Western States Brace For Grasshopper Invasion

A federal survey suggests some states may face a grasshopper infestation this year. Slade Franklin, weed and pest coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, says numbers could get as high as 50 hoppers per square yard. Franklin describes how his state is preparing.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

IRA FLATOW, host:

Moving on now. Just in time for Passover, the USDA has warned that some Western states, including Nebraska, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, may face a grasshopper invasion. We just talked about locusts in Niger. And now we're talking about a plague, a possible plague of biblical proportions this spring out there in the Plains States. Just how many hoppers - how many grasshoppers make for a plague? How do you measure that? And are they different from locust?

Slade Franklin is the weed and pest coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. He joins us from Cheyenne.

Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Mr. SLADE FRANKLIN (Weed and Pest Coordinator, Wyoming Department of Agriculture): Hi, Ira. How are you doing?

FLATOW: How do you know this is going to happen?

Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, we've been - we're kind of fortunate, as USDA's been doing surveys in the Western states since the 1940s for grasshoppers, adult grasshoppers. And based on those surveys, we've seen, basically - we know when the grasshoppers are going to happen or what forecast will happen based on the surveys we had from the year before.

In 2009, we certainly had some significant problems with the grasshoppers in Wyoming in the Western states. And so we're predicting the 2010 could be worse, just based on the adult members we saw.

FLATOW: Well, what would a grasshopper infestation look like?

Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, it depends on what you're doing. You know, I've talked to a lot of agricultural producers who, this past year, they talked about going out there and working in their hayfields, and you could almost see the ground moving with the amount of grasshoppers they had on their place.

FLATOW: Wow.

Mr. FRANKLIN: Certainly, folks driving through some of those areas that had high infestations can tell you it's - their windshields are probably pretty well caked over with some of them. But, you know, it's pretty - it can be pretty significant. And, you know, when you're talking about with some areas we had 55 adult grasshoppers per square yard - and, you know, eight adult grasshoppers per square yard is known to cause 30 percent forage loss in a growing season. You know, you can imagine there's some pretty high numbers out there last year.

FLATOW: And what do they eat? And I'm waiting for you to say: Anything that gets in the way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRANKLIN: And that is about right. You know, the grasshopper - we're mainly going to be dealing with the species melanoplus sanguinipes, and that's the migratory grasshopper. And they will eat about anything. They'll go through crops. They'll go through forbs. They'll go through grasses. And if it gets in the way, they're probably going to eat it.

FLATOW: I've heard that if you keep your laundry on the line, it's gone.

Mr. FRANKLIN: You know, I've heard that story, too. I haven't talked to anyone directly who's lost laundry to the grasshoppers, but I've heard that story - or rumor, at least - floating around the state.

FLATOW: We're talking about grasshoppers this hour on SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow, talking with Slade Franklin. So when would we expect to see the beginnings of this invasion?

Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, Mother Nature certainly is one of the big factors in when the hatch will start. But we'll start looking pretty closely around May 5th and start looking in some of those areas that we know to be hotspots for grasshopper hatches. And, you know, if we do get a prolonged warm season here in the spring, that May 5th could be even sooner than we think.

FLATOW: Hmm. And how do you prepare for it?

Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, we have a - we're kind of fortunate in Wyoming. We have -we (unintelligible) districts in all our counties. And right now, they're working very closely with our landowners and setting up control programs with the hopes of suppressing these numbers so we can get them below the economic thresholds that impact those ag producers.

FLATOW: What's the best insecticide that you recommend for it?

Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, what we're really planning to use is a product called diflubenzenol(ph), is the active ingredient. And it works pretty interestingly, as it actually hardens the chitin or the exoskeleton of the grasshopper. And therefore, when it goes to those nymplelimb stars(ph), it actually - the grasshopper can't grow. It tries to grow outside of its exoskeleton, and it can't. So it kind of suffocates itself - a really environmentally safe product and, you know, won't hurt non-target insects. And so we're pretty, I guess, excited about the opportunity of doing some control work with it.

FLATOW: So it's not going to kill any fish or...

Mr. FRANKLIN: No. Very low toxicity to fish. I mean, there's been studies where they've sprayed this product even over honeybees and it had no kill, whatsoever. So it's very species-specific.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And so this depends on the weather. And when - do you have to wait for them to hatch? Or how do this work?

Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, the surveys will start immediately when - around like, say, that May 5th deadline or May 5th date.

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. FRANKLIN: And we'll go out and start looking for that first instar stage. And if we see the instar stage is at levels that are - we feel are significant, then we will start implementing those control programs at that time.

FLATOW: Is this a - like, aerial spraying, or does everybody in their own backyard or ranch go out and do it by themselves?

Mr. FRANKLIN: We're certainly planning a lot of aerial applications in this state. But we do have some landowners who are isolated and they'll be using four-wheelers with sprayers to do their own control work.

FLATOW: And how will you know if you're successful or not?

Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, we'll also do some surveys post-application. The one thing about using the diflubenzenol is we won't see an immediate kill on the grasshopper. It'll take a few days for it to work. And we'll go out and do some live surveys again to see if actually - what the control was.

FLATOW: And how widespread, how many states - I mentioned Wyoming, and what other states are in there - in this with you?

Mr. FRANKLIN: You know, I've heard from folks I've talked to - we're talking about 17 Western states.

FLATOW: No kidding.

Mr. FRANKLIN: I've heard reports of problems out in Oregon. I've heard reports down all the way to Utah and New Mexico. And definitely, our neighbor to the north, Montana, is expecting some significant problems, also.

FLATOW: How is this different from what we hear - used to hear about 17-year locusts?

Mr. FRANKLIN: Seventeen-year locusts. Now, that's a good question. I don't know if I can answer that. But I could tell you that, you know, the migratory grasshopper, in its interactions, at some point could become a locust outbreak. And that's simply because if the numbers get high enough, their whole physical and behavioral actions change.

FLATOW: What's the difference between the two?

Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, it's the same species. But when you get into that locust stage, what happens is you have those higher densities, and the coloration will change, a little larger adult grasshopper with a longer wing that - because it's going to swarm and travel longer distances. So you get more higher density. And it has more of a pack mentality that an individual mentality for each grasshopper.

FLATOW: So the grasshoppers could sort of morph into a locust attack.

Mr. FRANKLIN: Exactly. Now, I'm hoping we don't have that. And I'm hoping we do some control efforts or suppression to keep that from occurring, but that's always a possibility,

FLATOW: Wow. So - wow. That's amazing. That's tough to see. Well, I wish you the best of luck, because no one wants to see that happen.

Mr. FRANKLIN: I appreciate it. We'll need all the help we can get, especially Mother Nature.

FLATOW: Yeah. Well, I'm powerless in that department.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: But thanks for taking time to be with us today.

Mr. FRANKLIN: You bet. Thank you for the opportunity.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Slade Franklin is the weed and pest coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and he was on the phone from Cheyenne.

That's about all the time we have for this SCIENCE FRIDAY. And we'd like to tell you to surf over to our Web site at sciencefriday.com. We're podcasting and blogging and doing all kinds of stuff. In case you missed any of this, you can join us our community over there - also on Facebook, SCIENCE FRIDAY's Facebook community. And you can sign up and join us on our Web site.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.