This year, black field crickets have descended upon the University of Texas earlier, and in higher numbers, than ever before. In an attempt to reduce the infestation, UT has decided to sacrifice a 70-year-old tradition: This past weekend, it turned off its famed tower's lights.
The university's facilities department has hypothesized that the light, which marks victories and special events, might be attracting the crickets. To test this theory, the school is leaving the tower dark from from July 27-29, and again from August 3-5, to see if the cricket infestation subsides.
In an interview with Alex Cohen, Facilities Services Communications Coordinators Laurie Lentz discusses some of the biggest inconveniences of the cricket influx. In addition to nightly chirping, the pest pile-up causes an unpleasant odor and an unsightly mess.
The reason for the early outbreak of crickets remains a mystery. Usually, black field crickets wait until late August or September to fly into cities from their rural habitats. After the summer droughts are broken by rainstorms, the crickets have mating flights and the insect outbreak begins. But this year, Austin received nearly twice as much rain as usual in June and temperatures were cooler. This meant that the ground was damp and ready for egg-laying earlier than usual.
Black field crickets usually lay their eggs in the autumn and the eggs remain in the soil through the winter. After they hatch, it then takes about three months for the crickets to develop into adults. Dry weather during development could mean that more crickets survive to adulthood. Severe droughts in Texas last year, combined with this year's early cool rains, may have been a recipe for the worst cricket outbreak in memory at UT.
So far, it is unclear whether turning off the tower lights will diminish the cricket population. Next week's repeat of this experiment may help UT decide if this practice could help rid the school of its pest problem.
-- Text by Haley Bridger