A plague of locusts

Published 4:17 pm Friday, July 13, 2018

Whenever I see one of those large black and red grasshoppers, I think of the plagues that the Lord visited upon the Egyptian pharaoh. Other times it’s the grasshoppers that would devastate the settler’s crops out west. 

Some of us may remember dissecting them in biology lab. These three-inch insects are making an appearance in west Georgia. We have gotten calls about what to do about this foliage eating pest over the last several weeks.

The eastern lubber or southeastern lubber get their name honestly. They traverse the landscape in a clumsy walking and crawling motion. British sailors labeled new folks on ships “Landlubbers” in honor of the grasshopper’s gait. They can range in color from a yellow or tawny with black highlights to the predominantly black version with red margins. 

This large clumsy insect can’t even leap or fly but it can climb and it likes to feed on new foliage. They can make noise (stridulate) by rubbing their forewing against their hind wing. 

One of their defensive mechanisms when threatened is to spread their wings, hiss and spew out a foul-smelling froth from their spiracles (their respiratory organs). 

It’s harmless to humans but it does warn bug eating predators. What’s unique about this toxic secretion is that the chemicals are synthesized and sequestered from their diet. As their diet changes, the toxins change so predators can’t adapt to it. 

Their bright colors are also a signal that they don’t taste well. A component of their defense is to climb foliage at night for protection.

Most vertebrate predators avoid them with a passion except for the loggerhead shrike. This bird will impale a lubber on a thorn or the barb of a barb wire fence to let the toxins dry out.  

Their strategy for staving off starvation is to eat about anything available. They have a broad preference for vegetable crops especially peas, lettuce, kale, beans and cabbage. They will defoliate amaryllis, Amazon lily, crinum, narcissus and other plants in the Amaryllidaceae family. They will also feed on oleander, butterfly weed, Mexican petunia and lantana. Their tastes are far ranging.

It’s a whole lot easier to kill them when they’re small. If you let them breed, they will lay eggs in the ground. They will pupate next year, and you will be facing round two. 

Spraying them with soap solution consisting of dish washing soap will suffocate them but you have to drench them to do so. Pyrethrin containing insecticides will also kill them. 

They may get too big to kill them effectively will insecticides. 

Dr. Nancy Hinkle, University of Georgia entomologist, recommends that the best method is to grab them and squash them. This method is called mechanical control.  

What’s going on in Extension?

4Market on Main: Every Saturday just off the square from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. the freshest produce in Troup County.

4July 16: Troup County Association of Beekeepers Meeting; 7 p.m. at the Ag Center; Guest speaker: Keith Fielder; Topic: Controlling Varroa Mites

If you have any questions or concerns, stop by or call the office. 

The Troup County Extension office is located at 144 Sam Walker Drive, LaGrange, GA. 30240 (706) 883-1675. 

It’s open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to  5 p.m.