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Invasion of the grass-snatchers

Grasshoppers like this one have invaded Rio Rancho and Albuquerque in large numbers recently. (Rio Rancho Observer — ARGEN DUNCAN photo)
Grasshoppers like this one have invaded Rio Rancho and Albuquerque in large numbers recently. (Rio Rancho Observer — ARGEN DUNCAN photo)
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Thirteen-year Rio Rancho resident Skip Tyrrell can’t remember seeing any noticeable number of grasshoppers in town until the insects showed up in droves about three weeks ago.

“It’s like a plague,” he said.

Tyrrell lives off Tarpon Avenue in southern Rio Rancho. About three weeks ago, he said, a friend who resides in northern Rio Rancho called and suggested he go outside and check out the grasshoppers.

So, Tyrrell did, “and every step I took, 10 or 20 of them just jumped,” he said. The insects still inhabit his backyard in large numbers, and he stirs them up bicycling in town.

“If they eat my goat heads, it would be very helpful,” he joked.

Grasshoppers chew undulating lines or irregular holes in leaves, said Sandoval County Cooperative Extension agriculture agent Lynda Garvin.

“Like anything else in nature, there are cycles of boom and bust, and this is a boom year for grasshoppers,” she said.

She said the swarm of grasshoppers came from the eastern New Mexico plains because the drought caused a lack of grass.

“So they come into urban areas looking for something green to eat, because they’re hungry and thirsty, just like any other animal in the wild,” she said.

Garvin said the bumper crop of grasshoppers has its roots in the profuse rain last September. The precipitation softened the ground, making it easier for grasshoppers to lay eggs.

Then, said county extension program director Steve Lucero, relatively mild temperatures allowed them to live through the winter. Without enough moisture to support their food supply this spring, the grasshoppers migrated.

“There’s no real good control,” Garvin said.

Depending on the amount of damage, plants may survive grasshoppers.

Garvin and Lucero recommend covering plants to fight the ‘hoppers. Also, if homeowners notice grasshoppers in weeds near their yards, Lucero advised leaving the insects alone so they can eat the weeds instead of cultivated plants.

Garvin advised gardeners to buy commercial row covers, which cover plants to keep out grasshoppers but let in light and water. It’s important to make sure no grasshoppers are caught under the cover, because then they’ll have a protected place to happily chow down.

Gardeners can use screens or old bed sheets instead of commercial row covers, Garvin said, but sheets block the sunlight, so they’ll have to be removed for periods of time. Lucero said people can try cheese cloth as a cover, but some grasshoppers eat through it.

“They’re that aggressive,” he said.

Lucero said Nolo Bait, an organic control method that causes deadly infections in bugs, isn’t effective on adult grasshoppers, the insects’ current stage. It also won’t work if it hasn’t been refrigerated, and according to extension service information, it can poison pets and beneficial wildlife that eat too many of the dead grasshoppers.

Chemical insecticides might harm pets, too. Plus, Lucero said, the expensive insecticides might kill grasshoppers, but then another wave could arrive.

Winter should knock down the population, he said.

“It is a burden,” Lucero said. “…But winter’s coming again.”

 

 

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