Creepy! That’s how Four Hills resident Eric Chamberlain described the grasshoppers that have descended upon his lushly landscaped neighborhood.
“You walk down the street and they jump up, like a swarm, to move out of the way. They’re kind of beige in color and small, mostly under an inch long, and there’s lots of them,” Chamberlain said. “But what makes it creepy isn’t just their numbers, but that they’re all moving up the street in the same direction – kind of like they have a plan.”
OK. That’s a little creepy. But not an exaggeration, at least in numbers.
The Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service, the city’s Environmental Health Department, and local nurseries are fielding calls from people in all quadrants of the metro area reporting an abundance of grasshoppers, and asking what, if anything, they should do about them.
“This happens periodically,” said Cheryl Kent, a horticulture agent with the Cooperative Extension Service. “Most insects have cycles, not necessarily predictable cycles. What we’re seeing now are favorable conditions for grasshoppers that have led to a population explosion this year. It’s not unusual, but it can be troubling because grasshoppers cause damage as they move through your yard and defoliate trees, shrubs and vegetable gardens.”
Particularly vexing is that grasshoppers “are very tough” and most insecticides are not effective, Kent said. “What is effective is to use a row cover and physically cover things that you don’t want the grasshoppers getting into. Or, you can just let them have their day. The grasshoppers won’t kill your trees and shrubs, but they might look kind of bad this year.”
Jericho Nurseries owner Rick Hobson has also been hearing about the bumper crop of ‘hoppers from customers all over the city. He sells several products that have been successful against the critters.
One of them, Nolo Bait, is a biological agent, “kind of like a virus,” he explained. The agent is contained in sawdust-like flakes that are sprinkled on and around plants. “The grasshoppers eat it and die, and then the live grasshoppers, being cannibalistic, eat the dead ones and the biological agent is passed on to them.”
There are also a couple of chemical insecticides that have been effective. One of them, Systemic Insect Control, contains acephate, which can be sprayed directly on grasshoppers or plants, but should not be used on vegetables or food crops.
The other product, Permethrin, is a broad-spectrum insecticide that may have the unintended consequence of also killing beneficial insects and can be toxic to cats and fish. It is safe for people and can be used on food crops, Hobson said.
“I always support integrated pest management. If the insects are not doing damage, then monitor and wait,” he said. “Grasshoppers, however, eat plants, so it can be kind of a big deal. They can take out entire crops. Basically, you have to decide what kind of damage you’re willing to tolerate.”
Mark DiMenna, deputy director of the city’s Environmental Health Department, is willing to tolerate a lot. Unlike ticks, fleas or mosquitoes, grasshoppers are not vectors for disease. “Other than being annoying, they don’t have an impact on anything except in an agricultural setting.”
Consequently, he said, the department has not collected any of the grasshoppers for species identification, though he said they likely include a mix of species.
If there is a reason for their appearance now, DiMenna said, “look to the climate.”
Last fall brought lots of rain, which created ideal conditions for grasshoppers to lay eggs. That was followed by a mild winter, allowing most of the eggs to survive into the early spring with its warm weather and the resultant hefty hatching of ‘hoppers.
Calls about grasshoppers have been coming from throughout the city, though the biggest concentrations are from people who live near undeveloped and open space areas, he said.
“It’s interesting from a biological standpoint and annoying from a residential standpoint, but no one will be hurt by it and it will run its course in due time,” DiMenna said. He added that the numbers should diminish within a few weeks.
“We’re not talking biblical plague proportions here, though if it starts raining frogs it might be time to exodus the city.”