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Noon Edition

Sticking with the Crowd Can Save Your Life

Close your eyes and imagine that you're a Mormon cricket.

Why, you ask? Well, Mormon crickets are interesting. Like desert locust, they sometimes form large bands that march across the landscape of northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado, and basically eat everything in their way.

Some of these bands are several miles wide and have been known to stretch up to ten miles in length.

Scientists have long suspected that it is for protection, but as you can imagine, it's somewhat tricky keeping track of individual crickets. That's why it was only recently that a study confirmed this hypothesis. You see, scientists attached tiny radio transmitters to some of the Mormon crickets, and then compared survival rates for crickets marching in the larger group with those of crickets marching alone over the same terrain. Basically, within two days, something, most likely birds or rodents, ate 50 to 60 percent of all the loner crickets.

How do the scientists know?

They recovered the transmitters, sometimes with body parts still attached.

If you're a Mormon cricket, it really pays to be in a big group. Of course, group living also has its own dangers. For example, Mormon crickets cannibalize injured crickets, plus there's all that competition for food. Still, there's no question that staying with the group is definitely better. Also, these results might also help explain the benefits of periodical large insect outbreaks, like cicadas or locusts.

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