Q&A: Eastern Lubber Grasshopper
Q. Two years ago we discovered oodles of black bugs with a yellow stripe down the center. They ate and ate and got larger and larger. They ate flowers, trees, weeds, anything in sight, and bug spray didn't hold them back. Once grown they look like huge grasshoppers. How are we so lucky and my neighbors do not have any? How do we get rid of them?
A. It sounds like you're hosting a colony of the eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera), a grasshopper that's limited to the southeastern and south central U.S., so your location in South Carolina is at the northernmost point of its range. The young (nymphs) are usually black with a yellow stripe, and the adults vary a lot, but usually are black with a small to large degree of yellow markings — and quite large.
You're right; they do overwinter in the ground. The adult females lay their eggs in the soil during the summer. The young start hatching in very early spring — March in Florida, late February in southern Florida — and emerge from the ground. You'll see the greatest number of adults in mid to late summer, and they're voracious.
"There are reports that they'll even eat nylon screening," says Eric Benson, the state extension entomologist for South Carolina.
Unfortunately, Benson says, the best way to control them at this stage is mechanically — hand pick and kill them. One way to do that is to use a butterfly net and something long-handled with which to dispatch them. Then early next spring you could consider applying one of the Bayer's Advanced Products that's labelled for turf so that you can kill the young as they hatch.
Knowing the life cycle makes all the difference in controlling this pest. Typical bug sprays have nowhere near the effectiveness at reducing the population as targeting the newly hatched young. "It's not what you use but how you use it," Benson says. "If you needed a shot of penicillin, but I just rubbed it on the back of your hand, it wouldn't do you any good."