More than 12 million acres of Nevada are infested this summer with crawling carpets of Mormon crickets, twice as much land as last year.
The insects that began hatching last March are now adults on the march, mating and making themselves a nuisance for humans in their way, especially around Elko, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain and north of Reno.
It's the fourth year of infestation by the insects made infamous by nearly destroying the crops of Utah's Mormon settlers in 1848 and Nevada's largest in decades.
"It's pretty much in full swing," state entomologist Jeff Knight told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "We have easily doubled the number of infested acres this year."
A series of warm, mild winters is responsible for the problem. Most of the cricket eggs laid by insects are surviving over the winter, causing a steadily worsening cycle of infestations each summer, he said.
Ken Wiseman of Rancho Haven north of Reno first encountered the bugs early last week.
"There were thousands of them on the road, millions of them," Wiseman said.
"You'd run over them and they'd go scrunch, scrunch, scrunch," Wiseman said. "Then others came and ate them."
Sometimes, so many crickets get smashed that their slick remains make driving hazardous. That was one factor that prompted Elko County officials to declare a state of emergency last summer when crickets invaded the outskirts of Elko.
Congress gave Knight and colleagues about $1.4 million to battle the crickets in 2004, about three times as much money as the previous year.
Much of the money is paying for chemicals sprayed over infested land by airplanes or for poison bait spread on the land by workers riding all-terrain vehicles.
Recent activity by the Nevada Department of Agriculture has focused on the Palomino Valley between Reno and Pyramid Lake, where some homes have been covered by the bugs.
The Palomino Valley infestation is still about 10 miles north of the heavily populated area of Spanish Springs but Knight acknowledged the bugs could conceivably advance that far south.
"It's a possibility. I'm hoping not," Knight said.
Knight said as he travels around cricket-infested parts of Nevada he keeps running into old-timers who insist the current infestation is nothing compared to what they saw back in the 1930s and 1940s.
That could mean that unless a heavy winter breaks the current cycle of infestation, much harder times could be coming, Knight said.
Among the steps that might necessarily result is the use of malathion, a sometimes controversial pesticide that is less selective in what it kills than the chemicals currently being used, Knight said.
"If they keep going like this were going to have to do some things that are extreme," Knight said.