
Mormon Cricket AKA Shield-Backed Katydid & The Journal
With a few recent trail closures for elk migration, I decided to dig into my photo and journal archives to create this spread on the Mormon Cricket in the fall. While this sighting happened in the past, I find it relevant now in the spring as sightings will steadily increase as the season moves toward summer.
I started this two-page spread by finding my photos, then sketching the Shield-Backed Katydid. Personally, I love sketching insects. I enjoy them because of their segmented nature. Seeing the segments, I feel more relaxed when drawing. While my sketching could be better, I find more pleasure in sketching the insects.
I like to use as many field guides as possible to glean a better mental schema of the species in question. First, I pulled out the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks field guide. While the sighting did not occur in their of those parks, I knew the Mormon Cricket to reside in them. Often, I find this field guide easier to digest than technical guides and thus, I often head there first for many species in the North American West. Second, I pulled out Peterson’s Insect Guide to find deeper insight. There, I found myself stumped. When the index failed me, I found the order, Orthoptera, and dug into reading until I found the Shield-Backed Katydid also known as the Mormon Cricket. Mind blown.
This goes to show; even if I thought I knew a decent amount about this species, there is always more to learn.