News Column

Drought Leads to Cricket Invasion

Aug 15, 2012

Phil Mulkins

The great cricket invasion of summer 2012 is under way and headed into a home like yours.

Area bug watchers say the insects are taking advantage of current conditions.

Rick Grantham, director of the Plant Disease and Insect Diagnostic Laboratory of Oklahoma State University's Cooperative Extension Service, said grasshoppers and crickets spend a great portion of their lives below ground. But hot, dry weather tends to favor Orthopteroids (crickets, grasshoppers, katydids, etc.). Most of these insects lay their eggs underground, and there are natural predators that eat those egg casings -- blister beetles, for one. But beetles have been scarce because of the drought.

"We've had a real grasshopper explosion this year," said Grantham, "mostly in the pastures, grasslands and residential yards -- especially the ones kept nice and green with lots of watering. They are attracted to that green color because they know there is good moisture and nutrients there. We can now walk out into pastures and pick up 50 per square yard -- which is WAY above the level that causes damage."

Kenda Woodburn, extension agent with OSU Extension Service in Tulsa, said not only has she noticed an explosion in the cricket population, but the insects are getting into her office. "They showed up last week and weren't here before. I think they're coming inside looking for water and coolness -- cool places to lay their eggs."

Donna Horton, senior staff naturalist with Tulsa Park and Recreation Department's Oxley Nature Center, 6700 E. Mohawk Blvd., said one of the parasites of crickets is the "horsehair worm," a nematode that infests the cricket's gut and eats its way out. They also parasitize grasshoppers, cockroaches and beetles -- but the way they get into these insects is laying their larvae in puddles of water where they are consumed by the insects.

In drought conditions, there is very little water at the surface and the grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches are spared. This happened last summer and this summer as well, when warm temperatures and rains served as a trigger for cricket flights. Otherwise, cricket swarms usually are seen in late summer and fall rains."

"Another thing is this is a really unusual year, biologically -- the plants are a month ahead of schedule, the monarchs are already migrating and things are also ahead of schedule on the cricket calendar. And this is all drought driven -- heat driven," Horton said.

"Cricket outbreaks are among the most predictable pest occurrences in Oklahoma. Most of the invaders are black field crickets."

Source: (c)2012 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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