Oklahoma drought may drive grasshoppers into cities

Even though Oklahoma grasshopper population is down this year, an expert says lack of food and water in rural areas will drive them into town.
BY MATT PATTERSON mpatterson@opubco.com Published: August 15, 2011
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There's a menace hopping toward your yard. It has four legs, big eyes and antennae.

Grasshoppers are typically more of a rural problem. But with a drought in full swing, the hungry insects are flying to the city.

“We're seeing pockets of them,” Oklahoma State University entomologist Tom Royer said. “The places where you're most likely to see them are places like Guthrie where you have a town that is surrounded by agriculture. They're being pulled in to look for food.”

Oklahoma's grasshopper population is down this year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Researchers think it's because the hot weather has dried up food sources.

USDA research

The USDA studied populations from Ardmore to the tip of the Panhandle using about 450 traps. The traps are set for grasshoppers every few square yards. Most years there are 12 to 15 grasshoppers per yard; this year there were two or three per yard and some traps were empty, USDA state plant health director Blaine Powell said.

“It's the lowest count I've seen in 20 years,” Powell said. “The drought had something to do with it, but you can't blame it all on the high temps. Really it comes down to the timing of the hatch not being conducive to large populations.”

The goal of the study is to predict future populations, Powell said. Grasshoppers that eat garden vegetables are a nuisance for urban dwellers, but farmers and ranchers have the most to lose.

“They compete with cattle for forage,” Powell said. “If we have an explosion in the population, it's something people will want to know about before it actually happens.”

Grasshoppers on the move

With their traditional rangeland habitat offering little in the way of food and water, Royer expects that populations will branch out.