This week it was pallid-winged grasshoppers in Las Vegas (see for example, this story in LiveScience) or check out this AP video
The grasshoppers aren't the only ones. Last week there was an article about flying ants in Britain being picked up by weather satellites (Guardian article) and in June it was supposedly ladybugs in Southern California (LA Times article) spotted on weather radar, although later reports say no one could verify which insects were actually detected.
Although these swarms can be alarming or exciting depending on your perspective, they are completely natural. Because insects may reproduce rapidly when food supplies are high and enemies are sparse, many species have the potential to build up to high numbers.
In fact, it is probably not amazing that insect blizzards happen, but that that don't happen even more often.
In a matter of days the insects either migrate away, are eaten, or come to the end of their life cycles. As quickly as they appear, they are gone again.
So for now, grasshoppers are simply having their 15 minutes of fame (or is it infamy?)
For example, can you find the grasshopper in this photograph?
I would say the antennae give it away.
Here's a better view of who you are looking for.
This is a pallid-winged grasshopper. There were quite a few in my yard on October 26 when I took this photograph, and there still is. When I looked in the Bug of the Week archives, I noticed I have a post about pallid-winged grasshoppers from October 26, 2011. I guess I'll look for them again about that time next year.
One of the most common species is the native pallid-winged grasshopper, Trimerotropis pallidipennis.
It can be difficult to identify grasshoppers because members of a single species vary a lot in color. The two grasshoppers in the photographs are within a few feet of each other, but notice how much darker the top one's wing bands are (it isn't just the lighting). Grasshoppers often blend into the background so well that you don't see them until they jump and fly.
Pallid grasshoppers feed on desert grasses and when the grasses dry up, they move or "disperse" to areas with more food. According to this article, pallid grasshoppers have been found flying at altitudes of 3000-5000 feet for long distances. In one record in 1966 pallid grasshoppers from the western United States were found in Hawaii. That's a long flight!
Are grasshoppers still active where you live? What colors do you see?