Attack of the Crickets

UT suffering under plague of field crickets

Attack of the Crickets
Illustration by Doug Potter

The University of Texas is suffering under a plague of thousands upon thousands of field crickets. Could the biblical smite of frogs, gnats, and locusts be far behind?

Most Hill Country residents are familiar with "cricket season" -- that time in early fall when those pesky bugs end up being those crunchy critters underfoot. This summer's unseasonably cool and rainy season, however, has brought an early mating season, and we're not talking small numbers here. When the UT Tower is lit, the insects actually pile up so they are 6 to 8 inches deep on the sills and grates of the tower. (We assume the insects are drawn to light and not UT football victories.)

"In terms of sheer numbers, it's a huge number of crickets," said spokeswoman Laurie Lentz with UT's facility services. "Employees say it's way more than they've normally seen. The information is anecdotal, but we're talking custodial and maintenance staff who have been here 15 to 20 years."

Both the University of Texas and Texas State University "unlit" their towers over the weekend to minimize the cricket encroachment. It's hard to think any situation would cause such a state of emergency -- Jiminy Cricket hardly seems like a major terrorist threat -- but Lentz says a plague of crickets does bring its own problem: the smell.

"Most of the issue is related to the odor because, dead or alive, crickets have a very strong odor," said Lentz, describing a stench that reminds most people of raw sewage. "That problem: has been compounded these past couple of weeks because a lot of these crickets were drowning. And crickets are scavengers, so that brought even more crickets, and they've come to the building in such numbers they've clogged up some of the drainage holes in the building."

Standing water around the UT Tower meant the university ended up with its own delightful kind of cricket soup, Lentz said. The powerful odor was so extreme, you could smell it on the upper floors of the tower through the ventilation system.

The length of cricket season is roughly a month to six weeks, though Wizzie Brown of the Texas Cooperative Extension says it's impossible to predict whether this infestation will be over soon or last into the throes of football weather.

And, for the record, Brown does not see this cricket season as being particularly pesky. To Brown, the current cricket crisis seems normal rather than excessive. But with each cricket capable of laying between 200 and 400 eggs, it's not something most people are going to miss, especially in well-lit areas like the UT Tower.

In the meantime, Lentz says the de-lighting of the tower has helped disperse the crickets. Custodians are using a wet-dry vacuum to remove the accumulated cricket carcasses and are swabbing the decks with lemon-scented water.

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