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Grasshoppers Can Strip A Garden Down To Twigs


Grasshoppers are small and often overlooked now, but their chewing capacity will soon gain them notice for their level of plant destruction.

By Les Harrison
Wakulla Extension Director

Summer 2016 has arrived, and all the fun is just days away. While it is true the official beginning of summer is still a few weeks away, the temperature is warm, school is out and leisure activities are everywhere in Wakulla County.

Even the major home landscape and garden chores are in the past. The springtime clean up, primarily raking leaves and pine straw, has been done for weeks.

The only real work in the horizon is the weekly mowing job to keep the turf grass at a manageable height. A few hours weekly with the lawnmower and everything is under control.

Well, not quite. The weather has been favorable for people, and the insect population, in north Florida.  The ample rain and the comfortable temperatures have produce not only good growing conditions for the lawn and garden, it is the ideal set of conditions for insects to eat, move around and reproduce at an ever accelerating rate.

From the prospective of the homeowner, a majority of the problem insects fall into two categories. There are the chewing insect and there are the sucking insects, each with its own set of destructive capabilities.

The most commonly encounter chewing insects are grasshoppers and caterpillars. Each displays a voracious appetite for many of the same plants and shrubs valued by the human residents of the county.

Grasshoppers started hatching out a few weeks ago, and most are still small and easily overlooked. They spend their days lurking in the shadows of tender plants while attempting to remain unseen by birds and other predatory species.

Wakulla County is home to several species of grasshoppers. They are easily distinguished by their color and markings.

The most infamous of this family of vegetation munchers is the lubber species, sometime known as a Georgia Thumper. Legend has it that by August they can be as big as a cat with the appetite of a market hog.

Needless to say, but a heavy infestation of these native insects can literally strip a garden or landscape bare in a few hours. Only inedible stems and dead twigs will remain when the herd moves to greener opportunities.

The other major chewing insect, caterpillars, comes in even wider variety of sizes, colors and shapes than the grasshoppers. They are the larval stage of what will become a butterfly or moth, if they survive.

Some caterpillars produce large brightly colored winged insects which flitter and float over the area. Other produce small, nondescript aerial bugs which serve as snack food for bats, birds and lizards.

All progress through the caterpillar stage where foliage is the daily diet for moving beyond the insect world’s ugly duckling stage of life.  If their mother place her eggs properly, the caterpillars need only emerge and begin eating.

Some are very particular, and other are completely indiscriminant about their meal choices. The Monarch butterflies seek only milk weed, but the Army Worm (really a caterpillar) will eat just about anything in its path.

Any of these insects can be controlled with conventional or organic insecticides approve for that specific purpose. Caution is advised because nondestructive and beneficial insects can be killed, too.

Keep watch to see who shows up looking for lunch in the landscape. Even with this added chore, there will still be plenty of time for recreation this summer.