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Friday, November 28, 2014

Albuquerque grasshopper plague normal

Nature is calling, but it’s not the chirping of the birds or the swooshing of the trees. This year, it’s the call of grasshoppers.

There’s nothing to worry about, though — this is a pretty regular occurrence, according to Dr. David Lightfoot, associate research professor of biology and senior collection manager for the Museum of Southwestern Biology.

The sudden abundance of grasshoppers is a result of the heavy rain last fall and a mild winter, which caused a high survival rate, he said.

“It’s typically about every five to 10 years (that) the weather conditions will be just right so there will be a big population of these, so it’s not that unusual,” Lightfoot said.

The grasshoppers’ prosperity will also be short-lived, he said.

“It’s a real temporary thing,” Lightfoot said. “This generation will start dwindling now, as they’re being taken out by predators, being run over and stepped on. The population will come down pretty quickly.”

They may not be around for long, but the grasshoppers have already done some damage to crops in the state.

Jim Wagner, owner of Wagner Farms, said he lost his entire first chili crop and had to replant 25 acres because of the grasshoppers.

His inch-tall crop was destroyed after the grasshoppers came, attracted to the water in the farm’s irrigation system, he said.

“I couldn’t believe it — it was just big clouds of grasshoppers coming from the Isleta Reservation,” Wagner said. “And then the next day when I came there wasn’t anything.”

If the second crop sprouts before the grasshoppers leave, another chili crop could be damaged, he said.

“We are just hoping we get a handle on it with pesticides and kill them,” Wagner said. “(If) they don’t, planting will get delayed and we don’t get anything.”

Cheryl Kent, a Bernalillo County Horticulture Extension agent, said residents have been calling a lot about the grasshoppers since spring began. They have been worried about the volume of grasshoppers and what they may do to trees, shrubberies and gardens, she said.

“A lot of people don’t remember this does happen periodically,” Kent said. “This is a very normal thing, but people forget easily.”

The best way to protect plants from the grasshoppers is to cover them with a wire mesh, and only under special circumstances should insecticides be used, she said.

“I suspect we will have higher than usual number of grasshoppers probably all summer,” Kent said. “I really think we have seen the worst of it and I hope I’m right about that.”

There are approximately 200 species of grasshoppers in New Mexico, and the most common type found in the Albuquerque area is the Pallid-winged grasshopper, Lightfoot said.

Grasshoppers are not all bad, either. They enhance the nutrient cycle by eating plants, and natural pruning also occurs when the grasshoppers feed off the plants, he said.

“When they eat, they poo, like everything else,” Lightfoot said. “That is fast-lining nutrients to the soil surface.”

Lauren Marvin is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. Contact her at culture@dailylobo.com or via Twitter @LaurenMarvin.