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Grasshoppers plague Texas
Copyright c 2000 Nando Media
Copyright c 2000 Scripps Howard News Service
By Bobby Horecka, Reporter-News of Abilene, Texas
ABILENE, Texas (August 5, 2000 5:38 p.m. EDT - They lurk everywhere, from the remotest of pastures to the thickest of woodlands, the hottest stretch of downtown asphalt to the neatest of lawns.
They wait on their six-legged perches, staring with unblinking eyes and plotting ways to annihilate crops and pastureland, devour lawns and bushes and leap from the shadows to terrify the squeamish.
And they're only getting worse, Texas officials say.
Grasshoppers, in what could amount to a $200 million plague in 2000, are ravaging Texas this year in unprecedented numbers.
"This is the third major outbreak in as many years," said Mike Merchant, entomologist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.  "They'll eat almost anything green, and there isn't a lot we can do to stop them."
Several consecutive years of hot, dry summers and warm autumns created luxury accommodations for the ravenous insects, he said.  And the long-running Texas drought is wreaking havoc on a moisture-craving fungus that typically keeps grasshoppers in check.
Pesticides offer some relief from the grasshopper explosion, but even the best sprays guarantee only partial control.
Cool, wet weather is about the only thing that slows their development.
"They are here for the rest of the summer until they die of old age or a killing frost arrives," agricultural entomologist Allen Knutson said.
Clearing weeds will help starve young hoppers and discourage adults from laying eggs, but often results in the bugs moving to more valuable crops and landscapes, Knutson said.
Favorite targets are pastures of costal Bermuda grass and fields of grain sorghum, though reports have poured in from across Texas of damaged forage crops, lawns, gardens and orchards.
Texas A&M University entomologists said the state has 140 species of grasshoppers, seven of which are harmful to crops, including the differential, red-legged and two-striped grasshoppers - the most damaging of the lot.
From eggs to adults, grasshoppers mature in as little as 40 to 60 days, which steadily replenishes the insect numbers.  State officials said $190 million could be lost to grasshoppers this year, up from $5 million last year.  the estimate includes forage losses, replacement forage and the insecticide costs.
Entomologists suggest using sprays containing permethrin, cyfluthrin and bifenthrin to curb the grasshopper infestations of lawns and gardens.  The chemicals are marketed under the trade names Spectracide Pro, Bayer Advanced Garden Sprays and Ortho Home Defense.
Though none will be 100 percent effective in eliminating the insects, they could help save what's left of the yard, Merchant said.


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