Grasshopper horde says ‘Viva, Las Vegas!’

By Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano

The desert resort town is suddenly swarming with migrating grasshoppers.

Las Vegas has been invaded, not by conventioneers or busloads of slot-happy seniors, but by a whole passel of grasshoppers. According to a story in The Washington Post, radar footage from the National Weather Service showed two masses in late July: a rainstorm north of the city and a host of living organisms above it.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. In a tweet, the NWS said that birds, bats and bugs can all register as biological material on radar. You may recall the large ladybug “bloom,” 10 miles wide and 15 miles long, that radar detected in southern California this past June.

The NWS station in Blacksburg, Virginia, recently tweeted about radar having captured a mass bird flight. Radar in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area have picked up clouds of birds, too. Monitors in Oklahoma once lit up with creatures that took flight minutes before an earthquake.

What’s to blame for this orthoptera population explosion? As the article reports, we can blame the unusually wet weather the desert area around Las Vegas experienced earlier this year. The region got more rain in six months than the roughly 4.2 inches the area typically gets in a year.

Cheap rates on hotel rooms lure large numbers of conventioneers to the resort town — but no one knows why the bugs have chosen to stay over. Meanwhile, they continue to fascinate residents and visitors alike before they resume hopping their way north. Experts say they may stay around for several weeks.

NWS meteorologist Clay Morgan told the reporter from the Post that weather radar, which focuses on higher elevations, can’t capture most of the bugs’ activity as they tend to stay close to the ground. “What we are seeing is a very small subset of what’s actually happening, grasshopper-wise,” Morgan said.

Photos and videos have captured thick streams of the insects as they gather around light. While this appears alarming, there’s apparently no need to fear this near-Biblical legion of locusts. The pallid-winged species the grasshoppers are members of are common to the desert, aren’t dangerous, and don’t bite or transmit disease, as Nevada state entomologist Jeff Knight reassured reporters.

This isn’t the first time a big group of grasshoppers has visited Vegas; Knight recalls a handful of similar migrations over the past three decades. But Morgan says he’s never experienced anything like this in his 16 years living in the area, although he has come across nesting hordes of hoppers from time to time that suddenly, startlingly take flight from bushes, a few of them lighting on his clothes.

“I just brushed them off and let them go about their way,” Morgan told the reporter. “And I go about mine.”

Morgan could not measure the true magnitude of the grasshopper swarm showing up on the NWS radar, explaining that it’s hard to separate the bugs from the storm clouds. However, “if we see a sizable mass of something on the radar [and] satellite indicates there are no clouds,” Morgan says in the story, “that’s a pretty big giveaway.”

Let’s hope the bugs have a nice, relaxing visit to Vegas, and unlike many humans, are able to leave without losing their shirts — rather, their wings — at the gaming tables.