Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Grasshoppers Invading Central Utah

Grasshoppers, when leaping on Tony Atherley's front door, make a "pop" like the sound of cooking popcorn. Atherley has been hearing thousands of pops since June 1, when the grasshoppers infested his Pine Canyon neighborhood, about four miles northeast of Tooele. One neighborhood child is so afraid of the swarms of grasshoppers outside her bedroom window that she sleeps away from home. Atherley's 4-year-old daughter was so scared when the grasshoppers first arrived that she asked her parents to carry her into the house. Swarms of grasshoppers infest Utah agricultural lands in 10-year cycles, and by all accounts, the summer of 2009 is the beginning of another cycle in central Utah — the Uintah Basin and Sanpepte, Millard, Sevier and Tooele counties. For the next few summers, the grasshopper population will increase until it peaks, said Clint Burfitt, an entomologist with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Shortly after the grasshopper population peaks, they get infected with a deadly fungus, and the population quickly drops off. The cycle will begin again in seven years. "We work with some researchers at (Utah State University) who are trying to identify and culture that fungus, so in the future we would work with what we call a biological control versus pesticides," Burfitt said.The particular grasshopper invading Utah this year eats all types of crops. The state is helping farmers and ranchers by covering 90 percent of a pesticide that costs about $9 an acre. "This particular grasshopper hatches out 2,000 (insects) per square foot," Burfitt said. "By their sheer abundance, they can be very devastating to cropland." When they're young, the grasshoppers are a couple millimeters, but they can grow to be 4 to 5 inches, Burfitt said. Atherley would like the state to also help residents living with the infestation. The Atherleys are now using back doors to their house, since the front of their house has been invaded. "I'd be willing to guess I have 4,000," Atherley said. The family doesn't dare open the front door or garage, he said, because "they'd just swarm in." Despite such cautions, some grasshoppers have made their way into the house through tiny cracks in the weather seal. "Some people might say that's not that big of a deal," Atherley said. "But nobody's said they're going to go away in a month." Atherley and his wife lived through the previous cycle of grasshoppers 10 years ago. He remembers constantly running to the store, spending $15-$20 every couple of days in bug spray. "I think what myself and a lot of my neighbors would like to see is a little more action on either the state or the county's part," he said. On Tuesday morning, the Atherleys got a call from a licensed pest-control company that learned of the family through media coverage. They promised their product was more effective than over-the-counter insecticide, Atherley said. "It's supposed to work for a couple of weeks," he said.