As the average person what city deserves to receive a biblical plague and there’s a good chance “Las Vegas” will be high on their list. Sin City comes by its nickname and reputation honestly, and what happens in Vegas generally stays in Vegas – except during the last week in July, 2019, when the world found out that a biblical plague had indeed fallen upon Las Vegas … a plague of pallid-winged grasshoppers that ironically swarmed around the pyramid-shaped Luxor Hotel and Casino. Was this a plague on Sin City, confused plague insects with malfunctioning GPS, or something else? A recent scientific study sought to find out.
“If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians—something neither your fathers nor your forefathers have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now."
— Exodus 10:3–6”
Was the 2019 plague of grasshoppers on Las Vegas that bad? According to the study, conducted by researchers from the University of Oklahoma (looking for an excuse to get a free trip to Vegas?) and published in the journal Biology Letters, over 45 million grasshoppers weighing 30.2 metric tons (33.3 US tons) were estimated to have flown over or landed on Las Vegas, covering the city in a buggy fog that drove even more people off the streets and into the casinos. Like tourists, the grasshoppers came from as far away as Arizona. But why?
Inverse reviewed the study and reports that the researchers used radar technology from weather surveillance to track the aerial movements of grasshoppers during non-plague conditions. They were able to identify the total mass (biomass) of grasshoppers around Las Vegas during both day and night. After observing daily migration patterns from vegetation to other locations and back, they extrapolated the data to the plague and came to a biblical conclusion.
“At the peak of the outbreak, over 45 million grasshoppers took flight across the region, with the greatest numbers concentrating over high-intensity city lighting. Patterns of dusk ascent from vegetated habitat toward urban areas suggest a daily pull toward a time-varying nocturnal attractive sink.”
The grasshoppers were pulled by the light (Moses) to the Luxor (Egypt) because of the 30-story pyramid’s Sky Beam, a powerful column of light shining nightly from the peak of the pyramid which can be seen by airline pilots as far away as Los Angeles. This was believed to be the first macroscale study of the effects of nocturnal urban lighting on the behavior of regional insect populations and shows how it not only affects the local insect populations but also how the local insect populations then affect the local human populations. Should the Luxor do the biblically right thing and let the people’s light go?
Casino owners and Vegas lovers will be happy to learn that even the researchers wouldn’t go that far … yet. They don’t know why the grasshoppers swarmed Sin City in such vast numbers. It could have been the intensity of the light, which triggered a mob mentality in the insects. It could have been weather conditions at the time. It could have been the sins of Sin City, but there was no way for them to confirm it because what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
For now, the researchers, tourists, residents, casino owners and workers will have to wait for another plague for more answers. Until then, like a Motel 6 for grasshoppers, the Luxor is leaving the light on for you.